Last Thursday, library ebook provider OverDrive announced a revision to their lending terms. Effective the first week of March, titles licensed by “certain publishers” would expire after they had been lent to library patrons a certain number of times. When this news broke, a follow up in Library Journal outed HarperCollins as the publisher responsible for the change.
The reaction from librarians has been swift and vociferous against the policy – the hashtag #hcod has been active throughout the weekend and yesterday there were calls for a library boycott of HarperCollins titles. Others have suggested a thorough reexamination of where libraries fit within the ebook ecosystem, with Eric Hellman reiterating a call for “publishers and libraries to sit down together and develop new models for working together in the ebook economy.”
HarperCollins has been following the conversation on social media, while OverDrive posted a response on their corporate blog this morning.
We’ve been tracking the developments – here’s a list of the essential reading on the subject:
The Original Letter from OverDrive to Library Partners
Steve Potash, OverDrive CEO
To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).
In advance of any licensing changes going into effect, we will communicate the details (effective date, how to order, etc.), through “Critical Alerts” in Content Reserve. Any eBook license term changes will not be retroactive or affect titles already licensed and in your OverDrive catalogs, prior to the effective date. In an effort to reduce library and patron confusion during this transition period, we will also develop clear and well-marked indications on any eBook or other titles in Content Reserve that are subject to new or modified publisher terms. At present, these lending model changes do not affect audiobooks, and are not wide-reaching, and instead limited to a one publisher’s content.
Though the letter leaves the publisher unnamed, HarperCollins confirmed today to LJ that it is the publisher referred to.
The publisher also issued a short statement: “HarperCollins is committed to the library channel. We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come.”
Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.
As noted in the letter, the terms will not be specific to OverDrive, and will likewise apply to “all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending.” The new terms will not be retroactive, and will apply only to new titles. More details on the new terms are set to be announced next week.
Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back
(includes links to multiple posts from librarians on the subject)
Bobbi L. Newman
Boycott HarperCollins: An Explanation
Brett Bonfield and Gabriel Farrell
It’s true that library materials don’t have an unlimited shelf-life, though many libraries still circulate books that are well over a hundred years old. Given the pace of digital innovation, there’s a good chance that ebook files libraries purchase today will be obsolete within a few years. For now, libraries have arrangements with publishers and ebook vendors that include some restrictions on ebooks lending, such as two-week loan limits and one-borrower-at-a-time. These restrictions make borrowing or loaning an ebook much like borrowing or loaning a traditional book.
HCOD, eBook User Bill of Rights, and Math
A Library Written in Disappearing Ink
Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal
I once wrote “Treating the digital like the physical is insanity of the highest order.” I think that’s true, but in this case (as in the one that I laid out in the article) it’s libraries that are expecting the digital to act like the physical. We want the benefits of the physical (straightforward circulation, first sale rights, etc) but also the benefits of the digital (unlimited checkouts, easy and fast ILL, infinite storage). Eric Hellman has done an amazing job over at Go To Hellman talking about the economic side of ebook lending. You should go read it, because here’s the truth:
We don’t get to have both.
Either we deal in containers, which we know and understand and have solid economic models for, or we find a way to deal with content, which we don’t fully understand and is hard and messy and doesn’t work inside the same economic models. The economic models for content are still shaking out, and if the history of other media types is any indication, the middle-men of the process end up being the losers.
HarperCollins and the Suspension of eBook Disbelief
HarperCollins may be inept, but it isn’t being evil. Pricing for digital products is really difficult. Once you drop the pretense of print, you run into new issues of fairness. Does it make sense to charge the same for an ebook to a small library that you charge to a large consortium? Of course not. Does it make sense to charge for a blockbuster what you charge for a work by an unknown author? Of course not. It’s easy to poke holes in a pricing strategy; it’s much harder to come up with a regime that works for everybody.
I said it a year ago, and I’ll say it again:
Now is the time for publishers and libraries to sit down together and develop new models for working together in the ebook economy.
A message from OverDrive on HarperCollins’ new eBook licensing terms
Steve Potash, OverDrive CEO
Since Friday, we’ve heard directly from many library partners about the new eBook licensing terms instituted by HarperCollins. As an initial step, here is what OverDrive is doing about it.
Beginning March 7, we are making changes in the eBook ordering process. HarperCollins eBooks and their catalog of titles will be moved from our general eBook catalog to a separate collection. Until we have time to review the effect of these new terms with our library partners, HarperCollins eBooks will not be listed in our Library Marketplace. You will be able to review and order HarperCollins eBooks from a separated catalog, if you so choose.
HarperCollins Responds on Twitter:
Have we missed some thoughtful posts on the subject? Please send us links in the comments and we’ll get them up.