HarperCollins vs. libraries: eBooks to
Self-Destruct after 26 Loans
Even though ebooks have been around for more than a decade, it is very much in its infancy in
South African libraries. This has a lot to do with the very high cost of internet bandwidth and deceptive ISP
providers in this country just waiting for the next victim (sorry I mean consumer) to sign a 2 year internet
contract. Internet usage in South Africa however is accelerating rapidly. Today, libraries must offer
patrons/users as many options for accessing information as possible within their budget constraints. One of
the most popular ways libraries are responding to digital demand is to provide ebooks.
More than 10 000 libraries worldwide allow their customers to browse, check out and download
digital books and more with just a library card and an internet connection. Titles can be read or listened to
on a computer or with mobile devices like the iPod, iPads, Nooks, Sony Reader, Kindle, Windows Mobile ,
Android, Black-Berry smartphones, etc.
OverDrive (www.overdrive.com) is one of the leading global distributors of ebooks, audiobooks and other digital formats to
libraries. OverDrive provides download services to meet the demands of a 21st century library
How does it work?
For each library’s integrated library system (e.g., SirsiDynix, Innovative Interfaces) OverDrive develops a custom
download website, a ‘virtual branch’ since it looks and feels like a library branch. The website is hosted on
OverDrive’s global server network and integrates with the library’s integrated library system (ILS) for a seamless
To download the ebook the library patron/user will need to browse for digital ebook titles on
their library’s download website and check them out for free with a library card, and download them to a
personal computer at home or anywhere they have an internet connection. The library downloads are compatible
with Windows and Mac computers and can be transferred to some of the most popular devices, including Sony
Reader, Barnes & Noble’s nook, iPod, iPhone, Zune, BlackBerry, Android devices, and many more. The
digital titles are also issued to a patron/user just like a print book. Each digital book has a lending
period, and when the book expires, it checks itself back into the library’s digital catalogue, so there’s
never a late fee.
What is Digital Rights Management (DRM)?
Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems is a category of systems which seeks to impose restrictions on the use of
digital content, often to enforce artificial scarcity. Thus it is more accurate to describe DRM as "Digital
DRM Technology can restrict patron/users access to movies, music, ebooks and software, indeed most forms of digital
What does this mean for the future?
Perhaps people should realize that they do not own any DRM digital content they purchase for
their own use (digital music, digital books). They are only licensing the content. When the distributor
decides they want it back, they have the right to remove it from the person’s iPod, Kindle, Nooks, Android or
whatever digital device they use. If more people realized the implications of this (most don’t even realize
their lack of ownership), perhaps they would think twice about paying for DRM digital content. I’m not a huge
fan of DRM as I am old school and believe that if you pay for an ebook you should really be able to access it
on any device, lend it to a friend, store it/make a backup of it, do just about anything you would be able to
do if you bought a physical copy of the book. What DRM means for the future is, No fair use. No purchase and
resell. No private copies. No sharing. No backup. No swapping. No privacy. If this type of invasion of
privacy was coming from any other source, it would not be tolerated. DRM has become a major threat to the
freedom of computer patron/users.
Products with DRM
I’ve written about the issue of the Kindle and public libraries Systems Librarian Part l . Unlike your personal license from the Kindle store, a library ebook may have a “one person at
a time limitation”. Certain categories of products, for example music, movies, ebooks, computers (Mac and
Windows), mobile phones (iPhone), games, etc., are disproportionately impacted by DRM. When you're
considering buying a product in one of these categories, it's a good idea to do a quick search (on Defective
by Design or the web at large). Beyond books and libraries, we're seeing a larger trend toward DRM-restricted
media: digital movie rentals that expire 24 hours after you press play or music files that are rendered
worthless if you stop paying a monthly access fee.
Defective By Design
After months of campaigning during 2006, DefectiveByDesign.org declared Tuesday October 3rd 2006, an international
"Day Against DRM". We must move away from the awareness of DRM to rejection of DRM. For more information and an explanation on what is this all about go to
Some of the general problems with DRM are:
Dependence on servers - Many DRM systems depends on central servers.
Central control - Many DRM systems allow central control of content.
Trusted client problem - Most DRM systems have the trusted client
problem, which is fundamental as any digital bits are easily copyable and the system relies on the client to
enforce the restrictions.
Fair use rights - DRM is often used unintentionally or intentionally to
take away fair use rights and sometimes sell them back, assisted by anti-circumvention provisions in laws.
HarperCollins limits public library check-outs
From the 7 March 2011, HarperCollins ebook titles come with a new restriction: after 26 checkouts, they
self-destruct. The ebooks simply won't work anymore. If a library wants to keep lending that book, it'll have to
buy a new license, potentially buying the same book over and over again. The digital lending caps apply worldwide
but only to titles that libraries license after March 7. Existing licenses will remain unlimited.
DRM – How will it affect Public libraries
Essentially each library will have a limited number of licenses for an ebook. Patron/users can
check out those books and read them on supported devices (it’s kind of annoying that the DRM prohibits you
from using any ebook reader you choose). Ebook publishers would rather than allowing libraries to loan
licensed books forever, limit the number of times an ebook can be checked out. That’s partly because digital
books don’t “wear out” or need to be replaced the same way that physical books do.
How long does a library book last? HarperCollins says 26 reads. After 26 reads, it says, a
library book is toast. Therefore, 26 is the new number of times that people will be able to download its
library ebooks before HarperCollins uses DRM to shut down the ebook. Libraries will then have to purchase a
second license. It’s not clear what kind of limits other publishers will put on their ebook titles.
I’m not an expert on wear and tear of library books. But I think it is foolish that library ebooks should self
destruct after 26 reads. Print books don't fall apart after 26 readings. Obviously, paper books are susceptible to
many kinds of wear and tear. Eventually, libraries get rid of old, worn books. From the publisher's point of view,
that's a good thing, because it means an opportunity to sell replacement copies. Not so with the unlimited-use
ebooks publishers have been licensing to libraries for the past several years. 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 book sale or for
pulping. I don't know where the number "26" came from; I'd be interested to find out how they arrived at that
figure. I'd expect it to be higher. Maybe, the 26 checkout figure equals one year of circulation. Typically an
ebook is lent out for two weeks. Divide one year (52 weeks) by two and you get 26!
An OverDrive representative said HarperCollins titles are now segregated from the rest of the distributor's
offerings to keep librarians from unintentionally licensing ebooks with use-based limits. This has created a
two-tiered system for ebooks: unlimited-use titles and titles that expire after 26 checkouts. No matter how good 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. If they (publishers) want to negotiate minimum loan duration to force the
library then fine, but checkout counts run contrary to the whole idea of libraries.
From the publisher’s point of view
In South Africa, library ebook circulation is still low or non-existent. As ebook use grows, so does the importance
of collaboration between publishers and libraries. Librarians are asking publishers: What's the difference between
a publisher losing money "forever" with an ebook and one losing money "forever" with a print book?
We have publishers in the first place because they solved two problems in the information
supply-chain. First, they owned printing presses and employed skilled type-setters. Together, these two
things enabled the production of books. Second, they had a supply-chain logistical organization that could
organize, store, and deliver these books to the libraries, readers, or stores that wanted to buy
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. Over the past few years publishers are feeling the squeeze. There are
many reasons for this, not the least of which is that they provide solutions to problems that have been
rendered trivial by electronic information. What service does the publisher provide in a digital environment?
In many cases, libraries have become part of the problem by joining consortiums that extend the
"lendability" of a purchased ebook 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. 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
The successful publishers (those that have not 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. The problem is that ebooks never wear out, and never need
Boycott of HarperCollins
Stop buying from publishers who stick time-bombs in their
Librarians have blown up over this, calling for a boycott of HarperCollins. And as bad as
HarperCollins' terms are, they're still better than other publishers, who don't allow any library circulation
of their ebook titles. It feels like libraries are being strangled out of existence by DRM and this DRM is
some sort of final straw that has librarians so up in arms.
I believe that DRM and greedy publishers are here to stay. No number of tweets, emails, or blog
posts is going to change their minds. I would just like to know where was the conversation(s) with libraries
about the upcoming changes? I don’t recall seeing any discussion(s) of the upcoming ebook change on librarian
blogs. Is the lack of discussion telling us what they (publishers) ultimately think of
For the sake of our patrons/users and the future of digital ebook access, this situation needs
to become much larger than just a simple boycott against HarperCollins. This is just my opinion but I believe
that a boycott is a mistake. From the publisher’s perspective, if we stop buying their books, people will
have no choice but to buy ebooks which is exactly what they want. We need to engage them in another way. We
have two fundamentally different goals. Ours is the greater good, theirs is profit.
For more information and an explanation on what is this all about go to http://www.boycottharpercollins.com
The US Government
While the US government has decided that publishers have no real rights over what happens to a
physical book once it’s sold, they can continue to exert control over digital media even after it’s been paid
for. And that means it’s entirely up to publishers such as HarperCollins to decide if they want to bother
working with libraries at all. We’re kind of at their whim here.
An interesting/practical solution I found while surfing the blog http://boingboing.net/2011/02/25/harper
I see a great opportunity for you to partner with libraries. Offer data storage and ebook 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 ebook 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.
Another solution, to an extent, would be for the library to just check out Kindles with ebook
Free eBook download websites
FreebookSpot (www.freebookspot.com) is an online source of free ebooks download with 4485 free ebooks.
ManyBooks (http://www.manybooks.net) provides free ebooks for your PDA, iPod or ebook
Reader. There are 29,000 ebooks available here and they’re all free.
PDFbooks (http://pdfbooks.co.za/) this site offers
around 4,700 downloadable public domain e-books.
For more you can go to the following url: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/20-best-websites-to-download-free-ebooks/
Culture is data and data is culture
It seems the publishing industry hasn’t learnt much from the music industry. Locking stuff down
doesn’t seem fit for purpose in 2011 – it’s the fearful approach rather than the open approach which is out
of sync with our times. We live in an age of instant and almost cost-free duplication and distribution of
data. 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). 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. DRM ebooks can't be returned early. They
therefore, enforced a checkout period in an artificial way so as to create scarcity. Libraries will be forced
into buying more "copies" of popular ebook titles. It's nothing more than a ploy to get more money.
Most of our patrons/users are okay with waiting a month or more for a paper copy. If you are selling the instant
gratification factor of an ebook, and the patron can't get their ebook immediately, they will wonder why. What is
the benefit of an ebook if it has the same limitations as a physical/printed book?
People/consumers 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. We all know publishers of any
digital content haven’t had the greatest of luck in securing their content against the inevitable
DRM-cracking. If it’s easier to pirate content than to buy it, people will pirate. Publishers don’t get it.
As long as ebook formats are non-standard, you can’t share them among devices and people in a household, and
things like usage limits exist (or are implemented), people will just download pirate ebooks. The fight may
go on for decades but scarcity will not prevail, no one will win that war, and the cost of fighting it will
be a huge, sad, pointless waste. The more barriers, restrictions, unreasonable pricing and other hassles
publishers put on ebook content, the less people will bother paying for it.
Culture of Reading
The libraries ability to circulate ebooks might actually be more profitable for publishers. Libraries encourage
literacy and reading, helping to sow the seeds for publishers’ continued growth. Many of the most active library
patron/users are also among the most frequent book purchasers.
This situation has been coasting slowly toward us for over a decade. I'd be foolish to suggest a
solution to this problem. It would sound as absurd as HarperCollins dictating a 26-lend limit. However, maybe
there is an alternative strategy that would allow ebooks to be available to libraries while at the same time
assuring that publisher(s) aren't going to lose money and will stay in business.
Or, maybe what we need is for digital copyright laws to change (libraries need an exemption for
digital content, just as we have for physical/printed content). We also need legislation introduced
that specifies that libraries, as public lending institutions, are not required to comply with
consumer-intended terms of service. The lack of legislative leadership and advocacy in the last decade has
created a situation where libraries have lost the rights to lending and preserving content that we have had
for centuries. Yes, we have lost the right to purchase physical/printed content and lend it to as many people
as we want consecutively, and then donate or sell that item when it has outlived its
South African libraries have an opportunity to take part in the global library ebook download
phenomenon. With internet penetration beginning its rapid growth in South Africa, libraries should start to
plan now to add services that will be in demand for years to come. We should not be passive and wait to see
what will happen but rather come up with ideas and our own unique solutions.
Date: 28 March