Thursday, March 10, 2011

HarperCollins' New Ebook Policy for Libraries

blog1HarperCollins announced that it would only allow 26 borrows of its ebooks at libraries.

This, naturally, ignited something of a firestorm.

The point of libraries, of course, is to lend books to readers for free. The libraries buy a certain number of copies of a book or video or CD and then lend them out until the thing falls apart. That’s what it’s all about.

In addition, as Eric Blank at Pimp My Novel put it:

E-books don't take up physical shelf space, so the limiting factor that once forced a librarian to choose between replacing a popular title that's worn out and purchasing a different title—that is, space—no longer exists. More titles sold is good for everyone.

HarperCollins’ response to the concerned patrons and librarians is:

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.

But librarians contend that a print bestseller can be borrowed over 26 times before it starts self-destructing.

An article by Martin Taylor on the TeleRead blog supports HarperCollins’ policy:

Ebooks don’t wear out, they’re easy to find and hard to lose, so chances are libraries will need fewer to service the same level of borrowing. And new technology is making the effort required to borrow minimal. These facts underpin concerns about how the paid ebook market will be affected if borrowing (especially from public libraries which are open to anyone) offers few disadvantages over purchase. Borrowing ebooks can be made as easy and accessible—24/7 from anywhere—as buying them.

To me, this is the sort of wrangling that goes on when changes occur in any kind of industry. But I hate that it’s happening for libraries. I mean—come on. Libraries are getting absolutely shafted right now in every possible way…cut-backs, layoffs, closures—you name it.

My long-term strategy is to develop a relationship with my readers and increase my reader base as much as I can. One of the ways I do this is by making sure that my book is in as many public libraries as possible. I feel like the library is the #1 place for a reader to discover a new author or series. There’s absolutely nothing to lose when you check a book out. It’s risk-free. That means that you might be tempted to read something you ordinarily wouldn’t buy at a store. This opens an opportunity for authors to find new readers.

The publisher’s take on this, to me, seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to financial anxiety. And I know publishers are worried right now—I think most of us are. Bookstores are going bankrupt, libraries are closing, and it’s a brave new world out there with ebooks (and one where we haven’t figured out all the kinks yet.) But I just can’t see where these types of policies are going to ultimately be good for the reader (or, by extension, the writers.)

What do you make of it? Have any ideas on strategies that can make both parties satisfied? Feel free to leave any thoughts or ideas on ebook library lending here in my comments, or to email HarperCollins, who is inviting discussion: