There’s a certain amount of wear-and-tear on library books. You can only check out Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince so many times, for example, before a well-loved book becomes a little too well-loved for circulation. Librarians are masters at maintaining books – repairing spines, patching torn pages, protecting covers, keeping books available for library patrons.
But imagine, if you will, a publishing company – oh, let’s say HarperCollins – telling libraries that after checking out a book a certain number of times – oh, let’s say 26 – that they’ve reached the cap on loans. The book can no longer be shared, and libraries need to return the copy or buy the book again.
In a letter to its library customers, OverDrive CEO Steve Potash announced the changes to the terms, writing:
“To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).”
Potash’s letter doesn’t specify HarperCollins by name, but the publishing company has confirmed to Library Journal that these are, indeed, its new terms for lending e-books. The new cap for the number of times an e-book can be loaned will be 26.
The publishing company has issued a statement, saying that it “is committed to the library channel. We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come.”
We’ve written several times here at ReadWriteWeb about the future of libraries and e-books. It’s an important issue – as more and more library patrons are keen to borrow digital books – but a complicated one – as the publishing industry has, in many cases, been reluctant to make the move to e-book lending. It’s worth noting that two of the largest publishers, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, still do not make their e-books available for libraries to loan.
As frustrating as e-book lending policies are for consumers’ personal copies, the stakes are significantly higher for libraries. Already facing budget cuts and crises, many libraries are struggling to keep their patrons happy with e-readers and e-books. The answer, according to HarperCollins it seems: just buy more printed books.