Publisher opts to limit library loan of e-books
By Rege Behe
Published: Friday, March 11, 2011
The life of a book in a library can be indefinite.
The life of an e-book• There is now an expiration date for some titles in a library's collection.
Recently HarperCollins, the publisher for authors including Louise Erdrich, Joyce Carol Oates and Elmore Leonard, announced that its e-books purchased by libraries will be limited to 26 checkouts each before the license expires.
Librarians are worried this could become the benchmark, not the exception, for all publishers.
"If all publishers limit e-books to 26 checkouts, libraries will have to renew a portion of their collection every year," says Cesare J. Muccari, library director for the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.
"One of the concerns of libraries is, is this just the beginning of a trend in more restricted access than what we already get?" says Sarah Beasley, who is transitioning to the position of coordinator of e-Resources at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
In a prepared statement, HarperCollins said its policy concerning e-book usage at libraries needed to be updated to reflect the growing use of the technology:
"It is projected that the installed base of e-reading devices domestically will reach nearly 40 million this year. We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors. We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel."
HarperCollins' decision to limit e-book access is another burden for libraries that have been subject to budget cuts in recent years even as demand for library services has increased. Muccari says a hidden factor in the decision is the price libraries pay for e-books. A consumer will pay $12.99 for the e-book of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" at amazon.com.; libraries will play closer to the hardback list price of $27.
"We're really getting bashed," Muccari says, noting that two publishers, Simon & Schuster and MacMillan, do not permit any sales of e-books to libraries.
Another concern is that the demand for popular titles might prevent a library from adding books in other sections. To meet demands by patrons last year, the Northland Public Library in McCandless ordered 30 hardback copies of "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.
"The trickle-down effect of that is it doesn't allow us to grow our collection in other areas," says Karen Shaw, an adult-services librarian at Northland. "We'd like to make sure we have fabulous art books, books on car repair, in order to provide a well-rounded collection."
There are websites and a Facebook page vowing to boycott HarperCollins' books unless the decision to limit e-book checkouts is rescinded. Muccari, who casts HarperCollins' decision as an element of jockeying for control between publishers, authors, bookstores, libraries and vendors in the book economy, mulled joining the boycotting before deciding against it.
"You can do that with one company," he says. "But if all of them go that way, how can a library boycott every publisher?"
While librarians decry any limit on checkouts, Beasley says she thinks the HarperCollins decision may provide an opportunity to bring all publishers into the e-book conversation.
"This could open up a dialogue to debate different access options," Beasley says, "and, in some ways, allow greater access to publisher's materials."
What's one advantage of downloading an e-book from a library?
"The beauty of it is you can do this from home in the middle of the night," says Karen Shaw, an adult-services librarian at Northland Public Library in McCandless.
Shaw compares the process to downloading music from iTunes — except the library service is free. Patrons need only a library card and Internet access via a computer, iPad, or other reading device. (Kindles are not compatible with library systems; they only work via amazon.com.)
Via downloadable intermediary software — the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system uses OverDrive at www.clpgh.org — patrons browse the library's site. Books are added to a digital cart, then downloaded.
There are never any late fees, because titles expire at the end of the loan period of three weeks.
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