And the controversy over ebook lending continues:
Well, it looks like messing with Librarian’s isn’t the cakewalk HarperCollins expected it to be.
As of March 7, 2011, several library consortia have decided to suspend any future purchases of ebook licenses from HarperCollins as a direct result of the publisher’s recent decision to enact a license limit of 26 check-outs on ebook titles.
In an article by Michael Kelley that can be found at Library Journal (sorry guys, I know I keep cribbing from you, but who else has the best info on Library news?), the response and concerns regarding HarperCollins actions are chronicled. Predictably, they’re not happy. From Joan Kuklinski, executive director of the Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing Consortium:
“The library model has always been you purchase and own it for perpetuity, and I don’t think the format should matter as long as rights are being protected,” she told LJ. “No one tells a library they have to pull their books off the shelf after a certain number of circulations so why should this be different? They are looking at consortia as a threat, and it’s totally the wrong approach,” she said.
Directors of the Upper Hudson Library system have also decided to no longer buy their ebook titles from HarperCollins, calling the decision “patently ridiculous” (oh, fun with puns!) while several other consortiums have hopped on the bandwagon (read the article, I can’t crib everything!).
The best argument against such an arbitrary move is Adri Edwards-Johnson (coordinator of the Virtual Library) video demonstrating that print books have a much longer shelf life than HarperCollins is claiming. Ouch, awkward moment for the publisher.
So, there we have it. In their efforts to secure an ongoing profit stream from ebook sales to libraries for themselves, and by extension, the authors they’re claiming to represent, HarperCollins has managed to ensure that neither they nor their authors will see a cent until this issue is resolved. Furthermore, they’ve managed to damage their brand.
I doubt we’ve heard the last of this issue, and suspect that some sort of accommodation will eventually be worked out, but for the moment, it looks like HarperCollins is locked out.
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.
President of Sales
(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.
A considerate lover is always a good thing, whether in bed or everyday life. Roses, sweet nothings whispered in a paramour’s ear, generally being attentive, all these things contribute to a great relationship.
So why is HarperCollins playing so rough with librarians?
In an on-line article earlier this week for Library Journal, Josh Hadro chronicles the recent decision by HarperCollins to restrict the number of circulations of ebook titles by libraries to a strangely arbitrary number of 26. Yep, libraries can distribute their ebooks 26 times and then they have to pay for a new license.
Why 26 times?
“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.” (from the article)
Reaaaaallllly? So what’s next Mr. Marwell? Will you be sending out notices to librarians across the nation that once a book has been loaned out 26 times, it’s time to rip the cover off, return it, and buy a new copy?
Granted, even with this decision, HarperCollins is still more graceful than a couple of its competitors.
“While HarperCollins is the first major publisher to amend the terms of loan for its titles, two other members of the publishing “big six”—Macmillan and Simon & Schuster—still do not allow ebooks to be circulated in libraries…”.
Look, it’s understandable that ebook piracy is hitting publishers traditionally small profit margin and that the bread and butter of both publishers and authors is sales and the accompanying residuals. The rise of ebooks has also cut into these margins, although one would think it has radically reduced publication costs.
(after all, there’s no physical book to print, bind or distribute)
What’s not to be understood (or tolerated) is this ridiculous attempt to squeeze a little more out of a social service itself falling on hard times.
Libraries have never been the go-to service when relegating public funds, so increasing their cost of operating really isn’t a smart idea. They’re also a great marketing tool, showcasing authors, sponsoring book clubs, generally doing a portion of the marketing department’s work for them.
Furthermore, they’ve also already paid for the product. It’s their property to do with as they will, isn’t it?
Show a little tenderness HC (and company), be a considerate lover, not a brute!