Self-destructing eBooks rile librarians

A publisher's new policy forces libraries to repurchase eBooks after 26 check-outs.

A move by publisher HarperCollins, which would cap eBook loans from public libraries at 26 check-outs before requiring the library to repurchase the eBook, has school and public librarians worried about how such a policy will affect strained library budgets.

The new policy comes after HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., said it has “serious concerns that our previous eBook policy, selling eBooks to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging eBook ecosystem, hurt the growing eBook channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.”

Libraries can lend out an eBook from the publisher 26 times—“a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist,” according to a statement from HarperCollins—before the eBook will expire and vanish.

Libraries then would have to repurchase the book, although HarperCollins said the price would be “significantly” lower.

But many librarians are upset and say the change will put a huge strain on already cash-strapped school and public libraries.

New Jersey librarian Andy Woodworth started a petition on challenging HarperCollins to drop its controversial new policy. As of press time, 67,978 people had signed the petition.

In an eMail interview with eSchool News, Woodworth said he understands HarperCollins’ position in its official statement, because the company is “working to ensure its own future to publish books (both eBooks and paper), to develop and market literary talent, and to protect authors from piracy and copyright infringement.”

The issue lies with the method the publisher is using to protect its interests, he said.

“I believe limited eBook checkouts hurt the overall market by placing limitations on libraries and readership, as well as interfere with the cultural preservation mission of libraries,” Woodworth said. “Artificial scarcity is moving in the opposite direction of the digital age and something that will be universally rejected by the online world.”