Monday, February 28, 2011

Harper Collins harpooning the libraries

News has flooded twitter and the blog-o-sphere regarding Overdrive being forced by the publisher Harper Collins to put an expiration on ebooks.  An expiration?  How does an item made essentially from binary code all 1's and 0's expire?  Harper Collins books will have a cap on the number of times the book can be check-out from the library.  After the maximum of checkouts (in this case 26), it will be locked or some such, and the library will have to purchase another copy.  This is in reaction (or maybe dawning realization) that the public libraries will not have to purchase replacement copies that they normally would due to lost books or wear and tear.

Several of the blogs that I have read such as Agnostic, Maybe (love the blog btw), suggest that the libraries have power to object by not purchasing the books.  In an ideal world, I would agree, and as long as Harper Collins is the only publisher with these restrictions it remains a valid option.  However, this type of strong arming by publishers is not new - just ask those in academia.  Case in point are the "Big Deal" publishers such as Elsevier.  They have a strangle hold on the science journal publications or so they like to brag.  They are also extremely pricey as in I could buy a nice new car for one journal title, and I am not talking Ford Fiesta.  They also have cancellation clauses in their contracts to where you cannot cancel more than say 1% of the current year subscription cost.  Their competitors do the same thing.  Not buying is an option, but is it the best service for our users?  Perhaps, if we can find alternatives.  Did I mention that contributors to scientific journals do not get paid?  Talk about a double whammy.

It terms of the glass is half-full, it could always be worse.  According to Library Journal, there are still two major publishers that don't allow their ebooks to circulate in libraries - Macmillan and Simon & Schuster.  The publishers have a legitimate concern, their bottom line.  The library concerns are being a good steward of public monies and making content/information available to our users.  It seems like their should be a middle ground, and we need to start a dialogue with the publishers.

Simon and Schuster:

I think what publishers are missing is that while we may not be replacing titles due to wear, we will still be spending the same amount of money on materials.  We will simply purchase additional titles that we may not have been able to purchase before.  I would be curious to know how much of library spending is for replacements.  At my last library it was a miniscule amount.  I do not have access to those budget figures here.  Just as libraries need to adapt to changing technologies and investigate how they need to change their services to fit the users' new needs, so does the publisher need to adapt.  This may mean a completely new business model.  Marketers Test Ads in Ebooks  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's fair for publishers to set a limit, but I don't think 26 is a fair number. Also, I think that publishers should give options, i.e., one price for 26 uses, another for 52, and maybe a larger price for unlimited uses. That way prices could be managed based on book popularity and customer usage rather than the publisher's arbitrary numbers. Publishers need to keep in mind that if they're too unfriendly to libraries, they'll kill the opportunities the new technology provides that could keep them afloat.