A New eBook Challenge: Can Publishers and Libraries Find Compromise?

Mere hours after posting some eBook buying guidelines for children’s librarians over on the ALSC blog, news broke that HarperCollins is renegotiating their lending terms with Overdrive to limit the total number of times an eBook can circulate.  Their proposal: 26 circs.

And people are pissed.  With good reason.

Before I heard the actual cap, I was not completely surprised.  After all, publishers have to pay authors, illustrators, designers, editors, and yes, even themselves.  The truth is, physical books do eventually fall apart.  And libraries often replace those copies.  Looked at from that perspective, I didn’t think it entirely unreasonable for publishers to be a little wary of a medium that never, ever needs replacing.

Then, I heard the terms.  26 circs.  Yowza.  And now I’m having a harder time justifying this in the name of paying hard-working authors and illustrators.  That’s just downright unreasonable, almost laughable in it’s absurdity, and frankly, a digital slap in the face to readers and libraries.

But I’m a peace-loving, middle-ground-seeking kinda gal.  I think the way through this current eBook crisis will be by finding better, smarter solutions that offer a compromise for all parties involved.

What’s this grand solution?  Well, let’s start brainstorming.

To start, Liz Rea has some innovative ideas.

What about a tiered lending model?

Think about how libraries purchase print books. For flash-in-the-pan hits, we might buy multiple paperback copies.  The idea being that they will get a lot of circ now and then die out, fall apart, and be weeded.  For works with staying power, we might invest in a library-binding edition that costs a little more, but will last better over time.

What if an eBook was available with limited digital shelf-life?  Rather than capping the number of times checked out, say they expired from our catalog after 1 year, or 3, or 5, or 10, depending on the price.  We could decide which type to purchase for our collections.  When the expiration date approaches, we would be given the option to “renew” it or we could let it die.

Some have suggested a boycott of HarperCollins books- digital and otherwise- until they relent.  I’m much more hopeful that HarperCollins, and other publishers about to make similar decisions, will come to the table and realize the importance of working with libraries.  Developing a fair lending model for libraries is in the interest of both parties.

photo courtesy of Flickr user Pen Waggener