New eBook Limits Create Limits for All

| March 14, 2011 | Comments (6)

A story I read in my old-fashioned, printed newspaper really made me think about how many big, traditional corporations are still struggling to find a profitable business model in the digital world.  The Chicago Tribune story “Publisher puts new limits on library e-book” outlined Harper Collins’ new policy of allowing 26 downloads and then charging libraries to renew the license.

I have to wonder how this idea got out of committee, so to speak.  Libraries purchase a printed book without such restrictions.  At our library, this also applies to the CDs, DVDs, videos, video games and learning software that is available to anyone with a library card.   Why is it that a digital book will be restricted to 26 downloads and then vanish?

I contract for a large corporation, so I know how bad ideas develop a life of their own.  No one is willing to step-up and question the underlying logic once an idea spills down from the top.  Still, it seems to me that someone at Harper Collins should have seen the hypocrisy of this idea.  How did “our printed materials have no restrictions, but our digital items expire” get past legal, marketing, etc?  It seems like just one person needed to stand up and say, “You know, I don’t think this is going to bring in the income we expect.  And, it might just generate a lot of bad press.”  Somehow the idea got out of committee and became a new policy that took effect last Monday.

Now librarians are starting to boycott Harper Collins.  They are making it known that if Harper Collins continues the 26 downloads limit, they will stop purchasing Harper Collins books.

Libraries are so important to our communities.  The ability to check-out materials for free is a great equalizer for families without the means to purchase children’s books — or for those (like me) who like the idea of borrowing and returning materials.  My house and budget aren’t big enough to accommodate all the books our girls want to read.  The library is the answer for us.

Libraries provide internet access, circulate educational software and help children of all ages develop a love of reading.  A wonderful children’s librarian at a nearby public library helped us teach our girls learn about all the joys of reading.  His story time characters brought books to life in a way that invigorated their imaginations.   He connected the story with the craft with the lesson.  Sure, mom and dad read in funny voices, but Mr. Dan captivated their attention.

In these days of tight budgets for families, libraries are often a source of free programming and entertainment materials.  Our library offers programming from travelogues to children’s entertainers to foreign films.  I know many families who depend on the library for much of their entertainment.

Even if you don’t own an ereader — and I don’t — the proposed limits on material downloads should be a concern.  I called my local library to see how they are reacting to the proposed change.   I let them know that I’m happy to come by and sign a petition if they start one.  What is your library doing?  If you don’t know, now is the time to find out.

Shari blogs about life with twins at Two Times the Fun.  Photo courtesy of Stock Exchange.

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Category: Books, New Posts, Parenting, Preschool, School

About Shari: Shari is a mom, wife, marketing communications professional, gardener, Chicago Blackhawks fan, college sports fan, traveler, quilter, community volunteer, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, Siberian Husky owner, Girl Scout troop leader and book lover. You can find Shari blogging about life with twins at Two Times the Fun and tweeting @slcs48n1. View author profile.

Comments (6)

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  1. This is an interesting publisher response to a relatively new dilemma for them.
    Libraries will be negatively affected…thank you for the alert to this issue.

  2. Lisa says:

    I honestly can see where they are coming from. A printed book at the library is purchased and then can be checked out by countless people but only one person at a time and for a limited time. If an ebook is available on line to unlimited number of people and for unrestricted download so that a person has the ebook now forever, its more like the issue the music industry faced with napster than how books are borrowed from the library. I have an ereader on my phone but i refuse to pay for ebooks strictly for the fear of losing them in a technological glitch. but I could see how unrestricted ebook use at libraries could really hurt publishers. whether this is the appropriate answer, probably not. but I can understand their feeling the need to do something.

    • Karen says:

      My experiences with eBook checkout is that it functions similarly to print books. If someone else has the book virtually checked out, then you go on the waiting list to check it out. When you do check it out, you have a set amount of time (my library is 7 or 10 days, you choose). When that time expires, the eBook vanishes. A borrower isn’t getting a permanent electronic copy. I find this to be a good, workable solution.

      The one semi-valid concern I’ve heard the publishers express on this topic is that bound books fall apart eventually and then the libraries repurchase them. However, I think we all have libraries that sell off books they no longer need/want in the collection, so I don’t *quite* buy this argument, many library books appear to have a very long life. Further, the argument fails in light of the new digital age; it shows a resistance to change. Publishers have to evolve, have to keep up, have to be creative. And restricting the number of checkouts to 26 is not creative. (Show me how many bound books fall apart at 26 reads? I’m not believing it. My son’s middle school’s copies of The Hunger Games series get 26 check outs in a matter of months, I would wager. And these are middle schoolers, not known for treating books well.)

    • Sandi says:

      Lisa, eBooks operate much the same as a printed book as far as one person/one checkout per license. eBooks also “expire” after the loan period. Patrons cannot build a virtual library of borrowed eBooks, nor can they return an eBook early.

      There are 26 libraries in my consortium who have banded together to purchase eBooks. Under the HarperCollins model, each library would be lucky to have one patron able to borrow the book, and based on an average 2 or 3 week lending period, that could be a year or so after its release!

      I do not have a problem with authors and publishers making money, but even before Harper/Collins decided to limit the number of checkouts, the pricing structure of eBooks was exorbitant. After all, there are no overhead costs associated with them. No paper was consumed, no physical storage space (warehouse)needed, no shipping or handling.

      I am not certain what the answer is, but as a librarian noted on H/C’s “Library Love Fest” blog, libraries have been providing free real estate and promotion for authors and publishers since Day 1. Money, space, and time are all limited, and choosing to buy any given book prevents us from buying what could potentially be a blockbuster first novel by an unknown author. In that way, H/C’s decision will help the small press publishers and authors whose work(s) would not normally be purchased and promoted.

  3. Susan says:

    A copy of an e-book can only be used by one person at a time. The library has to buy multiple copies if they want more than one person reading the book at the same time.

  4. As an old curmudgeon who is adamantly stomping her feet against ever having an e-reader, I think that this bodes well for the paper books. Long Live Paper!


    It’ll happen for me eventually. I’m just not up for that big of a change. Not yet… I also held my grounds against ever getting a digital camera. It happened about 5 years ago for us and I immediately stopped developing any pictures of any sort and I HATE THAT!! The idea of never owning any other paper books kind of mortifies me, so I shall continue my one-man stance for the battle for Paper Books.

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