Some of you may have heard about the new debacle between Harper Collins (one of the larger publishing houses) and Libraries this week, with Overdrive standing like a child between two fighting parents (#hcod). First there was news that OD sent out a memo to employees that HC would be putting a cap on check outs of ebooks for libraries. Now, this might make sense if you model ebooks after physical books, where they eventually wear out, get damaged or just disappear over time. However, you’ll notice that neither HC or OD were discussing this with libraries, their clients whom the new policy would affect. Also, they set the magic number to 26 check outs, which is a little arbitrary.
There was a second part of the policy, which would be that HC wanted closer oversight over who was allowed to borrow library materials. That’s just not going to happen. Libraries are already pretty strict about lending policies and who qualifies for a card. Those policies are almost always available on the libraries website. If HC wants to go take a look at each and every one and see if they agree with them, they should go ahead and do so. It might take a while.
So librarians found out about this new policy coming down the pipes in a FEW DAYS, and they put up a fuss (as you can see from the linked twitter feed above). Here are a couple of examples. Then HC replied and OD replied. The first was what you would expect–our current policies are old and we need to update them and stay relevant. Well, publishers do need to stay relevant if they want to survive the digital age, More restrictions are not the way to go. Libraries are already trying to figure out how to have enough electronic copies of a book to satisfy their patrons.
You may ask–but they are electronic, can’t more than one person download it at a time? No no, can’t work that way. How would the authors and publishers make any money if we only had to buy one copy for many people? We buy, essentially, licenses for the book and one person can use one license at a time. Like software can only be put on a limited number of computers. This is copyright (and DRM) and protects the author from giving their book away. Some authors, like Cory Doctorow, give their books away on their own, and that works for them (with rules, of course). Others don’t use a publisher or agent, they publish electronically on Amazon, and have the potential to sell plenty.
The digital age is going through growing pains. We have seen the same problem happening with CDs, MP3s, DVDs and torrents. The question I think it comes down to is will the publishers and producers adapt? We can’t apply print media rules to digital materials. It is a different kettle of fish.
To press my point, here is a message from a Harper Collins author, Marilyn Johnson. At the bottom she gives information on how to give feedback to HC on this issue. Full disclosure, Marilyn Johnson is a library advocate and wrote This Book is Overdue.