Thursday, March 3, 2011

HarperCollins vs Libraries

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last couple of weeks you would know that HarperCollins wants to restrict libraries to 26 checkouts for ebooks.  That’s about a year of use for popular titles before the ebook goes “poof” and the library has to buy a new copy.  Apparently this is based on  the fact that normal print titles last around 26 checkouts before needing to be replaced (Really?).

I won’t go into the details of why this makes absolutely no sense.  The arguments are many.   What I will say is that it looks like publishers want their bread buttered on both sides.  They want to cripple the rights of ebook ‘owners’ (you only own a license to read the book, so you can’t sell it, donate it or actually do much of anything with it) since it’s not a physical object.  At the same time they want to add all the disadvantages of the printed copy to the ebook – a physical book deteriorates over time so apparently an ebook should act in the same way.

Why on earth would you want to add an artificial restriction to a medium that doesn’t actually wear out with use?

(That was a rhetorical question. Obviously the only logical reason is to increase profits, but heck you figured it out by yourself right… right?).

I love the library.  Every two weeks I go and select my allowance of four titles and leave with a smile on my face.  That’s regardless of the fact that I own loads of books which still need to be read.  My small local library is what got me addicted to reading and I’ve discovered many a new author there which I subsequently added to my own to-buy list.  Their funding is determined by the amount of checkouts they receive, so I do my small part in keeping their numbers up.

Currently ebooks aren’t available from libraries in South Africa, at least not from small town libraries like the one I belong to.  However the day will come when ebooks are going to be offered so the current fight for the rights of libraries in the ebook marketplace is important.

As a matter of interest I checked the books I checked out to see how old they are, what their condition is and how many times they’ve been checked out.  The results are quite interesting.

Paint Your Dragon - 15 years in library with 39 checkouts
Paint your Dragon by Tom Holt (Paperback. 1996 Edition)
39 Checkouts.  Good condition. Slight yellowing of pages. No missing/torn pages.  Spine undamaged Going strong after 15 years of use.

Pawn of Prophecy - 17 years in library with 33 checkouts
Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings (Paperback. 1993 Edition)
33 Checkouts.  Good condition. Slight yellowing of pages. No missing/torn pages.  Spine undamaged.  This is the exact same copy I read while at school about 14 years ago!  Still very readable after 17 years and I’m sure it’s going to last for another decade or so.
Airframe - 14 years in library with 58 checkouts
Airframe by Micheal Chrichton. (Hardcover. 1996 Edition).
58 checkouts.  Very good condition. Slight yellowing on edge of pages. No missing/torn pages.  Great condition after 14 years and still going strong.

Obviously my local library has an extremely small budget so books are only replaced when absolutely necessary and the selection gets rotated between a couple of libraries from nearby towns.  I’m sure that if had the time to look I could find a copies of books that are in circulation for more than 25 years and still being read.

Now if you apply the 26 checkout restriction to these titles.  It would have meant that the library would have had to buy the first two titles twice and the last title three times over.  That would have doubled their expenditure to stock the same three titles.

I hope HarperCollins will come to their senses and that this won't be the start of another Agency 5 debacle.

It would be interesting to see some more stats on the number of checkouts of printed books still in circulation in libraries.  I'm sure most of them will far exceed the artificial 26 limit that HarperCollins views as the benchmark.

Perhaps it's time to go sleuthing in your local library and see what the real situation is like...


  1. Hi there Crusader
    I never knew that there was this 26 checkout thing... like you I live in a town that has a small library, and I'm pretty sure some of the books have been there for longer than just 26 checkouts, so I'm going to do what you suggest and sleuth through my library and I'll report back to you.

    I think its rediculous to have such a rule, especially in small towns where money isnt always available for new books.

    Great post you did!

  2. Lol, I must have been living under a rock because this is the first I've heard of this. I don't really follow eBook news though.

    Great post. I love that you've recorded the checkouts for your library books. How did they come to the number 26? That seems very unlikely. Not to mention the fact that many library books can easily be repaired before needing to be replaced, further extending their use.

  3. Personally I think it's a big thumbsuck on their part. They however state that it is based on extensive research and represents the average lifetime of physical books in the library environment.

    Quite coincidental that 26 is a year of usage for popular titles - 52/2 weeks per loan period = 26.

  4. Hmm I must have been under a rock too cos I had not heard anything along these lines. But then our libraries dont do e-books yet!