Publisher’s e-book loan limits anger local librarians

Local librarians are indignant about a new policy from publisher HarperCollins that restricts electr

Local librarians are indignant about a new policy from publisher HarperCollins that restricts electronic books to just 26 views before libraries must buy a new electronic copy.

Two local library systems have boycotted new purchases of HarperCollins e-books, and a third that doesn’t offer them yet finds the policy troubling.

“It just leaves me speechless,” said Sara Dallas, director of the Southern Adirondack Library System, which announced Tuesday its boycott of HarperCollins e-books. “This just makes me angry on so many levels.”

The system has 35 member libraries in Saratoga, Warren, Washington and Hamilton counties, and patrons of all of them can download the e-books for free. The digital files are checked out to one person at a time, just like traditional books.

At the end of the one- or two-week lending period, the digital file disappears from the user’s e-reader and is available to another library patron.

But, HarperCollins e-books that are purchased expire after 26 checkouts since the new policy took effect March 7. That means libraries would have to buy those titles every six months to a year, making them too expensive to carry, though librarians still plan to buy traditional copies of the books.

Popular authors Barbara Kingsolver, Janet Evanovich, Debbie Macomber, Neil Gaiman, Mary Jane Clark and the late Michael Crichton are published with HarperCollins.

Upper Hudson Library System, a consortium of 29 libraries in Albany and Rensselaer counties, boycotted the publisher’s e-books Monday.

Books currently offered by libraries won’t be affected, the publisher said.

In an open letter to librarians published March 1 on HarperCollins’ blog for libraries, president of sales Josh Marwell said the company has been listening to the criticism from libraries. But, its previous unlimited policy for libraries was developed almost 10 years ago, when few people had e-readers, Marwell said.

“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,” he wrote.

But libraries don’t really own the e-books forever, Dallas said. They only lease a license to the e-book as long as they contract with a third-party supplier that provides the e-books. Most libraries, including the Southern Adirondack Library System, use the company OverDrive.

Popular e-books can cost about $20 each through that service, although costs vary and there are sales on less popular books, Dallas said. Hardcovers are sold at a discount to libraries, which might pay $15 each. But hardcover books can be checked out dozens, if not hundreds of times, before they need to be discarded, making them a far better value than the HarperCollins e-books.

Dallas plans to let the individual libraries decide how many additional paper copies of books they’ll need to make up for the lack of the e-books from that publisher.

“It’s not as if we’re only buying in e-book format,” she said.

The Mohawk Valley Library System, which includes libraries in Schenectady, Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, doesn’t offer e-books yet, but is hoping to start offering them in six months or so.

“We probably would end up joining the boycott,” said director Carol Clingan. “But it makes it even more difficult to institute this as a service.”

Public libraries are formidable spenders on books and other media. Schenectady County Public Library alone spends $700,000 a year on new collections, said director Andy Kulmatiski. “That should give us some buying power,” he said.

Patrons in the Mohawk Valley system want to read e-books, Kulmatiski said. “Hopefully soon we’ll come up with something that makes sense for everybody.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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