License Revoked!


So, you’re a Librarian, eh?

In a February 25, 2011 article by Josh Hadro of the Library Journal, it was noted that HarperCollins is instituting a new program regarding licensing of ebooks to libraries.  As discussed in my earlier post, the long and short of it is, “26 reads and your license is revoked.”  HarperCollins take on the subject was that 26 viewings was the equivalent of about a year and a half of circulation for a physical book and also the average lifespan of said physical book.  While I understand their rationale, it’s pretty much bogus.  If you were to extend it to its logical conclusion, then libraries would have to send back any title that had been checked out 26 times, whether in good condition or not.

So, today is another day, and feeling the need to justify their actions (Honey, why do you make me hurt you?), HarperCollins responded to criticism in an open letter to Librarians, explaining their position in further detail:

   

March 1, 2010

Open Letter to Librarians:

Over the last few days we at HarperCollins have been listening to the discussion about changes to our e-book policy. HarperCollins is committed to libraries and recognizes that they are a crucial part of our local communities. We count on librarians reading our books and spreading the word about our authors’ good works. Our goal is to continue to sell e-books to libraries, while balancing the challenges and opportunities that the growth of e-books presents to all who are actively engaged in buying, selling, lending, promoting, writing and publishing books.

We are striving to find the best model for all parties. Guiding our decisions is our goal to make sure that all of our sales channels, in both print and digital formats, remain viable, not just today but in the future. Ensuring broad distribution through booksellers and libraries provides the greatest choice for readers and the greatest opportunity for authors’ books to be discovered.

Our prior e-book policy for libraries dates back almost 10 years to a time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure. 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.

We spent many months examining the issues before making this change. We talked to agents and distributors, had discussions with librarians, and participated in the Library Journal e-book Summit and other conferences. Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist. If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount.

We invite libraries and library distributors to partner with us as we move forward with these new policies. We look forward to ongoing discussions about changes in this space and will continue to look to collaborate on mutually beneficial opportunities.

Sincerely,

Josh Marwell
President of Sales
HarperCollinsPublishers

(Please note that this letter was reproduced from the March 1st column by Josh Hadro and Francine Fialkoff at Library Journal)

So, where should we start?  How about here:

“We are striving to find the best model for all parties. Guiding our decisions is our goal to make sure that all of our sales channels, in both print and digital formats, remain viable, not just today but in the future. Ensuring broad distribution through booksellers and libraries provides the greatest choice for readers and the greatest opportunity for authors’ books to be discovered.”

 Well, fair enough.  It is a business, not a charity.

“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.”

Also fair.  While I don’t have access to their financials, publishing has never been a business with a high profit margin.  And perpetuity is certainly a long time.  Although…I have never heard of libraries placing “additional” (or any, frankly) pressure on physical bookstores.  People either use libraries or they don’t.  The real pressure on physical bookstores will come with the continuing rise of sales of ereaders and ebooks.  Several large chains have already noted this pressure and responded by marketing their own ereaders.  See Barnes and Noble’s Nook, or Chapters Kobo as two examples.

As for royalties to authors, I highly doubt that library copies of their books are the bread and butter of their existence.  In fact, they’re a great marketing tool.

“Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist. If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount.”

Okay, here’s where I take real issue with HarperCollins position.  It’s great that they will offer a significant discount on repurchases, but their arbitrary “26 reads and you’re out” does not reflect the physical value of a book.  How many times have you been to a library and grabbed a hardcover that dates back to the 60’s?  Hardcover books have a significantly longer shelf life than HarperCollins is asserting, unless they’re farming out production to some sketchy suppliers.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, my thoughts on the subject are to take the circulation limitation off the table and offer up these licenses for a realistic time period.  That would be up to the publisher and their counterparts in the library world to work out amongst themselves, but a fair (to my mind) limitation would be somewhere between three and five years. 

It’s interesting that this issue has finally come to light.  I’m not sure if the general public is aware that ebooks are sold as licenses, rather than a product that’s your own to do with what you will.  In the same article, Hadro links to an ebook user’s Bill of Rights, as a consumer’s defense against constant and arbitrary revision of rules of use.  With the ebook industry still in its infancy, a bill of rights would go a long way to protecting consumers from misuse (such as gouging libraries) of ebook licenses.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s