Sunday, March 06, 2011

Another View About HarperCollins e-Book License

I'm not sure we are gonna make it to 2012. This year is frisky enough as it is. Mercy! The latest thing to get me all twisty is the HarperCollins e-book flap. In a nutshell, HarperCollins wants to change the buying terms for e-books for libraries. Instead of one book, one reader one purchase they want to change to a license model.

For example, if a library has an e-book that they lend to library users they can only do that 26 times per book. After that time the library would have to pony up for another license for the next 26 readers.

So let's say the e-book in question is To Kill A Mockingbird. The first 26 people get to read the book. The library looks at the purchasing budget already slashed to hell by city and local governments. They don't have the money to get another license. To Kill A Mockingbird is no longer available at that library.

No sweat you say, what about e-book inter-library loan?

You don't think for a moment that the publisher is going to stand for any form of inter-library loan of an e-book, do you? I doubt if they would even consider inter-branch acceptable. Let's not forget about the license fee, the library would pay one way or the other.

The choice is to either not purchase the e-book or repeatedly pay for the right to distribute the e-book to library users.

Wait a minute you say. There is another choice, just plunk down $7.99 for a paperback copy. And you would be right. The library could do that, so long as there is a physical copy to be obtained.

But time changes things. Mimeo paper use to be common. It isn't any more. There may be a time when a physical book is no longer published.

What if the publisher only had e-book copies of certain books? What if the library e-book is in low but steady demand? Does the library still buy the book at $26 a pop when you might loan only three copies a year for five years?

This is getting messy. Would a library invest in one poet e-book or an anthology? Would the library even buy poetry books, essays, philosophy books or political analysis of historical events?

Does the library stock historical cookbooks, wood crafting books or automotive manuals? Does a non-music contain practice books and musical scores? Will the decision be made to have only one physical or electronic copy of a book?

Do you really want to put commercial book publishers in a position of deciding the amount of times a library book can be read? Because that can become content control. That control could be taken away from librarians and libraries.

I'm asking folks to really think about the implications of that question.

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