HarperCollins to libraries: we will nuke your ebooks after 26 checkouts

LibraryGoblin sez, "HarperCollins has decided to change their agreement with e-book distributor OverDrive. They forced OverDrive, which is a main e-book distributor for libraries, to agree to terms so that HarperCollins e-books will only be licensed for checkout 26 times. Librarians have blown up over this, calling for a boycott of HarperCollins, breaking the DRM on e-books--basically doing anything to let HarperCollins and other publishers know they consider this abuse."

I've talked to a lot of librarians about why they buy DRM books for their collections, and they generally emphasize that buying ebooks with DRM works pretty well, generates few complaints, and gets the books their patrons want on the devices their patrons use. And it's absolutely true: on the whole, DRM ebooks, like DRM movies and DRM games work pretty well.

But they fail really badly. No matter how crappy a library's relationship with a print publisher might be, the publisher couldn't force them to destroy the books in their collections after 26 checkouts. DRM is like the Ford Pinto: it's a smooth ride, right up the point at which it explodes and ruins your day.

HarperCollins has some smart and good digital people (they're my UK/Australia/South Africa publisher, and I've met a ton of them). But batshit insane crap like this is proof that it doesn't matter how many good people there are at a company that has a tool at its disposal that is as dangerous and awful as DRM: the gun on the mantelpiece in act one will always go off by act three.

And that's why libraries should just stop buying DRM media for their collections. Period. It's unsafe at any speed.

I mean it. When HarperCollins backs down and says, "Oh, no, sorry, we didn't mean it, you can have unlimited ebook checkouts," the libraries' answers should be "Not good enough. We want DRM-free or nothing." Stop buying DRM ebooks. Do you think that if you buy twice, or three times, or ten times as many crippled books that you'll get more negotiating leverage with which to overcome abusive crap like this? Do you think that if more of your patrons come to rely on you for ebooks for their devices, that DRM vendors won't notice that your relevance is tied to their product and tighten the screws?

You have exactly one weapon in your arsenal to keep yourself from being caught in this leg-hold trap: your collections budget. Stop buying from publishers who stick time-bombs in their ebooks. Yes, you can go to the Copyright Office every three years and ask for a temporary exemption to the DMCA to let your jailbreak your collections, but that isn't Plan B, it's Plan Z. Plan A is to stop putting dangerous, anti-patron technology into your collections in the first place.

The publisher also issued a short statement: "HarperCollins 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."

Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told LJ that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

As noted in the letter, the terms will not be specific to OverDrive, and will likewise apply to "all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher's titles for library lending." The new terms will not be retroactive, and will apply only to new titles. More details on the new terms are set to be announced next week.

For the record, all of my HarperCollins ebooks are also available as DRM-free Creative Commons downloads. And as bad as HarperCollins' terms are, they're still better than Macmillan's, my US/Canadian publisher, who don't allow any library circulation of their ebook titles.

HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations (Thanks, LibraryGoblin, via Submitterator)


  1. Are they going to try to retroactively apply this to books that have already been purchased?
    Wouldn’t that be breach of contract? If I were a librarian I’d be wondering about a class action…

  2. I knew when I read Jasper Fforde’s The Well of Lost Plots — the plot focuses on some in the Book World pushing for upgrades to UltraWord, a system that allows a book to be read only 3 times — that it was only a matter of time before life imitated art….

    As a librarian, I’m appalled that a publisher would try this. Not surprised, just appalled.

    1. I’m not shocked. Publishers don’t want DRM free books because then there’s nothing stopping the ‘loans’ from turning into free book collections. And why buy the ebook or the book when you can grab it for free from the local library.

      I’m also not shocked about the notion of putting a limit on a book. My issue is the number was way too low. UNLESS it is per license bought. Lets say that you buy ten ‘copies’ each with a limit of 26 times per year. That’s not too insane since the checkout period is often two weeks anyway.But just 26 times and then you have to buy it again, that’s a tad insane given how little the ebooks cost the publisher compared to physical copies. Should be at least 4 times that amount

      1. Taking the Sacred Cow by the horns. DRM as a “Lock” Vs a “Serial Number” might be a metaphor to cover the per copy/per site license factors. You can still have some “audit and/or control and still not open up DRM Server Fail nightmares. Even if that control’s at a /robots.txt level only. Consider- the MD5 of a “copy” where the few characters of “which library” and “which copy” woule inherently make a unique MD5 AkA Serial Number- Damn- I’ve just given a public “prior mention” to slag any patent trolls in progress and if I independently stumbled upon anyone’s flash of genius- track e down to negotiate my waiver for a contrib to Chicago’s Tree House Cat Shelter.

        I mentioned Tree House as a good example of a “donate to” charity if Pay ebooks ever get such a checkbox. Or a way for Gutenberg to leverage ubiquity towards charity:> Yeah- having a serial number on a library d/l might end up doing good? An audit for social $ Not a lockout against “reading” when-not if- that DRM server fails. Sort of a less cumbersome instrumentality that plays nicer with and for all?

  3. Oh, and this is ridiculous. There’s no reasonable basis for it at all. The libraries have already given so much by allowing any sort of ‘exclusivity’ in lending (for a digital file – sigh). It reminds me of the always eloquent Tycho from Penny Arcade talking about Playstation Home:

    “There are things about Home that are simply beyond my understanding. Chief among these bizarre maneuvers is the idea that, when manufacturing their flimsy dystopia, they actually ported the pernicious notion of scarcity from our world into their digital one. This is like having the ability to shape being from non-being at the subatomic level, and the first thing you decide to make is AIDS.”

  4. Not wishing to invoke Godwin’s Law but … oh, what the heck. Is there really a difference between publishers who use DRM to invoke digital deletion, and book-burning Nazis?

  5. As a librarian, this exact topic came across our table this morning. I’m just curious, where will it stop? Will we then be required to destroy our physical copies of books after 6 months? It’s true that patrons who check out books save a ton of money, but these same patrons also go out and buy books in droves. I feel like they’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot before e-books even have a footing to stand on…

    1. I’m just curious, where will it stop? Will we then be required to destroy our physical copies of books after 6 months?

      They won’t ever try that* because people will be up in arms. People do think of books as “forever” things. Nearly everyone in the USA has owned books. We OWN them. We do not license them. We can choose to read them, lend them, burn them or tear them apart to make art. And we all know it. That is how it has always been and so people think that’s the right way. With digital files, there isn’t an “always” for us to look at and say “That. That’s how it is supposed to be,” so they can get away with more.

      It’s really too bad that there aren’t any DRM free options for ebooks yet. I like my e-reader and I would like to buy some books by authors I enjoy but heck if I’m supporting this kind of extortion.

      @tcsouthpaw, funny, that was exactly what I thought of, too.

      *Assuming they aren’t stupid and can learn from the mistakes of the DVD industry

      1. Baen books are DRM free, and most authors (including me) have put up free content. You are encouraged to download and share.

        Michael Z. Williamson

        1. Yes, Mike, but this is because the people at Baen A) aren’t afraid of technology [wouldn’t THAT be somethin’? a publisher devoted to science fiction that’s AFRAID of what it’s selling?] and B) are smart enough to have worked out the ways that free fiction leads to increased revenue.
          i admit – i often buy books DIRECTLY from Baen, because i approve. also, it’s easier to get older books that way – and if i’m reading something in the BFL, and i want the next book, i’m ALREADY THERE…

          what i DON’T understand, at all, is how other publishers have seen that it WORKS – no DRM = more sales [at higher cost, often – but it’s WORTH the extra cash right now] that giving away free samples = more sales, that, in fact, NOT creating artificial scarcity is the way to make more money.

          were Jim and Eric THAT far ahead of the times that other people in the same industry just can’t grasp the simple facts that they have provided? sigh.

          also, personal note: i’m ok. surgery always sucks, but i lived again :) i’ll get over to FB at SOME point and shoot you a note.

          -Denelian. off to figure out how to register :)

  6. I think this is absolutely absurd. If nothing else, publishers are basically shooting themselves in the foot with this. By making it more difficult for people to get and keep e-books, they’re pushing people towards other forms of entertainment that are more easily obtained: Netflix, Hulu, video games, the internet, etc.

    Librarian Sarah Houghton-Jan just posted an angry call to arms: http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/2011/02/ebookrevolution.html

  7. I genuinely hate to come down on the side of corporate policy, but this:

    “[T]he 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.”

    is something worth thinking about. A library book does not remain in the collection forever. The popular titles do in fact wear out after a while, and need to be replaced.

    It seems to me that expecting an ebook to remain good forever (and by extension loanable forever) makes it much harder for publishers to have any profit at all while libraries exist. Why buy the cow, etc.

    Now the odds are quite good that if I like a particular book, I’m apt to buy it rather than rely on the library having a copy. This is for a couple of reasons. For one, it might not be in stock at the moment I want to check it out; it could be lent. The other reason, though, is that I know – as well as anyone else should – that libraries cannot keep a copy of every book printed on their shelves.

    This, also, is not the case with ebooks. Ebooks have (essentially) no mass and occupy (essentially) no physical space. The library down the street could have every book ever produced in ebook format on a machine the size of a filing cabinet. It could loan out hundreds of copies to hundreds of readers. And it could do it indefinitely.

    No, I honestly think that HarperCollins has a point here. The indefinite shelf life of ebooks, in essence, guarantees that a single sold copy of an ebook can be loaned out thousands of times. This simply is not so with paper books.

    Can someone think of an alternative strategy that would allow ebooks to be available to libraries while at the same time assuring a publisher that they aren’t going to lose money forever on the deal? They have to stay in business, don’t they?

    1. No, books do not remain in circulation forever, but they do stay in circulation for a long, long, long time.

      My local public library has numerous 20-30 year old books that are works of fiction. I’ve checked out 100 year old books on woodworking from the local university library. I’ve checked out books that still had their old card sleeves in the back with dates going back to the 30’s and 40’s and before.

      Ironically, print books will probably far outlast e-books. The formats being used now will probably be outdated and replaced in a few years.

      1. Yeah, some well-printed and well-bound books last quite a while, and the library-bound copies of said books often cost a lot more than the consumer-grade stuff. Some of that cost is surely due to the durability of the binding, and some of it is just as surely the publishers seeking to recoup their losses.

        What I’m thinking of (and what HarperCollins might be thinking of as well) is the pulp or trade paper books that tend to be less robust, that are apt to fall apart after passing through two dozen sets of hands (and backpacks, book bags, coffee tables, backseats, etc).

        I don’t know where the number “26” came from; I’d be interested in finding out how they arrived at that figure. I’d expect it to be higher. But that doesn’t change the fact that they really do have a point.

        I’ll ask again: Can someone think of an alternative strategy that would allow ebooks to be available to libraries while at the same time assuring a publisher that they aren’t going to lose money forever on the deal?

      2. Mind you, for each 100-year lovingly tended classic, there will be a counterpoint of potboilers that don’t survive, that fall into the dog or the washing machine or (in the case of Ayn Rand) get hurled at the wall with great force. The general public are a rippy, sticky, spinebreaky lot.

        HarperCollins may not be smoking crack when they come up with the figure, but what they need to do next is not go all Amazon-Orwell and yank the books, but instead look at amending their library sales model so that they get a fair revenue from the eternal ever-lendable book.

        They need to bear in mind that a lot of those sticky ripped potboilers have very low lending potential, too: the long tail being a long but also a shallow, flat thing. It’s not like 26 loans in the first five years, then 26 loans per year ad infinitum. Get that actuary back in here!

        But overall: DRM is a sign that says “Buttsecks me plz!”

        1. I’ll ask again: Can someone think of an alternative strategy that would allow ebooks to be available to libraries while at the same time assuring a publisher that they aren’t going to lose money forever on the deal?

          I guess I’d ask you a question back: What’s the difference between a library losing money “forever” with an e-book and one losing money “forever” with a print book, assuming it’s taken care of?

          I’d argue that the chances of a library having to replace an e-book are even higher than the chances of them replacing a print book. Technology formats change, and very fast. It’s a good bet that in a few years there will be something “better”.

    2. 26 may seem reasonable for one library, but there are many libraries who offer eBooks through a consortium, and 26 is painfully low. This limit is met by all checkouts across the consortium, not just checkouts at one library.

    3. I disagree. It IS so with paper books.

      We have books in our local library a century old. Some are taped up. They still lend them.

      Many are out of print, not worth publishing, according to the publisher, never transferred to ebook, but still copyrighted. Does that mean they should disappear?

      How about this: The publisher has the rights to the ebook as long as it’s keeping the paper book in print. If it’s not printing the book, it loses the electronic rights some (short) period after.

      Think about it. With ebooks, the publisher NEVER has to have a “Second Printing”, much less a 25th printing, or whatever “The Hobbit” is in. (Aside from the WWII paper shortages, “The Hobbit” has never gone out of print – wikipedia)

      Is it “fair” that the publisher should have what is now essentially eternal exclusive rights to a single printing of a book?

      And for libraries, with ebooks, the library can loan out hundreds of copies to hundreds of readers as long as it has bought those hundreds of copies. That gave the publisher (and the author) hundreds of sales.

    4. They have to stay in business, don’t they?

      Publishing economics has until now been based on a very expensive infrastructure of book printing and distribution. That infrastructure is being replaced with a vastly cheaper (but not cost-free, obviously) production and distribution model.

      Readers should not have to pay the cost of the old economy in order to reap the benefits of the new. Publishers should make money in order to stay in business and pay authors. It means a very painful transition — an enormous shrinking of the balance sheet.

      My bet is that for publishers willing to make the transition, the return on investment will improve. (My bet is also that most will not willingly undertake the pain of the transition.)

    5. I recently bought a book at my local library sale, mainly because I recognized it, as I had borrowed it several times in school nearly 20 years ago.

      It had to have been borrowed at least a hundred times, if not 300 or 400, and still in decent shape, being a hardback.

      If it was an ebook under this plan, making it available for that twenty years would have prevented the purchase of 3 to 15 other titles, and that would be a shame.

    6. Shall we declare the Industrial Revolution null and void, and return to a pre-industrial state? After all, the onset of industrialization cost millions of jobs – what a terrible thing! Except that it A) was inevitable, and B) paved the way for longer lifespans, cheaper essential items, more leisure time, etcetera, etcetera.

      The Internet represents another world-wide revolution, with consequences no less powerful and universal than that of the Industrial Revolution. We live in an age of instant and almost cost-free duplication and distribution of data. There’s no going back, no stuffing the genie back into the bottle.

      Today, culture is data and data is culture. Cultural artifacts such as books, movies, and music, are no longer ‘naturally scarce’, (as they were prior to the digital age). In fact, now they are ‘naturally limitless’. Digital Restrictions Management, and misguided policies such as this latest one by HarperCollins, are attempts to force an artificial scarcity upon a market in which the natural scarcity has disappeared. And they will fail, as they always do; in fact, they have already failed to a large extent.

      People ALWAYS find a way to get around an imposed scarcity – just look at Prohibition, the ‘war on drugs’, the prevalence of ‘ripped’ movies and DVD’s, and so on. The fight may go on for decades, but scarcity won’t prevail, no one will win that war, and the cost of fighting it will be a huge, sad, pointless waste.

      Let me ask you one question: If someone invented a machine that could magically duplicate any item at will, and transport that item instantaneously anywhere in the world, all at a cost of next to nothing, would you embrace it, use it, and start looking for all the ways in which it would benefit humanity? Or would you ignore the opportunities it represents, and clamor for legislation and regulation of the machine in the name of ‘protecting jobs’ and ‘saving livelihoods’? I only ask that question because, in the realm of information and culture, the combination of the Internet and digital media IS that magical machine.

    7. They have to stay in business, don’t they?

      No. Or, at least, citation needed.

      There is no obligation on society to ensure the continued profitability of any particular business, business model or even industry. There are situations where societal goals can be served that way, of course, but it’s not clear this is one of them and in any case you aren’t even making that argument here.

    8. wear and tear on circulating copies.

      I don’t even understand how that could be a factor. Ebooks are supposed to be “better” because they don’t have wear and tear. So, what is the lack of “wear and tear” on an ebook, HarperCollins–a selling point for library collections, or a liability for library collections? You can’t have it both ways, though you may try.

    9. Print books don’t fall apart after 26 readings. Print books can circulate for a decade or more, with 200 or more borrowings. When they start to wear out, libraries can mend them, up to a point, and when they are not wanted anymore, if still in usable condition, they can go in the library’s books sale.

      And for all that, libraries normally buy print books at a substantial discount off the cover price, while paying full print-cover-price for ebooks. So the publishers are already charging libraries substantially more for ebooks, for somewhat less in every way except the fact that ebooks don’t wear out–and now they want to make them “wear out” MUCH FASTER than any normal print book. Faster than cheap mass market paperbacks, in fact.

      There is nothing reasonable about this. It’s insane, and economically unworkable for libraries.

  8. I’ve given up feeding the machine, as much as possible. All of my reading is coming from Project Gutenberg these days or stuff that’s on paper, preferably used. I got my wife a Nook for her birthday, because of all the possibilities it presents, and she immediately got hooked into Dracula. I can’t believe I never read it, but I am now. She’s moved on to Three Men in a Boat. There’s more out there than I can ever read.

    1. I grew up in Dallas and fortunately had Half Price Book stores in the area for my bibliophile wants. It wasn’t until I moved that I realized that the rest of the country relies on a patchwork of ‘meh’ used book stores that seem to close as soon as the owner gets tired of the hobby.

      Half Price Books is a successful used book chain. I wish that they had a stronger presence in the USA.

  9. Here are some more blog posts about the OverDrive announcement:

    Librarian By Day: Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back

    David Lee King: Let’s Play Rent-A-Book!

    Courtney Milan: On eating your seed corn

    Dear Author: HarperCollins in cagematch with Macmillan to see who can alienate readers better

    Personally, I’m fed up with libraries kowtowing to vendors and vendors kowtowing to media conglomerates, accepting whatever is offered for fear of…well, I don’t really know what. It’s time libraries really stood up for themselves and their patrons.

  10. @dculberson

    Act 1: A person says: “…Chief among these bizarre maneuvers is the idea that, when manufacturing their flimsy dystopia, they actually ported the pernicious notion of scarcity from our world into their digital one. This is like having the ability to shape being from non-being at the subatomic level, and the first thing you decide to make is AIDS.”

    Act 2: A suit says, “We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors”

    Act 3: The choir sings, “More generally, most intellectual property is non-rival. In fact, certain types of intellectual property become more valuable as more people consume them. For example, the more people using a particular programming language, the more valuable that language becomes.”

    Dénouement: A black curtain descends and digital bits and blips swirl in a frenzy, slowly escaping the curtain and dancing around the theatre–across the hands and faces of the crowd! Deep subacoustic tremors shake the floor and finally, in the call of a thousand french horns. On the stage, the naked Author… an empty suit remains.

  11. It’s fair to say that “bait-and-switch” is not right… I hope that this proposal by Harper Collins is not suggested as retro-active to books already purchased by libraries.

    However,I work with small publishers to help them find ebook strategies that work for them (and for their budgets and other capacities). One fear that keeps coming up is the fact that the library buys one copy with overdrive, and then lends it forever with no additional cost. The fact is, successful publishers (ie. those that have no gone out of business)count on library sales, and within annual library sales, count on a certain percentage of library sales to be replacements for books that are popular enough to wear out. Ebooks are quite disruptive in this case … as their consumer appeals grows to the point of seriously overtaking print (which will be quite beneficial to publishers)they do one additional thing: they never wear out, and never need “replacing”.

    Now for the type of publishers I work with, this would be a nice problem to have … they’d be perfectly happy to sell more ebooks at a lower price to more libraries … they can be quickly enlightened about how ebooks can extend their reach (and sales) if they are priced right. However, in many cases, libraries have become part of the problem by joining consortiums that extend the “lendability” of an overdrive-purchased title to the point of absurdity: a single copy of a given ebook can be serving a population of millions of people, where this might have required a few hundred print copies previously.

    While it is true that there are plenty of e-lending models that trigger auto-buying of popular titles, due to these lending consortiums small publishers are currently not seeing the promise of ebooks blooming quite as fully as they had hoped. I’d actually go further, and say that they make it into a rather unfunny joke.

    You can spin the economics of ebooks countless ways, but one thing is emerging as inevitable: ebooks will soon eat a huge bite out of the print market, and therefore will have to provide equivalent revenue (less the cost of the drugery of hauling books around, shelving them, returning them, etc. of course). And we should all look forward to this … thanks to my iPhone I walk around with a library in my pocket some bought, some public domian for free, and increaseingly, some “checked out” of the local library.

    I’d be foolish to offer a solution to this, it would sound as absurd as Harper Collins dictating a 26-lend limit. However, publishers are not the bad guys (at least the small publishers aren’t) … the margins in publishing are painfully thin, and in Canada, for example, publishers all rely on substantial government support to keep the lights on.

    The issue here is not DRM, but a question (sorry) about what authors, publishers, retailers, and libraries need to do to contribute to a healthy “ebook” economy. All DRM is doing right now is filling a vaccuum left where a simple and elegant solution should be. This situation has been coasting slowly toward us for over a decade … its a bit outrageous that our options arent a bit clearer by now.

  12. A library could do it “indefinitely” as long as it committed to preserving the digital data on its own dollar. Preserving digital information is way more complicated than preserving physical counterparts. It also requires a lot more forward planning, effort, and money than people think.

    Even a well-used popular item can last decades in physical form with minor maintenance. Most digital data has yet to prove to have nearly that longevity. Any established library is going to have “popular” titles, first editions, and the like, that can easily be 50-100 years old.

    They can’t be loaned out indefinitely or thousands of times because we ALREADY agree to DRM and checkout limits, artificial ones that physical books do not possess. You can’t “check-in” a library eBook early so another user can access it. Once it’s checked out, it’s unavailable for 2-3 weeks no matter what.

    So, basically, at 2 weeks a pop, for us to achieve your scenario of a thousand of checkouts for a single copy of an eBook would take almost 40 years.

    Let’s assume a generous copyright length of 120 years (if an author was 30 at the date of publication and live 50 years), to reach the doomsday scenario you’ve painted a single book would have to remain constantly checked out for over a century to hit 3,000 checkouts. At which point it would enter the public domain anyway. Even the Da Vinci Code isn’t that popular.

    Copyright length can vary since for currently published materials it is the life of the author + 70 years, but the example is still valid, since life expectancy is about 78 in the States.

    Which is kind of ludicrous, but I’m just putting it out there to emphasize how unrealistic the idea a library’s use would drive publishers out of business or result in “thousands” of checkouts for a single title.

    Your scenario is further flawed because while libraries cannot archive EVERY book, interlibrary loan makes it possible to get almost any book from a cooperating library who is likely to have one of the titles you’re looking for. You can still purchase it, but most consumers who are that impatient will avoid the library in the first place.

    So my alternative strategy to prevent them losing money is that we ALREADY acquiesce to their often arbitrary requirements, and this is an example of a publisher overreaching to snatch even more dollars out of the budgets of institutions whose budgets are already flagging.

    Honestly, a simpler longterm solution would be for libraries to show some backbone and negotiate terms that involve a much smaller royalty per checkout, while doing away with DRM and other limitations. If publishers are going to force us to license rather than own materials, we should negotiate on the basis that we are LICENSING, NOT PURCHASING those same materials. Both parties are guilty of trying too hard to replicate physical models and scarcity. Allow the library to archive the digital copies as they please, make as many copies as they please, but charge a small fee every time it’s checked out, with a term limit (10 years? 25 years? 50?) on how long they must pay these royalties.

    It would require a significant change in how libraries approach their budgeting, and more control over their own spending. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the current crop of administrators has the imagination or competence to make that happen.

    1. Took me a minute to figure out you were replying to me, because you kept using terms such as “doomsday scenario”, and I don’t think I was that wide-eyed. I was pointing out that physical books need to be replaced, and can’t be stored in indefinite volumes for an indefinite period.

      However, your post made me think. Why don’t publishers just make the ebooks available themselves for a two-week window of checkouts, bypassing libraries altogether for their popular titles? Libraries could then (maybe) continue handling physical media, and provide loci for research, education, and so on.

      1. Sounds like you are suggesting that publishers should have their own DRM systems.

        1) Bloody expensive
        2)Huge fail if Publisher goes under and does not maintain DRM server
        3) Libraries are aggregators of interest and engagement with books … when was the last time you spent much time on a single publisher’s web site, shopping for books? Amazon came into being for a good reason, after all.

      2. They do need to be replaced, but they’re also a lot more durable than you think. A student worker with some glue, tape, and free time can keep even the most dog-eared paperback limping along.

        Sorry, I’m new, and I didn’t quite grasp how to reply to individuals.

        They don’t because they have no interest in lending materials. It’s something libraries and the few exceptions in copyright law have bullied them into. Plus, libraries are much more localized than a single publisher or entity. To a certain degree, eBook lending at your local library is further minimized because it’s just that, local. You can check it out from Portugal, but you still have to be a member at your local institution and no other members can check it out while you have it.

        DRM and current copyright laws make preserving the digital information much harder than preserving a physical copy. Sometimes we’re not even legally allowed to backup digital materials, even when we can circumvent their digital protections, and the libraries that do are taking kind of an “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” approach.

        If libraries were simply allowed to purchase a title without DRM, preserve it however they wished, and pay the publisher a fee every time it’s checked out, there would be a lot fewer headaches and then our materials could truly be budgeted based on actual use rather than projected use. Money could alternatively be earned (or saved) on both sides.

        But that’s a new approach, in professions were new ideas aren’t always welcome.

      3. Publishers don’t do book lending themselves because it’s not the business they’re in, and would require a whole new staff and infrastructure to manage those short-term sales.

        Also, they don’t reach the library market that way, which is where they find new readers for their authors.

    2. Yes. This is how it needs to go. (The enforced check-out period is just an artificial way of creating scarcity, so that libraries will be cajoled into buying more “copies” of popular e-book titles.)

    3. The times, they are a’ changing, for both book publishers and libraries. The technology is eating away at the publishers, and it’s going to eat away at the libraries too. If a book is freely available, I don’t need to get it from a library.

      But they still have a role. Libraries are about access to information. Leaving aside their use in storing paper for our use, they’re also still needed to help us find the information we need. The need for the library to be the source of that info is going away. In our ideal DRM-free, non-proprietary format world, they’d just have pointers to the book you wanted.

      1. Libraries will always have a crucial role in the indexing of materials, and in aiding those unfamiliar with the indices to find the materials which they seek.

        Any thoughts as to how these tech developments ought to effect the operations of the Library of Congress?

        Should they have any effect?
        Do they?

        The libraries are not just storehouses, but they have personnel to help with the navigation of the those stores.

        Human search engines, so to speak…

        1. Without the “storehouses” as anchors, In today;s cost-cutting environment, how willing will people be to pay people just to sit around and answer questions?

  13. For those of you wondering where 26 came from, remember that most libraries allow you to check out books from Overdrive for two weeks at a time. Therefore, for popular titles that have waiting lists (which seems to be most of the books at my local libraries), they will expire after exactly 1 year.

  14. A cap of 26 circulations on an e-book will kill popular books faster than the existing waiting list. For the latest Clive Cussler or Deepak Chopra, we may have waiting lists of 100, 200, 300 patrons. Most of our patrons are okay with waiting a month or more for a paper copy. If you are selling the instant gratification factor of an e-book, and the patron can’t get their e-book immediately, they will wonder why. What is the benefit of an e-book if it has the same limitations as a physical book, and in this instance, even more onerous?

  15. I buy downloadable books and audio for our library district. I was in the business world for many years before I became a librarian. Publishers have been afraid of ebooks from their inception, and fearful people make poor decisions. Publishers in general have been behind the curve with technological change. Face it, if you are a famous author, you can hire your own book editor, pop your ebook on your website, and retain far more of the profits from your book. In today’s market, to make money, I’d like to be a dynamite publicist who knows how to work the web and social media to promote authors.

  16. 26 checkouts?? So, if I’m 27th on the list of holds (yes, you have to wait for the ebook to be checked back in) I’m SOL? Absolutely ridiculous. The last two paper books I’ve requested from the library I was 50-something in line. Not acceptable.

  17. Dear Amazon.

    I see a great opportunity for you to partner with Libraries. Offer data storage and e-book checkout GUIs to the Libraries and in exchange you can put a “purchase now” button next to the “place a hold” button for those customers who do not wish to wait if there is a queue for a particular title. You could also have a link to a “buy a Kindle” button. This would be a Win-Win-Win scenario. Libraries would get needed data storage and technical expertise, Amazon would get easy sales from the impatient American masses, publishers would get increased sales. You’re all welcome.


  18. My local public library has numerous 20-30 year old books that are works of fiction.

    I checked out I, Claudius a few months ago and noticed that it was a 1930s edition. And had quite obviously been checked out hundreds of times.

  19. «He who advises is no traitor». Idk how do you say it in English. But thanks for the advise, I’ll be giving my sinner dollars to a different corporation, more respectful with my vulgar nature.

  20. “DRM is like the Ford Pinto: it’s a smooth ride, right up the point at which it explodes and ruins your day.”

    This has not been my experience. I mainly use Linux, with the result that I’ve basically never been able to open DRMed files like ebooks – which is probably a blessing, as it’s basically saving me from accepting any rides in a Pinto…

  21. > It’s really too bad that there aren’t any DRM free options for ebooks yet. I like my e-reader and I would like to buy some books by authors I enjoy but heck if I’m supporting this kind of extortion.

    Sure there are. They’re called PDFs, we’ve had them since the ’90s, there are millions of them available on the internet either free (legally) or for a small online payment, and I’ve heard you can read them on your Kindle (I read them on my smartphone).

    What’s too bad is people like you propagating misinformation that helps the DRM purveyors.

  22. I’m not understanding the difference between these two scenarios…

    1) Library buys book, lets people check it out, and by nature of it’s physical bookishness, only one person at a time can do so. Library can keep doing this as long as they can keep the book in good enough shape.

    2) Library buys e-book, lets people check it out and read it online, and by nature of users having to authenticate first only one person at a time can do so. Library can keep doing this as long as they keep the digital content in a format that can be distributed to patrons safely.

    Either way, the publisher gets paid for one copy of the book. Right?

    1. The difference is that after 50 or so readers the physical copy will be dog eared, pages falling out etc and the library will buy a fresh copy.

      But with a digital, they don’t have to worry about that. Unless something happens to the DRM form, or the general format, the book will last forever.

      That is, I’m guessing, why the publishers want to put a limit on the number of times a book can be checked out. I just don’t agree with using a number that low. It should be a lot higher or they could go for a so many years set up. Say for the same $10 you would pay for the book you can check it out to patrons for 3 years. And then you renew your license

  23. Libraries already overpay for ebooks in that they have to buy multiple copies to keep waiting lists reasonably short — and, as several commenters pointed out, ebooks can’t be returned early.

    And the ebooks are only in demand when they first come out. After a year or so, everyone who wanted to has read the book, and the only people still interested are those who discovered an author for the first time and are going back to read their previous books — or who randomly come across them on the shelves (or in the online catalog).

    Personally, I’m waiting for $8-a-month Neflix-style subscriptions for book. I read several books a month (mostly borrowed from the local library or through inter-library loan) and don’t want to own most of the book I read. I only buy the books from my favorite authors, in print, so I can see them on my shelves. (Except for supermarket checkout pulp novels. Maybe publishers should be putting more books next to nachos and Twizzlers?)

    DRM or no DRM, it won’t change how many books I read, or how much I spend on books each month. But it does leave a very bad feeling in my mouth about the publishing industry. I know they’re struggling, but you get out of this by providing BETTER service to your customers, not worse.

    — Maria

    1. “Personally, I’m waiting for $8-a-month Neflix-style subscriptions for book. I read several books a month (mostly borrowed from the local library or through inter-library loan) and don’t want to own most of the book I read.”

      Once again, that would be Baen Books Webscriptions, with 6 titles each month for $15 (I think it’s still $15), and a free library (that does not require subscription) of a hundred or more novels and growing.

      Michael Z. Williamson

  24. This reminds me why I haven’t bought an e-reader yet. If I buy a paper book, I own it, no question. If I buy an e-book, I own it… as long as the publisher/rights-holder/etc. *allows* me to… and that’s plain bull. As tempted as I am to try purchasing e-books, I don’t want to unless some DRM-less file format (like mp3 for audio) becomes standard.

    I don’t like limiting library e-book accessibility either. My local library is small and winds up requesting most of what I read through interlibrary loan. It already takes me months to get a physical book from a bestselling author. Why would I want this long process to be complicated by an expiring file format on top of high demand? I won’t argue the need of publishers to stay in business. But there must be a better, more streamlined process to protect everyone’s interests without punishing both the librarians, who help readers find books worth buying, and booklovers who prefer to try before they buy (or simply can’t afford to buy yet.)

  25. I’m really glad to see this post: I am a librarian who has been working on a campaign to persuade my colleagues not to purchase ebooks with digital restrictions. We’ve developed a guide that we hope librarians and others can use to protect the right to read with ebooks. We’re calling it the Readers Bill of Rights for Digital Books (https://readersbillofrights.info/), and we’ve been presenting our hopes for a DRM-free library future at library conferences and other events.

    So far, librarians who I talk to are committed to purchasing items that they can retain perpetually and that their patrons can use in a variety of ways (not just a prescribed few), but I do find myself continually reminding folks about the restrictive nature of many collections of ebooks that are marketed for libraries. It is a critical time right now in the development of digital texts and how they will function in libraries–everyone is trying to figure this whole thing out.

    Because it is such a crucial time in the way things will work in the future, I agree with you wholeheartedly, Cory, that librarians should boycott ebooks with DRM entirely. We have to demand the same abilities we’ve had with print, and not to settle for digital frankenstein texts that disappear, aggravate us, or that come with crazy EULAs. We’ve got to fight the ideas of artificial scarcity, and restrictions that cross over further than they ever did with print.

    I also agree that librarians as a group can make a difference with this; just look at what Ann Sparanese was able to do for Micheal Moore’s book “Stupid White Men,” and you can see that librarians do hold sway over what happens in the publishing industry (http://www.slis.indiana.edu/news/story.php?story_id=443).

    1. I get that libraries have limited resources, but really, I went to your .info page, and you’re going to scare away a lot of people who are smart enough to trust their web browsers advice and not connect with sites whose security certificates are not signed by trusted authorities and not tech savvy enough to check the certificate themselves.

  26. Personally, I’m waiting for $8-a-month Neflix-style subscriptions for book.

    I don’t really get why libraries just don’t start charging a nominal fee like 25¢ per lend. Maybe only charge adult borrowers or only charge for fiction. Even somebody who borrows 4 books per week would only pay $52 per year. Most people would end up paying $10 or $15 a year. It would dramatically up the library’s budget at almost no cost to the patrons. And it might help with the book trolls who take out five novels and sit on them for six weeks.

    1. I don’t really get why libraries just don’t start charging a nominal fee like 25¢ per lend.

      This would go against the spirit of libraries as community resources which provide free access to information for all. Meeting this need is part of the reason so many libraries now have Internet-connected computers. Libraries, in theory, are a way you can get to all the same facts the wealthy and powerful can — even if you don’t have a penny to your name.

      1. Nobody without a penny to their name can borrow a book from the library, because you can’t get a library card without proof of address. Nobody in the US who can get a library card is so poor that they can’t cough up $1 a month to take out four books. If you’re so poor that you can’t prove that you live anywhere or come up with 25¢, you can read your book in the library.

        This obsessive fixation with free lending is one of the reasons that libraries are threatened. Tiny fees, which anyone can afford, would go a long way toward supporting the system. The “It has to be free!” mantra sounds like religious dogma. Wouldn’t it be better to adopt a non-onerous solution like a 25¢ fee for a two-week loan than to keep waving our buggy whips until all the libraries are closed?

        1. I’d wager that within a year or two, that $.25 fee would have jumped to roughly whatever a paperback book costs. I’d rather my libraries not be a funding source.

        2. Wrong. There are lots of people who have more expenses each month than they have money coming in. If you’re going to argue that they should have to read their books onsite at a library rather than check it out — well, maybe, or maybe not. But your claim that everyone has extra money each month after covering the necessities of living… that’s not only untrue, it’s obviously untrue.

          Having said that, it’s refreshing to occasionally find someone on boingboing who doesn’t seem to believe that they are entitled to the intellectual efforts of others at absolutely no cost to themselves. “Information wants to be free” is almost a religious stance here…

        3. I don’t really get why libraries just don’t start charging a nominal fee like 25¢ per lend. Maybe only charge adult borrowers or only charge for fiction. Even somebody who borrows 4 books per week would only pay $52 per year. Most people would end up paying $10 or $15 a year. It would dramatically up the library’s budget at almost no cost to the patrons. And it might help with the book trolls who take out five novels and sit on them for six weeks.

          Most people already pay for the library through their taxes. It’s a public service. Sadly, libraries probably will have to move into a pay scheme of some sort, at least in the US. It may be the only way to keep some libraries afloat, now that Americans have internalized the “taxes are evil” meme.

        4. Actually, libraries aren’t free lending at all in the US. They are funded by tax money.

          Personally I’d go with a tip jar.

    2. Charging for lending is contrary to the purpose of libraries, and is controversial even for non-book items like DVDs. And that $0.25 per book fee absolutely would be a barrier to a library’s best and most valuable users: young readers who are developing into voracious readers. You talk about the person who borrows five books and sits on them for six weeks, but the tween or teen who is in every week for whatever the max lending limit is and returns all of them, completely read, the following week is just as real and far more important. At the first library I worked at, we had one girl like that, for whom we just ignored our official lending limit. She borrowed twenty books a week, read them all, and was ready to chat about whichever one you randomly pulled out of the pile and asked her about.

        1. Do you realize that some of the people that frequent the library the most are people that are on low or fixed incomes and that charging them per item would just be another barrier, even if it were just 25 cents an item. Libraries should either charge patrons an annual fee, maybe $10 or 15, for using the library or the library system, depending on where they live or they should remain free of charge. As a person on a low/fixed income, I would probably read less if there was a charge per item and I bet that usage of libraries would drop, due to the fact that most of the people that sign out materials are adults for their personal or family pleasure. Having people pay per item would be cost prohibitive and would likely see a decrease in the use of the library as a whole if such a policy were instituted.

        2. If it was absolutely necessary to charge (and in most cases it’s not), I would say this:

          1) All charges legally stay within the library system. They can’t be used for anything else, ever, ever ever.
          2) All charges are on a sliding scale. If you make less than, say, $20k a year, you’re free. Kids are free. Adding kids reduces what you pay. Single moms get in free. Kind of like how a non-profit clinic operates.

    3. Because for those that rely on the library system, especially those on welfare, income assistance, it would be another thing they would have to pay for and another thing to budget for. I am such a person and am a reader. If I had to pay for each item I borrowed, I wouldn’t be using the library very much. Now if I had to pay for a yearly membership for the library, I would be more than happy to pay, but to pay for each item that I would borrow, I probably wouldn’t use the library as much as I do.

    4. Quote “I don’t really get why libraries just don’t start charging a nominal fee like 25¢ per lend.”

      Not only is that cutting off access to some patrons, as is mentioned in another comment, it is illegal to charge user fees of that type in Canada. Patrons are already paying for the use of the materials, either in their municipal taxes or in their non-resident yearly fee.

  27. “the need to protect our authors”

    Pure spin, to say it polite-like. I’ve neither heard nor seen any author, of any stripe, complain that they felt library lending was unfair to them.

    I’ve seen many, many instances of authors complaining about being dicked over by publishers, tho’. If the publishers want to protect “their” authors, maybe they should give ’em a little more money instead of spending it all on asshole training seminars.

  28. Can someone think of an alternative strategy that would allow ebooks to be available to libraries while at the same time assuring a publisher that they aren’t going to lose money forever on the deal? They have to stay in business, don’t they?

    How about a Public Lending Righthttp://www.plr-dpp.ca/ , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Lending_Right – which in some indirect fashion, sends payments to authors based on their books being in the library?

    Just because the United States doesn’t do this, does this mean that Canadians now have to suffer even though we’ve got a solution in place?

    Or – perhaps Harper-Collins ebooks should be excluded from consideration for the Public Lending Right because the books aren’t really ‘there’ – they’re transient, not permanent.

  29. My mother just got an eBook reader at Christmas; I mentioned this article to her and asked her how many books from HaperCollins were in her collection: 6, 2 bought, 4 borrowed. Of the 4 borrowed she hate 2 of them and likely would never have bought them, but borrowed them from the library because she -might- have liked them.

    When I mentioned this to her she had a negative reaction and it probably will affect her future purchase and borrowing habits.

    Great way to shoot yourself in the foot.

  30. I think there’s another way the publishers could look at this. Instead of forcing libraries to keep purchasing the same ebooks over again, why not encourage them to purchase more ebooks from the publisher’s back catalog? With the space restrictions of physical books removed, they can work towards having a copy of every book ever published. Libraries will always have a limited budget, but it could be better used to benefit the patrons without harming the publishers.

  31. As a librarian who works with Overdrive this pisses me off. There is absolutely no reason other than profit to do this. There is no degradation of quality of an eBook over the number of times it may be “checked out” in its lifetime.

    But as someone who works with physical books, something that has been checked out 26 times is probably a little rough and will probably be on its way to the recycling bin. Paperbacks rarely make it past 10 users before they’re shot. Hardbacks less likely.

  32. I used to be able to check in books early through Adobe Digital Editions. Why on Earth would they take that ability away? I hate the thought of keeping a book for 3 weeks if I read it within a few days. That just makes no sense.

    Also, I’m not exactly sure how Overdrive works, but at my medical library we licence our ebook collection. If we don’t pay for the books and subscription each year we lose access to those books. And we’ve paid hundreds of dollars for access to a book that we lose access to the next year because the publisher no longer supplies books to the company we have a contract with. We can buy the book in paper for a few hundred dollars and have it on the shelf for 10 years. (I admit that while I love ebooks, I hate the fact that we have to pay thousands of dollars each year for the same books we’ve already paid for.) If Overdrive is even close to working in the same way then publishers are being paid more than enough.

  33. I’m a librarian in a library with a heavily used Overdrive ebook and audiobook collection. A couple of things popped into my mind immediately when I heard this:

    1. The average paperback (not even hardback) in my department can last upwards of 50 circs before falling apart and needing to be replaced (or just discarded). Hardcovers can have circs in the hundreds without showing significant damage. 26 circs seems ridiculously low.

    2. Libraries get significant discounts on print books, but no discount on ebooks – we’re paying full price. Should we purchase the ebook for almost twice as much as the print book if we won’t get half the circulation out of it than we would for a print book?

    3. When we weed a print book, there’s no guarantee that we will replace it. For the most part if a book isn’t circulating well, or if it’s out of print, once it’s gone, it’s gone. If you apply this to ebooks, once a book expires there’s a good chance it won’t be replaced – we’ll be spending our money on the new stuff. There goes depth and breadth of our ebook collection.

    Also. I’m not opposed to DRM on library ebooks for the purposes of enforcing time limits on lending periods. The way the system is set up with the library purchasing “copies” that can only be checked out by one person at a time, it makes sense.

  34. Cory,

    I’m usually all for fighting the good fight against DRM, but your suggestion that libraries refuse to use any DRM on lending ebooks seems to be preposterous on the face of it (non-copyright works excluded of course). What possible incentive would there be for publishers to provide ebooks to libraries with no DRM? With nothing to disable a lent copy after a period of time (at the borrowers end, not the library end), the library would essentially become a free ebook distributor. Each person who borrowed the book would get to keep the book. Why would anyone ever have to buy an ebook, if that ebook was in the library system?

  35. Good. No, not good that some company is pulling this crap, but good that maybe it will make libraries think twice about spending money on digital books. A library with digital books doesn’t benefit the people that need the library in the first case… the people that cannot afford a digital book reader.

    Also, stop picking on the Pinto. It had a lower chance of a “exploding” than the average car of it’s time. http://www.pointoflaw.com/articles/The_Myth_of_the_Ford_Pinto_Case.pdf. Continuing to use that reference would be like 10 years from now referencing pirate bay as the reason that the music industry died.

  36. Call me a socialist, but I think it’s interesting how Americans treat business, the right to make a profit, as sacrosanct, and leave the greater good of society as an afterthought. Whatever happened to American idealism? Is everyone Ferengi now?

    Why must ebooks be circulated the way physical books are? Hell, if you wanted to, everyone could have the same book at the same time, and people could keep the files as long as they want, probably only limited by data storage space. Moreover, every library on Earth could have every edition out there. Instead, last’s century’s model of distribution is used. The advantages inherent in digital media are ignored.

    RikF wrote, “Each person who borrowed the book would get to keep the book. Why would anyone ever have to buy an ebook, if that ebook was in the library system?”

    American tax dollars get used on a lot of worse ideas than free ebooks for all.

    But minus the pipe dream, I agree with previous commenters, that a “Public Lending Right” for digital media should be explored by Congress.

  37. Much like everyone else, I would have loved to be in the room when they decided that exactly 26 checkouts was the fair and just amount.

    Because, you know, I’ve never actually seen anyone pull a numerical figure out of their *ss…

  38. With books, I think it might be easier to deny publishers like this access to inject them into our culture. Movies and music, very difficult, but libraries could refuse to carry any books (even the paper versions) from publishers that use DRM on their e-books, and that would seriously affect that book’s ability to penetrate our culture.

    Basically, if the publisher doesn’t want the book to be spread easily, actively impede it from contributing to the useful arts, so that the publisher can’t make money off of it.

  39. “What’s the difference between a library losing money “forever” with an e-book and one losing money “forever” with a print book, assuming it’s taken care of?”

    Librarian here. Some commenters, including fellow librarians, are claiming that books can circulate hundreds of times over many decades. This is possible, theoretically. In the public library I most recently worked at, two things worked against this scenario. The books took a lot of punishment in the book drop. In the name of convenience for our patrons, we allow books to be piled up, often spine open, in these big metal bins, and in most cases it wasn’t worthwhile to the library I worked for to repair them as they disintegrated because the demand for them decreased over time and new titles were always coming in needing shelf space. And that point, the limited shelf space and the annual cost of housing a book in a library whether it circulated 0 times or 15 times a year, was a big deal. Public libraries usually just don’t have the luxury of keeping titles simply because they are well-written and valuable to somebody, somewhere (large academic libraries often DO have this luxury). I hope new and fair models can be agreed upon for public eBook collections. The problems are very different however, once you take away the physical object, with all it’s attendant needs (shelving labor, clean dry storage, etc.).

  40. OK, so let’s take a step back here. Rather than a the lack of durability over to the digital realm, let’s see if we can’t look at this in a way that brings the benefits of a digital collection into the proposed framework. They’ve established a one-loan lease cost at 1/26th of the ebook cost. Why the hell would they insist on the library buying these 26 at a time? Why not enable the library to carry infinite copies of all of the publisher’s books? And to be able to issue them for 1/26th of the cost of an ebook? That might actually be a win-win. The publisher gets the rate it’s set, the library gets more selection, no waste, and no waiting list access to the publisher’s books at a pretty reasonable price. Instead of having to pick and choose which small selection of popular books ebooks to “buy” (and we’re already into “lease” territory here) the library gets the whole ‘long tail’ to loan.

    1. They’ve established a one-loan lease cost at 1/26th of the ebook cost. Why the hell would they insist on the library buying these 26 at a time? Why not enable the library to carry infinite copies of all of the publisher’s books? And to be able to issue them for 1/26th of the cost of an ebook? That might actually be a win-win. The publisher gets the rate it’s set, the library gets more selection, no waste, and no waiting list access to the publisher’s books at a pretty reasonable price. Instead of having to pick and choose which small selection of popular books ebooks to “buy” (and we’re already into “lease” territory here) the library gets the whole ‘long tail’ to loan.

      Win-win, indeed, Anon. Even better might be a sliding per-loan cost that provides a quantity discount at the popular end of the sales cycle and perhaps a slight premium at the ‘long tail’ end. I’m thinking this might have the added benefit of encouraging libraries to continue to manage their ebook collections as they do print (based on a cost-per-use basis similar to what the anonymous commenter above the one who suggested the 1/26th idea said here).

  41. Concerns over future-formats aren’t too scary: for every new format, there’ll be an epub2futureformat tool (or an exotic stack of emulators and device ROMS or whathaveyou) and we have lovely distributed cloudstuff now, both official and not. P2P replaces “keep circulating the tapes” and conversion tools replace the tapes with the format de jour.

    The legit concern is over old hardware. Got a copy of the Purity Test on a 5.25 floppy? Good luck with that.

    The only old data formats that have a right to fail are old DRM because the vendor chooses not to support it any more. That old Pinto just blew up in your garage!

  42. It seems more than a bit hypocritical for cory to strongly suggest libraries boycott drm while allowing his ebboks books to be distributed with drm.

    1. Cory doesn’t need to defend himself against charges that he is hypocritical because distributes his books on Amazon’s Kindle with DRM. These books contain information about how to get a non-DRM-encumbered copy in pretty much any format you can even imagine at craphound.com, and he doesn’t distribute his books with Amazon’s Audible because they will not allow similar terms. You cannot buy Cory’s books without the right to copy (non-commercially, of course). He has discussed this numerous times on both BoingBoing and craphound.com. It’s not news.

  43. My first reaction to this news was “how do the authors feel about this?” HarperCollins has an enormous list of writers, many of whom credit libraries for playing a part in their success. Any policy that makes it harder for librarians to put books in reader’s hands puts an author’s ongoing popularity at risk.

    Take a look at the list of HarperCollins authors (www.harpercollins.com/author/browse.aspx), and see about contacting one of your favorites. If they respond, please post it here: http://www.theanalogdivide.com/2011/02/the-publisher-that-kicked-the-hornets-nest/. We are attempting to document the response, and show that it’s not just librarians who have a stake in this.

  44. If you really want to get public support in opposing this you are going to have to show the average Joe How this could threaten him. I would suggest that the people who use your library e-content are people who own Nook’s, Kindle’s and iPads for the most part. With a small handful of other devices being used as readers. It is likely they “own” a large number of titles, often buying a particular author or even a previously read one that was borrowed from your e-library.
    So what does your 26 circulation limit have to do with me? Well I bough and use a reader because in theory I can have a nearly unlimited number of books in my library without having books pulled up all over my house. However, what happens when HC decides that I can only keep that e-book two years or five years?
    What well I do when I go in my list and select an old favorite and find it has self-destructed. The simple truth is i have been leery of the whole e-book idea for this very reason. What happens to my Nook library when B&N goes bankrupt?
    Libraries today individual owners tomorrow. You must engage HC through the buying public. When the book (e- or print) buying public believe they have a stake in this HC will listen.

  45. I’m inclined to believe that libraries will not achieve their goal in this regard unless they boycott books whose ebook version comes with unacceptable DRM entirely, not just the ebook iteration. I agree with the comment that we need to send the message that if you don’t want your book circulated freely, we’ll not circulate it at all. I’m guessing authors would then put pressure on publishers concerning ebook DRM, if it meant their works wouldn’t appear on library shelves at all.

  46. ccoates and a few others talking about micropayments per lend – that’s a neat idea. I’d be happy, actually, to pay the physical library a quarter for each physical book I borrow right now, and wouldn’t at all mind porting that to an ebook lend system.

    jenningsthecat, kindly don’t presume to lecture me on how the 21st century operates. You went way over the top and out of line in presuming that I’m a Luddite in any way, shape, or form. I asked a perfectly reasonable question and you responded with a rant that in no way whatsoever addressed the issue.

    Listen. The internet you’re using now was not created for free. It was created by hundreds of thousands of well-educated people, and paid for with hundreds of millions of dollars, and you don’t get to use all these assets and stand on your soapbox-of-entitlemet and declare that everything ought to be available for no cost to anyone yadda yadda yadda. Given your apparent tone of contempt in regards to protecting jobs and saving livelihoods, I’m assuming you have neither, or don’t give a damn about those who do. Not everyone sees things your way. I consider this to be a good thing.

    Technology is not free, infrastructure is not free, innovation is not free, and yes, by non-god, I do believe that producers of goods and services ought to damn well be paid for the work they do.

    And listen to something else. I’ve ripped the DRM off of every ebook I can – Amazon and Sony are practically transparent, though Apple’s is evidently not – so kindly also do not lecture me about how DRM should be handled or thought about by users.

    hbraum – oh, that’s very nifty. I’d actually forgotten about Lendle.

    sabik – if publishers (such as HarperCollins) go out of business, who will produce the books? Please don’t tell me each author will become his or her own publisher and distributor, because that doesn’t work on multiple levels. You do need at least some technical proficiency to create an EPUB file (less so for PDF, but let’s not get into discussions about design, typography, and so on), and you do need someone to help with marketing (probably, anyway). And you can rest assured that there are a lot of people out there who struggle with grammar and spelling – even very successful authors.

    So yes, if you want to continue to have high-quality materials produced, the producers do in fact need to stay in business.

    Mista Spakuru:

    “American tax dollars get used on a lot of worse ideas than free ebooks for all.”

    An excellent point.

    1. I agree that I was over the top, and I apologize. I did over-react. However, I believe I did address the issue. In case I wasn’t clear, what I meant to say is that any business model that relies on artificial scarcity, (such as the various media industries’ reliance on DRM), is doomed to fail, and that the kind of measure exemplified by HarperCollins’ 26-use policy is beside the point. With e-books the scarcity they have relied upon for so long no longer exists. They cannot re-create that same scarcity, they’re wasting their time trying to do so, and if they don’t find a new scarcity to sell, then they no longer have a business.

      I never claimed that “everything ought to be available for no cost” – I myself would be out of business if that were the case – so kindly don’t put words in my mouth. I did make the case that with massive technological change, job loss is inevitable, high-value items can become low-value items almost overnight, and the remedy is to find and create new jobs, not cling to old obsolete ones. As someone who has lost jobs and livelihood a few times during my life, I don’t have ‘contempt in regards to protecting jobs and saving livelihoods’, and if I gave that impression, then once again, I apologize.

      As for pejorative speculations regarding whether I have a job and/or a livelihood, (FWIW I have both), in future please refrain from ad hominem attacks.

      1. jenningsthecat, thanks for the even-toned reply.

        Good point on the artificial scarcity comment, especially since we’re talking about digital media (as you mentioned before). Having just shifted something like 1400 books from an apartment to a house, I’ve got a whole new appreciation for how ebooks make life a lot easier – or at least lighter. The relative durability of the medium, coupled with essentially no storage volume, makes them compelling to me as a reader, and you’d think even more so to publishers. And I agree wholly that there’s no actual scarcity there; it is entirely artificial.

        F’rinstance, most pulp (mass market) books seem to run about $7 to $9 now, yet the ebook editions are $10. That’s backward. Given the nonexistent cost of production, inventory, warehousing, etc., you’d think they’d cost much less than any printed volume, yet they don’t. By contrast, MP3/digital music downloads are generally less expensive than CDs.

        “I never claimed that “everything ought to be available for no cost” – I myself would be out of business if that were the case – so kindly don’t put words in my mouth.”

        Sorry about that. I was responding not to you, but to others with whom I’ve had similar discussions, most of whom seem to segue eventually into that argument. I was attempting to be preemptive, and instead I took you to task for something you didn’t do. That wasn’t fair of me.

        “As for pejorative speculations regarding whether I have a job and/or a livelihood, (FWIW I have both), in future please refrain from ad hominem attacks.”

        This is another echo from past discussions, and again I apologize for being unfair. I suppose the sarcasm quotes (what I perceived as sarcasm quotes) around the phrases “protecting jobs” and “saving livelihoods” – both of which were terms and arguments I never used – threw me off and gave me the impression that those issues were of little or no concern to you.

        I’ve been in the job-transition circus myself, so I suppose we see eye to eye there. About a decade ago I got into a rather exasperating conversation with one of those smarmy can-do types who kept advising me to read Who Moved My Cheese?, as though that somehow was a meaningful response to a situation that was tremendously disruptive to my life. He was cavalier about such valid concerns as jobs and livelihood, which is what I was responding to this weekend. Clearly I have to let go of some things.

        1. I’m glad we got our mutual misunderstandings straightened out!

          Reading your comment about the backwardness of e-books costing more than the paper-and-glue version, a few things occurred to me. My first thought was that publishers may be using e-books to compensate for low margins on paper books. The second thought was that they’re charging so much in order to offset the loss of sales from unauthorized copying. And the third thought was that, if DRM is removed, a case can be made for e-books actually being more valuable than their paper counterparts. Not only their ‘copyability’, but their easy transferability, searchability, and minuscule occupation of space, give them a flexibility and convenience factor that can’t be matched by paper books. For me e-books probably can’t completely supplant ‘real’ books, (especially dog-eared and underlined ones), but for people born in the digital age, e-books might carry the day.

          In spite of the wailing and posturing from the recording industry, (which seems to still believe that it’s the music industry) the music industry seems to be doing very well. If we’re to believe the RIAA and record company execs, unauthorized copying is killing music. But a quick look beyond the narrow field of CD sales shows a lot more musicians actually making a living from music than ever before. The combination of cheap distribution, cheap marketing, and the very copyability of digital music, is serving many musicians very well. They’ve figured out that ‘free’ music sells T-shirts, concert tickets, exclusive access to band members, special-edition CD’s, etc, and they are quite happy to give some music away to sell other stuff that is naturally scarce. After all, they get to make music, build up and connect with their fanbase, and make a living without having to win the record company lottery. They’ve realized that anonymity, not piracy, is their true enemy.

          I suspect something similar will happen in what I’ll call the ‘writing industry’, (to differentiate it from the publishing industry), but darned if I know what the outcome will look like. Any thoughts?

          As an aside, I totally hear you regarding ‘Who Moved my Cheese’. I had a boss who pushed that on me once, and I’d dearly love to ram it down his throat, especially given that he was one of a group of people whom I and many others credit with the failure of the company. Some people are about as subtle as a sledgehammer…

          1. Heh. Your reply made me think of the efforts made by some authors to provide DRM-free products directly to the masses. Cory’s one, of course; Wil Wheaton has been doing it as well, with apparently some success.

            Publishing directly to your audience makes a lot of sense, but as you say anonymity is the real threat to success. This is one area where (ostensibly) a publishing house can help, but the truth is that for every author they trumpet and junket, there are probably a thousand whose books hit shelves silently and eventually end up remaindered.

            Others have raised the issue of paying on a per-book checkout basis, and that forced me to recall (yet again) that libraries are taxpayer supported. They must always be free for readers to use, or so I think. Even more than the artificial scarcity imposed on goods, I find obnoxious the way we’ve commoditized education and the option to acquire knowledge.

          2. If you were in Toronto, I’d invite you out for a beer and some lively conversation.

            I think you’re right that publishing directly to an audience makes sense, and it seems to be working, (so far), in the music business. But it just occurred to me that all of those pushing this as a solution to obsolete business models, (myself included), may have been missing an important point. The Internet allows anyone, regardless of skill or talent, to publish and distribute their work. Will we get to a point where so many are doing so, that there will just be too much ‘background noise’ for the worthwhile stuff to be findable? Publishers, record companies, news organizations, and the like may come back into play, if only to act as filters to screen out the crud. And that’s sounding like deja vu all over again…

            Further to your point that we’ve ‘commoditized education’, I’ve been saying for years now that, for the most part, we no longer really have education. We have job training, and we have indoctrination; but education? Not so much. Schools are too busy teaching students WHAT to think, to teach them HOW to think.

  47. I haven’t seen any consideration in this discussion about the cost of pulping, but there’s a useful discussion of it here.

  48. Macmillan may have awful terms but their e-books are even worse. I bought two Ian Rankin Rebus books on my Kindle and they were very obviously OCR generated. They were full off errors. “Die” substituted for “the” and vice versa. Place and character names misspelt – not good in detective fiction.
    I complained to Amazon and got a refund and complained to Macmillan and was told that ‘a revised version is being worked on and will be available for download at a later date’. Not much use once I’ve read the book, and Amazon remotely removed it when they refunded me anyway.

    I can’t believe that electronic versions of those texts didn’t already exist. Why would the publisher make the author and themselves look bad by putting out such error-riddled books? They wouldn’t do that in print.

  49. This will be skewering several sacred cows, And praising a few underpraised folks all at once.

    Starting with of course- The ominous Thor case with an excellent writeup worthy of praise at:


    Was how much of this became as it is. Do examine it for a financial Harpoon that HarperCollins may be either exploiting or avoiding. They could handwave that one away as not worth comment. but it is. If the “book” generates continuing revenue- it’s potentially taxable under Thor? If it has a PRE-scheduled depreciation? Profit’s go to HC, Long Tail for a resale- to library “starts over” but does payment to the author/editor etc?

    And- it gets several ways- worse.

    I bought a dollar store paperback copy of Carpe Diem. The authors home site at:


    Had links on it to their story of having books wickedly held hostage by Thor’s tax legacy. And barely being rescued from pulping. Hopefully they will relist the story. Due apparently to the publishing industry viewing authors as disposable unless they’re the anointed best ten. Ebooks and trade paperbacks seem to have been a duality that has kept Korval stories coming. With an unexpected Real Life story of the authors doing some REALLY interesting self- publishing that paid off for them.

    Had the first of their books I picked up been pulped instead of dropping into my life? I’d never had known of Liad.. My life would be poorer. Praise to Sharon and Steve for what they wrought both in books and publishing. Baen also has -last I checked- etexts that both authors can get paid for. Unlike the HarperCollins model that seems to have no author revenue on those new 26 lends..

    Anyone able to confirm or deny if the NEW 26 lends scheme pays authors any continuings? If it does not- HarperCollins can go to flaming hell and burn.

    Ebooks are not the enemy of money flows- they just need some rethinking of how and from to to who in what amounts. IMHO- authors need a de minimus living wage and charging more for “paid” etext with so low a COGS is author abuse. Cory’s mode of CC and Paid? A good bridge strategy! But gouging for a no paper copy- evil.

    That’s not a cow goring- it’s respect for Authors. And readers. And Editors. And libraries.

    The cow goring starts now.

    DRM is an inherently neutral tool. Like a firepit. It warms us for a bonfire and cooks food, Burns books too. Same with DRM. My zeal for Free and Open Everything has to bow in respect to Mammon who must not be lightly be mocked. DRM that sends a SMS to a TOR routed anon server paying millicents to single cents per small chunk? We’d not notice 1 cent debit per reading. day of our most loved authors. $3.65 to feed our reading habit per YEAR for each daily read author? How much does each author get if we read only used books and never buy a new one? See the problem? DRM that Feeds The Author and does not bankrupt the reader? May deserve some grudging evaluation till we do better.

    DenyingReadersMaterial is how DRM becomes evil Denying Recurring Money to AUTHORS is more evil. Claiming a limit on lends? Made of Pure Stupid. Oh? Why? Artificial Scarcity might be reason enough alone. Move the epub realm to convergence with “Dead Tree” books that *DO GET DROPPED IN TUBS* and thus best the “magic 26” of HC’s evil wishes.

    Everyone wins. Dead Tree thrives. Libraries Thrive. Paperbacks still sell at checkout counters- driven by read it epub on the train to work- Buy the NEXT release from that author “Dead Tree” version shortly afterwards..Authors- thrive- Readers both paper and epub- you get it. `

    Add micropayments so my Android phone pays Sharon and Steve a few creds when I read a very short of theirs? That few pence from how many Android using Fen adds up-fast. Which is Cow Goring to a publishing realm that overall- with exceptions- seeks to deny smaller authors that few pence. The publishers who Hugo Whore for overhyped authors while slighting deserving ones can fidget in fear of Ghu’s revenge.

    I love both BOOKS and my Android reader. Aldiko was a revelation. The Kindle app- painful. I’ve just gored some more.. Let’s redirect to the “Reasons Why” Artificial Scarcity and denying micropayments to authors are Really Bad Karma. If we have telcos gouging centsX for a SMS? What of an SMS to pay an author if we enjoy a book? Goes “pass through” perhaps a broker to apportion between collaboration authors and publishers/editors.

  50. Wait a minute…the argument that publishers lose future revenue by selling an ebook to a library doesn’t hold. Plenty of publishers already have insidious little ways to continue getting money after I’ve made a purchase for my patrons! My library system pays an annual fee to Gale based on the number of ebooks we have–it’s something like $200 for every 50 titles. And we owe that money FOREVER, or until we stop offering the titles to our patrons. If I buy a physical copy of a book for my library, I pay once.

    Then there are the books offered in streaming format–I’m thinking of Scholastic’s Bookflix and Trueflix–where we pay an annual fee. Forever.

    HarperCollins is just the latest. And so I regretfully conclude that it would not be fiscally prudent to continue to buy from these vendors. My patrons don’t need magic evaporating books.

  51. Harper Collins: Hi. Thanks for sowing the seeds of your own destruction. I recently borrowed some DVDs from my library. As you would expect they were protected with CSS encryption. This provided absolutely no barrier for me to copy them… Actually one of them proved quite difficult to duplicate, so I just dumped it to my PC as an .avi

    The bottom line is: there is ALWAYS a way to do most things. Your DRM only fucks with legitimate (and non-tech-savvy) customers. No matter how you wrap up the junk your are trying to protect, it will always be accessible and will always end up online. The more clever the protection, the more rewarding it is to break and the more cred people receive online for breaking (and sharing) it.

    Have a nice time wasting your profits, assholes.

  52. It’s easy to say that libraries should get out of the DRM business, I would love that, but it’s much harder to explain that to customers who have been or want to use the product. The public does not want to be educated, and we rely on the public for support and funding. By mounting a political campaign that’s largely confusing to the layperson (and many librarians), we risk seeming out of date and irrelevant.

    Does anyone know if ALA or other organizations have begun to create materials for librarians to mount a counter campaign and explain to the public the importance of this issue and why we’ve opted to exclude Harper Collins from our digital collections?

  53. I just checked – 35 of the print Harper Collins items owned by our small rural library have circulated over 26 times. I think it is time for libraries everywhere to join forces against this nonsense!

  54. I don’t know what libraries’ circulation figures they’re pulling out of thin air,
    but at the one where I work, best sellers check out hundreds and hundreds of times.

  55. i am sending out my letter to HarperCollins Publishers today. please join in letting them know that we feel that this is an unfair policy as a lot of the libraries are struggling to make ends meet and this just adds an additional burden on them to make high demand books available to us.

  56. All HC is doing is trying to keep the same financial split as before. They estimate library books turn an average of 26 times historically so they’re saying let’s keep doing that. Librarians seem to be coming back saying no, no, we want a far better deal with unlimited turns. That is not reasonable and will not be seen as reasonable by government or courts. As educated, responsible people, librarians should know better. The real win-win that would utilize the full potential of the technology would be to offer libraries unlimited usage but at a fair payment based on the amount each book is borrowed. Each book would still have a base cost but beyond that there could just be a negotiated click-through. The advantages are so obvious it has to happen–eventually.

  57. Publishers (The MAJOR publishers anyway, who have concentrated both wealth and sales in the hands of a few organizations) are killing the publishing industry just like the record companies have killed popular music. It isn’t good or bad, given the web and economy and such…but it is unfortunate. Libraries have fallen into letting jobbers do the selection for them and by extension allowed their collections to become holding pens for authors “sanctioned” by large publishers leaving small publishers and writers, often those with the most to say, struggling. “Celebrity” authors dominate, the rich get richer, and the book dies. Don’t get me wrong..I use a kindle and LOVE it. But the important books, and the ones I love the most, are not available yet in e=book form and are seldom found in libraries. Libraries are still the greatest form of entertainment left, but they aren’t perfect either. Hopefully, the collapse of Borders (and the struggling Barnes and Noble) will mean a bright future for small bookstores again, Libraries who actually have an acquisitions librarian making book selections and a robust small publisher environment (as it should be)

  58. If a library did actually decide to go to a DRM-free ebook policy, is there a online system for them to use? Does OverDrive support DRM-free books?

  59. Isn’t the DRM what makes the ebook not work after the checkout period? It is my understanding that if there weren’t the DRM people would just checkout books and keep them forever, seriously hurting publishers.

  60. It is amazing that people don’t know that many libraries act as implicit censors. For example, the Los Angeles Public library system will not buy any children’s book that has not been reviewed by School Library Journal. When I sent my self-pubished books to LA Public Library, they refused saying that my books were self-published and were not reviewed. Now I hold a doctorate in my discipline, and have written books explaining my discipline through children’s stories to children. But they refuse to carry my books even though my books have been adopted by few of the top school districts in the nation.
    By refusing to buy my books (which are educational, and useful to children) the library has acted like a censor and I, as the author, am paying the price by not having my books read in the city where I live. If librarians were to open their eyes to self-published books, they can get more people on their side.

    That is why my approach is to market directly to readers, and not to libraries who are more like censors. The fact is sales to libraries do end up cannibalizing direct sales to customers (why buy an educational book when you can get it free from a library). Librarians should respect that fact. and understand that, otherwise, they will become redundant, and will og the way of travel agents, totally meaningless in a rapidly evolving digital world.

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