How a HarperCollins library book looks after 26 checkouts (pretty good!)

Shocked by the news that HarperCollins has told libraries that its ebooks will now self-destruct after 26 checkouts because that's how long a print book lasts, these librarians give us a tour of some of HarperCollins's books in their collection that have circulated much more than 26 times. They even have a copy of Coraline with a lifetime guarantee!

The HarperCollins editions of my books are damned hardy items, I must say. I know whereof I speak -- I've done time repairing books at busy circulating libraries and I'm happy to report that the HC editions of my work are robust and fine examples of bookbindery.

HarperCollins 26+ checkouts (Thanks, a librarian!)


  1. One thing I love about the internet is that stupid comments and blatant lies can be immediately refuted by evidence. It is especially nice when that evidence comes in the form of an easily linked video.

    Every librarian should send the link back to HC.

    And HC – admit you’re profit-mongers, but please don’t try to lie to us about what is patently obvious.

  2. Hitch hiker’s thumb!

    Another swindle for the rich to get richer.
    This MAY be a biased selection of books, though. :/
    I like to think that they weren’t trying to be fraudulent in any way in the making of this video. Seems pretty straight-forward.

    Also, sake and grape juice tastes like grape juice.

    1. As the voice holding the camera – I can tell you that the biggest problem we had making the video and finding books was that ones with even higher checkouts were currently checked out to patrons – so we couldn’t feature the physical item in the video.
      So we selected HC titles representative of what’s in all of our branch locations.
      No stretching the truth. Librarian’s promise.

      And thank you to BoingBoing for highlighting this

  3. I do volunteer shelving at my local library, and we have some books that have been in circulation for decades and are still holding together. We even have paperbacks with soft, curling, slowly shredding covers that keep going for years. Heck, I think the magazines live longer than 26 weeks.

    The folks I feel most sorry for in this are the authors with books at HC. If they go through with this, libraries should drop HC ebooks.

  4. It’s irrelevant whether paper books become unreadable after X number of checkouts. When you buy an eBook you expect it to last forever. I mean, isn’t that the point of them (as well as portability)?

    1. You may expect an ebook to last forever. But, when a company sells a library a book, THEY expect to make repeat sales as the books wear out or get lost. If that stops happening, they would stop selling books to libraries and your only recourse would be to buy the book yourself. But, 26 checkouts is ridiculous. A happier medium must be found.

  5. Hooray librarians! Hopefully this video and word of HC’s ridiculous policy will spread to libraries around the country and either kill the policy or kill HC’s e-book business in libraries.

  6. question to HC?
    will you let the library sell e-copies of your books in on-line discount bins?
    i’d pay a couple of dollars to get a tattered ebook

  7. I really love real books. But the ability to enlarging the print on a kindle is a real selling point for me. Though mostly I buy the real book and the kindle version to read. If I can.

  8. You are missing the underlying motive here. HC can now begin to produce their dead tree media books with sub-standard materials and slipshod workmanship. After all, “Our digital works are only good for 26 checkouts, so our tangible good should reflect that as well.”

  9. I can see this statistic being true for paperbacks. I avoid letting my dad read any paperbacks of mine because he likes to open them flat on the table and crush them so they stay open regardless of the horrendous damage to the spine.

    However, it seems to me that libraries prefer hardcovers or at least some of the new plastic based covers that do not crease.

  10. can we just fire the dork, or group of dorks that are trying to push this for their salary, im losing the patience to just let karma catch up with them. its a bad idea, with the kind of paradigm shift that new tech provides, this is the shaite that holds it back, takes way too much attention, and in their hearts, the would complain if someone did it to them…hell maybe they feel justified cause someone did do it to them, and they now figure its just the way of the world, which it may have been, may actually be, but doesn’t need to be anymore…

  11. So I take it that HC’s argument is that their printed books only last an average of 26 checkouts. If that’s the case, merely showing off some books of theirs that lasted longer than that doesn’t offer much evidence to the contrary, since those could just be the books in the top 50%, durability-wise.

  12. “Shocked by the news that HarperCollins has told libraries that its ebooks will now self-destruct after 26 checkouts because that’s how long a print book lasts”

    Based on your earlier post the lifespan of a book was only one of many factors.

    “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.”

  13. Does the library pay for hosting or DRM server costs? I say if the library is hosting the file and pays for the DRM server, then yeah they should have full unlimited access for the book per license. If they are not paying for the hosting and DRM, then no way, that’s just crazy to expect to pay for a service once and then have a high volume lending free forever.

    1. Does the library pay for hosting or DRM server costs? I say if the library is hosting the file and pays for the DRM server, then yeah they should have full unlimited access for the book per license. If they are not paying for the hosting and DRM, then no way, that’s just crazy to expect to pay for a service once and then have a high volume lending free forever.

      Why should the library foot any of the bill for the DRM servers? If the publisher does not feel the cost of maintaining the DRM infrastructure in perpetuity is worth it to them, then I’m quite sure the libraries would be willing to allow them to forgo DRM.

  14. I think the main thing that HC was worried about was the eventual degradation of the product. The typical e-book starts as a digital file, then is turned into something people can actually read on a kindle, a nook, etc., and is then squished back down into a digital file when you “return” it to the library. This constant expansion and squishing will eventually corrupt the file making it illegible. Take a photocopy of something, then use the shrink setting to shrink it. Copy that, and then blow it back up. Do this 26 times. You will likely end up with an illegible mess.

    E-books are EXACTLY like that.

    1. Except the ebook isn’t ever “returned” to the library. The file is downloaded to the user’s device with a license for the loan period. When this period expires, the file becomes undreadable, and (on some devices) is deleted automatically from the device. When another user checks out the book, the file is downloaded again – from the original source.

      A big part of this debate comes from a blind allegiance to the “Pretend it’s Print” model. (For a more thorough explanation, see ebooks aren’t like print books, and it’s going to create a lot of changes in the way books are used, both from the publisher end and the library end.

  15. @travis08

    But they put that out as a particular reason, and have not stated what the other reasons are, so it is quite reasonable to dispute their claim.

  16. “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.”

    The unmentioned factors were “How big of greedy douchebags are we” and “How badly do we want to screw over libraries”.

  17. > In the future all librarians and archivists will be pirates.

    In the present many of them are already.

    We’d really really like to work out something equitable and fair with publishers, but treating libraries — one of the largest purchasers of books in the US — as an annoying problem that publishers have to barely tolerate is framing the issue in the worst possible way.

    OverDrive has been trying to do the right thing here, but they’re in a terrible place. I hope HarperCollins feels the bite and comes back to the table with realistic alternatives.

    1. agreed that many are already but I can just feel the word ‘archivist’ slowly slipping in to being a pejorative slur for pirate. They’re becoming synonymous.

      1. There’s a new classic of dystopian literature somewhere in that comment, Rajio. I’d buy it.

  18. When HarperCollins are behaving so bizarrely, sometimes it’s tough to tell who is making the jokes.

  19. I wonder how they read books at HarperCollins that causes such rapid deterioration? Quality has gone to the back of the line.

    Just another ripoff.

  20. Yeah, but maybe HC would have printed those books on inferior paper with shoddy bindings that would barely hang together after 4 or 5 readings, had they been inclined to print actual books instead of issuing e-books. So, really they’re giving you an incredible value by making the electronic versions self-destruct after 26 checkouts. They’re passing their savings in print costs to you, the consumer, in the form of extended lifetime!

    Maybe they could also sell you a “premium” e-book that would have been printed as a high-quality hardcover (but wasn’t) that expires after say 100 checkouts (for a significant markup, of course, to cover their extra expenses in notionally producing such a high-quality electronic version).

    Oh, what the hell am I saying, this doesn’t make any frickin’ sense no matter how you try to look at it.

  21. That copy of Coraline is a FollettBound, from Book Wholesalers, Inc. BWI is my employer (who I am not speaking for), and the FollettBound is a popular optional binding that libraries can purchase for high-circulation titles. We take paperbacks from the publisher, get them rebound by a bindery with more durable covers, and give them a lifetime guarantee.

    Fun fact: Putting a new cover on the book requires a new ISBN, even though the pages inside are identical. If you’ve got an ISBN-10 that starts with 0329 or 1415, for example, that’s one of ours. That Coraline is (probably, from what I can tell) 1-4155-3201-X, but was originally 0-06-057591-3.

  22. Not sure what discounts libraries are able to secure on the books they buy, but using the books mentioned here:

    Metro Girl Hardcover: $26.95 MSRP
    Metro Girl eBook: $7.99 (iBooks & Amazon)

    Ruby Holler Hardcover: $16.99 MSRP
    Ruby Holler eBook: $6.99 (Amazon)

    Sooner or Later LP Trade Paper: $16.99 MSRP
    Sooner or Later eBook: $7.99 (iBooks & Amazon)

    Swimming to Catalina HC: $25.00 MSRP
    Swimming to Catalina eBook: $7.99 (Amazon & iBooks)

    Coraline HC: $15.99 MSRP
    Coraline eBook: $6.99 eBook (Amazon)

    Libraries have other expenses (as pointed out in this video) related to preserving their print book collections (mostly people costs) which disappear with e-books. These librarians would have you to think the print book to eBook cost ratio is 1:1, it’s not true, eBooks cost librarians far less in terms of up front cost as well as the costs associated with managing an eBook library long term. Publishers are bearing the brunt of costs for this content, yes they are saving on production, printing and logistical costs, but they still have editorial, layout/design, marketing and systems costs to bring these to market (at a drastically reduced price which will affect them more and more under the agency model). I’m not suggesting that H/C has set the right threshold, but publishers have to be concerned about the long-term value of their content. Not doing so would mean fewer publishers and by extension fewer books to lend in the first place. It feels good to stick up for librarians and point the finger at the profit-hungry publishers, but librarians seem to be advocating that publishers give away their content through libraries indefinitely without recouping their investment in that content. That is not how it should work.

    1. At the library where I work, we have Overdrive and we pay the MSRP for each copy of the digital edition of the book/license we purchase. For the same print item, we get a discount. Sure, it costs us money to pay staff to check out the book to a user, check it in, and shelve it, but we’ve figured out a cost-effective way to do that–as many other libraries have. No one wants to dispute that publishers need to make money and recoup their costs, but I think what librarians are saying is that “26” seems arbitrary and it’s not going to work for us. They’re going to mess up our collection budget because of a decision they made based on what THEY want to charge us. Meredith Farkas has some interesting points on how this whole thing will shake out. Bottom line: libraries want a fair cost structure.

  23. Eventually, I think that librarians will be forced to learn one book off by heart, and recite it to anyone who wants to read it.

    We will need many more librarians.

  24. Actually, libraries pay more for e-books than print, more than an individual consumer pays. I understand they typically run over $20.00 a pop. It’s cheaper for libraries to buy a $25.00 retail print book because of the library discount. There are some costs, obviously, with processing and housing a printed book, but there are also high costs from the library to the vendor (Overdrive) for hosting the service. Plus lots of time spent trying to help people use the software on various devices – and explaining that the Kindle won’t read library e-books and no, that’s not a silly library rule, it’s Amazon’s.

    I’m at an academic library, and we don’t have Overdrive, and I’m happy we don’t. We do catalog CC-licensed books that we think our community will enjoy, though.

  25. If I was a librarian (I’ve often thought it would be a rewarding job) and any publisher was to introduce this idiotic DRM policy, I would respond by porting that publisher’s ebooks as pdfs quick-smart, dumping them in a big rar archive and uploading them to file lockers anonymously. If we make policies like this fail by increasing the ease of piracy for books published by money-hungry publishers, their shifty business-plans will have to change or it may result in the publisher going bust.

    Just deserts for raping their customers.

  26. Here’s something HarperCollins Inc. doesn’t know (or forgot) and which hasn’t been discussed yet: The life of the average physical book in the average public library in North America is not currently determined by its physical resistance but by its popularity. The coming of eBooks and the disappearance of the physical book unit (or monograph as librarians call them) will change this. It will eliminate the “loss” of potential customers publishers and others “suffer” when libraries sell obsolete (they call them “weeded”) books to citizens.

    What counts for the head librarian in a public library is the total number of book-borrowings during the year by the local citizens. This is the only figure that truly justifies the public library’s annual budget. They call this “circulation” figures because the books “circulate”. Other figures, like the number of people sitting inside the library on average, are shakier and not as useful. In order to keep that borrowing number high public libraries have to constantly buy new books, new titles even if the older books aren’t physically used up. They have to keep up constantly with what’s really popular in fiction and what’s current, updated to new standards in non-fiction. There,s always new Science, new techniques coming up, which make non-fiction books obsolete even before they are physically worn out.

    In most libraries in North America there are regular sales of weeded books, that is books which are not physically used up but which are not popular any more (such as the last decade’s hit pop fiction or last year’s outdated reference volume) and are taking up costly shelf space in heated and air conditioned buildings. I’ve been going to those sales for more than thirty years, buying thousands of books for my personal collection, my personal library. For each used library book I’ve bought I’ve seen or handled a hundred other books in those sales. From this experience (and from readings when I did university studies on the matter) I can tell you that most of those outdated and/or unpopular “weeded” books were still in fine physical shape when they were taken out of the library collection, to make space for new titles or updated editions.

    I’ve read that a lot of publishers and authors don’t like bookstores that specialize in selling used, recently used books because they say that there’s zero money going to the publisher and the author when somebody buys a used book, “their” used book from one of those stores. It means that a reader gets to own “their” book for nothing, in their point of view. So I reckon that they don’t like it either when libraries sell weeded books.

    Making the transition to an eBook library means that there will not be any more “weeded” book sales. Hey, publishers and authors should be glad!

    But that’s not all.

    Since eBooks don’t take up any space librarians won’t be forced to “weed” the collections like they do now, because of lack of space. In theory, they could keep some of those eBook files forever if they retain the files on their own servers, just in case a user might want to se them in the future, for historical reasons. And this is the crucial point. 99% of users don’t want to see those old books for historical reasons. They want to read popular new fiction and consult updated reference books, trustworthy and recent “how-to ” manuals and other such stuff. It all about having you users, your citizens borrow stuff, keep circulation figures high, so you can justify the library’s existence. Librarians will go on buying new books to do this no matter what their format, eBook, or physical monograph or whatnot.

    Publishers should get this into their head: The total number of books a public library owns is largely irrelevant for its existence. University libraries and national libraries brag about their total number of books and it’s important for them, but for a public library (those we are talking about here) it’s irrelevant for their survival. What counts is getting new books in, all the time, to keep borrowing figures high. They’ll go on buying books even their “old” ones are still intact, so stop bothering them with useless borrowing limits and other DRM obsessions.

    Oh, and another thing, all, and I mean absolutely all the statistics show that in North America the towns and cities with the highest borrowing figures in their public libraries are also the ones where the population buys the most books. It’s proven by exact numbers that the love of reading is a “disease” spread by libraries and beneficial to publishers. Many publishers figured this out long, long ago and put up special marketing departments targeting public libraries in particular. I’m beginning to wonder if the people in thses departments were laid off when big publishers were consolidated and bougth out by companies with no publishing background.

  27. Well, if you go by this video, I think that HarperCollins should make expiration at about the hundred mark rather than the now twenty six. It’s ridiculously low as it is.

  28. I have paperbacks that are 45 years old. Some are getting a little ragged.

    If a book only lasted for 26 readings, then I’d wonder how libraries have ever managed to remain stocked.

    Harper Collins: You company is a sad statement on how a lack of integrity has invaded even the bookselling industry. You will wither and die.

  29. “We surveyed a bunch of nonagenarians and they were all alive and kicking! Obviously the published value for life expectancy is way low.”

    Sure, the new Harper Collins policy is bad, and even if it weren’t, 26 checkouts is a rather pessimistic estimate for the life of a book. But if we’re going to demonstrate these claims, let’s use real evidence (e.g. check your database: after how many checkouts do books go to mending? after how many are they discarded?); come on, librarians, we’re smarter than this.

  30. So how long before we actually rent a book to read it? It’s not a terrible model, and in practicality libraries, used book stores, Cracker Barrel’s return an audio book plan, and are all forms of this in existence already… Are publishers ready to be forced to host content in perpetuity? Is a buck or so per viewing enough of a reward to pay for the servers to host that content?

  31. My wife just got an Anne Tyler novel from the library, with the old-style check-out form with stamped entries still pasted into the inside of the back cover.  From July 1988 to December 1993 the book had been checked out 40 times. The book was still in decent shape. 26 sounds like a number that was just made up.

  32. I’ve seen the number 26 (loan events in the lifespan of a monograph) bandied about by people on both sides of the argument (it’s too low…it’s just right…it’s supported by research). Being a librarian, I’d like to see the actual research used to determine this number. People are suspicious of the number 26 because it fits so nicely into the number of loan events a presumed bestseller might undergo in its first year in the collection (a coincidence?). I suspect that the number is too low on average, but would be quite interested in seeing exactly how HC arrived at that number.

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