Thursday, March 17, 2011


Who else caught Tuesday’s article in The New York Times, “Publisher Limits Shelf Life for Library E-Books,” by Julie Bosman? In her article, Bosman reported that HarperCollins has changed its policy on the sale of e-books to libraries. For the past decade or so, HarperCollins followed the common publishing model, which said that once a library bought an e-book from a publisher, the library owned that title forever; meaning it had the right to lend out the e-book, one reader at a time, for an unlimited number of times.

But last week, HarperCollins upended that agreement by imposing a 26-checkout limit before the purchasing agreement expired. After that, the library would have to buy the e-book again.

The e-book battle was on. As Bosman wrote, cybrarians said it was unfair and threatened to boycott e-books from HarperCollins. HarperCollins defended the move by saying in a statement that selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity could, among other things, “place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.”

Of particular interest to authors was a separate statement HC made, that it needed "to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come."

Bosman's article quoted several librarians and publishers, but no authors. So I wondered what some of our Paper Wait readers thought, since most of you are published authors or pre-published writers.

So tell me, what does this change in e-book library lending rights mean to you? Do you agree that Harpercollins' new policy really protects your rights as an author/writer? Do you think it will make a difference in terms of the royalties you collect? Are you grateful for or angered by the change? Or do you feel like it has too little impact on you personally to give it a second thought?

Authors/writers, I’d love to hear from you. Of course, comments from librarians and publishers, former or current, are welcome, too.


  1. I did see that article and it gave me pause, too. But I totally see HC's point on this. Physical books do wear out, after many cherished readings. E-books do not.

    Also, taking out E-books from the library is a totally different experience. There are probably some who "browse" for e-books, but I guess more look for specific books and if they are not available right then, put their name on the waiting list. Fewer books will be "discovered."

  2. Hey J.A.:

    I like your point about fewer books being "discoverered," which is something I hadn't considered.

    As for your first point, I wonder how HC came up with the number 26 as being the maximum allowable checkouts an e-book can have before it expires, and the library has to repurchase it. Based on the number of due date stamps inside hard cover books I've borrowed in the pasr, it seems like they can be borrowed more times than that. Anyway, this is just a guess, and I'd love to know how HC came up with that figure.

  3. How does this policy affect the author? An author gets royalty when a library buys a physical book, but the author doesn't get royalty each time a book is checked out. Hardback books can last through years of checkouts.

    If the library has to buy a new e-book after 26 circulations, then it seems the author gets royalty on the new purchase?

  4. Yes, additional royalties, no matter how small, are always welcomed.

  5. Yes, I see the "physical books wear out" argument, very definitely. I think the publisher is thinking there needs to be an ebook equivalent to "weeding the collection" to allow more titles a chance. Also, 26 is a very small number if the book is a big seller. Hotly anticipated titles can collect a couple hundred names on the wait list before the book is even released, requiring libraries to buy multiple copies of paper books. Publishers need a way to sell multiple copies of ebooks, too, or the combo of lower sales/lower prices will ruin them.

  6. Marcia: You make good points about HC's reasons for establishing the 26 checkout limit.

    As for other viewpoints, I just read SLJ's March 15th article, "Kids, Teens Suffer from HarperCollins's Limit on Ebook Downloads," which talks about how libraries may be less inclined to purchase HC e-titles because of added costs brought on by expiration dates.

    This mean kids may not have access to all the MG and YA e-books they want through libraries. The article added that MG and YA books have an especially high rate of turnover, so the re-purchasing cost would be higher for these e-titles than for adult titles.

    It's an interesting read.