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March 1, 2011



The title of this blog is a misnomer.

Martha Hardy

We don't have OverDrive at our academic library, so this doesn't directly effect us, but I am appalled that HarperCollins is imposing a 26-check out limit. Certainly this practice will set a precedent for publishers of academic ebooks. Also, as others have pointed out, we already pay more for ebooks than for hardcopy books. We already bear much higher recurring expenses associated with ebooks. To charge libraries even more to provide our patrons with access to titles seems downright greedy. It seems to me like the real objective of this check out limit is to cut libraries out of the ebook market entirely and go straight to the consumers. The problem is that many public library patrons can't afford their own ebooks, and, frankly, why should they have to? Libraries exist to provide people with information free-of-charge. Free access to information is a public good. When you say, "HarperCollins is committed to libraries and recognizes that they are a crucial part of our local communities", it sounds disingenuous at best.

G. Hugh Bodell

I must admit that I am not clear what 26 lending events constitute. If this is the same as a Paper Book and the 26 events are not simultaneous but sequential I do not understand HC’s policy. On the other hand if a library can lend out 26 iterations of the digital file simultaneously, a capability that is equivalent to the library having 26 copies in inventory, I am in complete agreement with HC. Actually if that 26/simultaneous is the case, in my opinion 26 is far to many.

Does anyone on this site know which it is?

G. Hugh Bodell


I am a chief librarian for a large library within a much larger library system, and I plan to boycott HarperCollins e-book titles because of this. In fact, I will seriously reconsider purchasing anything from HarperCollins. Committed to libraries? This is an absolute joke.

26 circulations is pathetically small - it is quite true that many people will not keep the e-book for 2 weeks. Personally, I read about 5 books a week. Also, most hardcover books will last more than 1 year in a library, in my nearly 30 years of experience. What on earth is the incentive for a library to purchase anything from you?

I simply don't believe you discussed this policy with librarians, unless your idea of a discussion is simply to say "Here's what we're doing - like it or lump it." HarperCollins - take a hike.

Have you also considered that you are, de facto, encouraging copyright violations? Libraries won't breach copyright, but people who can't get a copy from the library, which won't have purchased the item because of your asinine policy, will just download it from a pirate site. They do it now - this will just add fuel to the fire. HarperCollins - good luck with your de facto decision to become the music industry, pricing yourselves right out of the market and making user-unfriendly, insulting policies.


What the hell is an "emerging ebook ecosystem" anyway? Anybody else's bullshit meter go off?

kaye grabbe

Let's move ahead with a national digital library and circ all those titles available.
And before that happens, follow Colorado and start digitizing our own titles and let patrons 'check out' our e books. Skip the vendors and the publishers, unless you really want to offer, at great expense, popular titles.

Diane Corradini

I am extremely disappointed in HC's decision to limit e-book circulation to 26. All of our hardcover fiction circulates far more than 26 times before the book is replaced; bestselling authors many times over 26. As someone else pointed out, most libraries buy multiple formats of each bestseller title - hardcover, e-book, audio book, e-audio. Libraries also buy multiple copies of some formats. It is not unusual for our library to buy 20 hardcover copies of a new title from a best-selling author, in addition to the purchase of one or more copies of the title in every other available format. The authors, not to mention the publishers, are not losing money by selling to libraries. I hope that HC will re-consider its decision on this matter and realize that they are hurting some of their best customers. This decision seems to be very short-sighted and I cannot imagine what librarians could have been consulted to come up with such a decision. Obviously no public librarians were involved in these discussions.

Glenn Grube

If you are going to change the model from a "purchase" of a "thing" that we then own to a "license" for "content" that we can access, you need to give up the one ebook at a time BS. Patrons know there is no technical reason why they can't all download the latest bestseller at the same time and don't like waiting! I know it's just another way to force them to buy it instead of borrow, but you can't have it both ways--either it's the old book model where we buy it and can keep it, or it's content that we pay to access 26 times. If I want my 26 times all in one month, why should you care? I'll buy 26 more next month if it's that popular.

Vicki Woods

From the CEO of Overdrive: "Publishers are reviewing benchmark figures from library sales of print books and CDs for audiobooks and do not want these unit sales and revenue to be dramatically reduced by the license of digital books to libraries."

From Josh Marwell:"We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors."

Is anybody else hearing "We want you to buy our print books only"? Also, if HC doesn't change their policy, libraries will be responsible for the collapse of: Bookstores (wonder how much Borders owes HC?), writer's starving and the possible collapse of the eco-book system-whatever that is.


dear harpercollins,
please change your ebook policy so my twitter and facebook newsfeed can get back to normal. this is the only thing librarians are talking about; it is worse than the nights Lost was on.

JP from 8bitlibrary.com



This is bogus. Pretending that you're doing this for anyone other than yourselves is simply laughable.

Isn't it likely that libraries, who are facing serious cuts and closing, will just not be able to purchase additional eBook copies? And do you realize how many people read books from libraries and then go out and buy the ones that are wonderful for their own shelves or e-readers? I do that frequently. Now, I'll just avoid your titles. In trying to "help" authors and booksellers, you've made sure that thousands of people who spend a great deal of their income on books will spend their money elsewhere.

Since some publishers don't even allow electronic copies to be checked out at libraries, I've got a ton of great, lesser-known authors on my shelves and in my reader. From people who give a damn.

Mark Pond

"...collaborate on mutually beneficial opportunities" seems to equal "You, libraries, take all the risk and we, HC, reap all the rewards. Thank you for collaborating."


Twenty-six circulations? I'm curious to hear how you have arrived at this pitiful number. As many, many, MANY commenters have pointed out, that comes nowhere near actual circulation stats. How is that even coming close to a low cost-per-circulation figure?

I recommend actually listening to some Librarians before you make any hasty decisions to commit to these ridiculous standards you've set.


Sorry, even at a "paperback price point" the profit margin on eBooks is HUGE! Why gouge libraries who provide FREE marketing for your books in the form of Reviews, Book discussions, Readers Advisory, Book Clubs etc.?!? Why deprive authors of their dreams of earning a permanent place in a library?!? For greedy stockholders- That's why! Apply this line of thinking to nonfiction and you have corporations controlling access to information. Boycott!


Hilarious bullshit. You really have to have contempt for someone to pass this patronizing bargle off with a straight face.

I'd be less offended if Harper Collins just told Libraries to "fuck off." At least then they'd be honest.

Let's all have cocktails with the Koch brothers, and remember a time before the oppression of public services.


I'm not a librarian, but I am a library patron. Your assumption that people who check out ebooks do so instead of purchasing books is flawed. The reason I check out ebooks is because I want to try out a new author or read from an author's backlist. I'm not about to shell out $7-12 on an ebook if I don't know whether or not I'll like the author's books. If I do like the author's books, I usually end up purchasing other books by him or her. I spend a lot of money on ebooks already. If you take away the ability to borrow them from libraries, you'll end up hurting future sales in my opinion. And as of right now I don't think I'll bother with HC books in any form since you seem to be against libraries and consumers. I want no part of a company so short-sighted.


HC: "We count on librarians reading our books and spreading the word about our authors' good works."
Translation: You idiots already work for us for nothing. Now you'll pay a premium for the privilege.

HC: "Our goal is to continue to sell e-books to libraries."
Translation: Our goal is to to milk public libraries of every cent possible.

HC: We are striving to find the best model for all parties.
Translation: By all parties, we mean HC.

HC: "We invite libraries and library distributors to partner with us as we move forward with these new policies."
Translation: Complain all you want, chumps. You'll pay the price and you'll thank us too.

sylvie szafranski

Libraries will/would do with e-books the same as they do with printed books. The same goes for what we do for the works. The same goes for what effect it does have on your business. As libraries we have been dealing for many years with people telling us that new technology is different and will "change everything" but in the end, what we do for our users, our communities, for society always remain the same. I would have thought you would trust in us by now.

There was no need to go so far in "protecting yourself" with this. You were already NOT leveraging the best of digital formats by limiting checkouts to one-at-a-time. Now this you-pay-more-for-more-use idea, without even considering that then we would want to pay less for titles which we know will be used a lot less, seems like a breech of trust to me.

We have a relationship with publishers that goes far beyond the "best-seller" world. Our buildings are full of your printed titles we purchased knowing they would not ever get the "maximum profitable number of circ's"... We trust that rich collections make for happier, more avid readers. We see everyday that the more you read, the more you want to read. Whatever the format, that has got to be good for your business.


Personally I think your basic assumptions are incorrect. This policy will not spur us to buy more high demand titles. We already do that.

Over the last few days I've studied our use of your ebook titles through Overdrive. The sad conclusion is that the titles in our collection most likely to be affected by your new policy are not high demand titles at all. They are titles we've owned for a while but have never been in high demand. They circulate well but don't have waiting lists.

We already buy high demand eBooks in sufficient quantity. If your new policy was applied to our existing collection of HarperCollins eBook titles, the titles we would lose access to are titles that have never had sufficient demand to require us to purchase additional copies.

Our patrons browse us electronically, just like they do in person, in search of the well-selected title they know we will have ready and waiting for them. Except we probably won't now. At least not any HarperCollins titles that do not enjoy best seller status.

Our collection development approach for your titles will probably change. We may still buy the same number of copies of best sellers but probably won't select any other HarperCollins titles.

I do not think you will be able to count on us as you said: "We count on librarians reading our books and spreading the word about our authors' good works." We will not be able to invest in any author we are not certain can deliver us our full 26 circs.

Bill Manson

How do e-books impact the cost structure of the industry?

I'm not in that side of the industry, but I can make some educated guesses.

Remuneration to authors -- No significant difference between dead trees and electrons. (Perhaps cheaper for electrons with no difference between hard cover and paperback editions)

Advertising costs -- No difference between dead trees and electrons

Production costs -- Significant advantage electrons. No material costs, no binding costs.

Transportation costs -- Significant advantage electrons.

Inventory costs -- Significant advantage electrons

Dealer discounts -- Probably no difference. However, the need to account for returns disappears, substantially reducing administrative costs

Need to produce low-end, low margin [i.e. paperback] editions to revive titles -- non-existent with electrons.

Have the prices charged to consumers (including libraries) reflected these lower costs? To some degree, but that was a function of the pricing being set in a "time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure." There needed to be a low price to get the critical mass for the market. Now that the market is established, the pricing is moving toward parity with the physical book. That's a good thing for a publisher's bottom line. But it does not justify the position that the proliferation of the e-book format is going to damage the industry.

The limits on circulation that HC is implementing hark back to the days in which publishers were convinced that the emergence of the paperback format was going to destroy the industry. I'm old enough to remember the warnings in paperback editions that reinforcing the covers and the spine were a violation of copyright and that libraries that did so put themselves at risk.

I had hoped that the industry had matured.


Obviously you don't love libraries like your blog title suggests. People will just not read your books and check out other books with better circulation policies on their ebook readers.

Philip Weiss

That isn't a "purchase". That's a rental. At least call it what it is.

Lauren Offerman

Your "open letter to librarians" is insulting and patronizing to libraries and librarians. As many have already correctly pointed out, your logic in coming to this policy is questionable at best. I agree with VEDow that you have really missed an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is and truly demonstrate your commitment to libraries. This is not a feasibly workable concept for ANY library that I know of, and I believe that you will find it is in your best interest to revise your current policy - part of my job is to serve my community, and, frankly, HarperCollins and its imprints are really not meeting my needs at this time.


This is really rich coming from the publisher of Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman.


My library shares our subscription to Overdrive with 15+ other libraries. If it's 26 circulations per e-book, what does that leave us with? One circulation per library? Very, very frustrating. I suppose HC would like our library to purchase our own, individual subscription to Overdrive --- which is quite difficult, considering that we have budgetary concerns (like almost every single public library in the US right now).


Most libraries limit high-demand books to one-week rentals w/ no renewals. It's understandable to create a policy that limits usage to something more similar to physical books. But why not a yearly purchase? Or offering libraries a "subscription" to ebooks along with renewal fees? Libraries have finite resources & it makes more fiscal sense for them to just avoid buying ebooks from HC. Libraries make no money and are a public service created to give every person access to information,regardless of income. This policy will,in the end, penalize most the very people libraries were intended to serve.


"If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book."

What are the terms? How many checkouts does the second license offer? Provide the concrete numbers of this deal so we can make the right purchasing decision for our libraries.

Kathy Petlewski

As a librarian working in a state that has already been hit with cuts in local and state funding, your move to impose this 26 circ limit means that we'll be able to purchase fewer titles and see our wait lists grow even longer on books we purchase through OverDrive. Although you state that you listen to librarians and you want to continue to be partners with libraries, the realities of your new policy don't back this up! Why base your circ limit on just one year? I don't know of any public libraries in Michigan that discard their books after 12 months and start over again. Why force us to do this with e-books?

Our Library has been actively promoting e-books to our patrons, even trying to budget additional funds to meet the growing demand for more titles for our Consortium. The move by HarperCollins has made me stop to reconsider if publishing companies will make it impossible for us to provide books for our local residents in this format in the future. Please reconsider your number of circs and remain true partners with the library community!

David Bott

Top business decisions of all time:

1. Change formula for Coca-Cola to "New Coke".
2. Not allow M&Ms in the movie ET.
3. Microsoft Vista
4. HC limits ebook checkouts to 26.


I get that you need to make money and that you're worried about ebooks, but frankly you failed in how you did this. And you're still failing by repeating the same BS over and over again that you want to build relationships but you've given nothing to prove that.

You say you talked with librarians so tell us..who did you talk to? What are their jobs? What type of librarian are they? Because from your statement all that I'm going to guess is you talked to librarians that work in your building and no one in the real world.

You have a chance to make this right. Stop spouting BS and start making actual conversations. Start talking to librarians to find out what they'd be willing to accept. Become a baseboard for the future instead of one that every other company will fear.

Celeste Dyer

I understand your need to be profitable, but your arguments make no sense. The hardbound Harper Collins books our library purchases have circulation stats of far more than 26 times. Yet I don't see Harper Collins asking us to send them back and repurchase. As for authors losing revenues, libraries are buying both their printed copies, digital copies, audio copies and more! Despite dwindling budgets we still buy. Authors have nothing to fear. Indeed, it is not the authors who are proposing this, but the publisher. Please do not hide behind them.

Jim Dwyer

Congratulations to Harper Collins for setting a new world record for the number of weasel words in one short document.

sarah redman

As the ebook selector for a Michigan consortium which purchases through Overdrive, I must object strenuously to your proposed plan. I can understand your concerns about only buying one copy of a book for perpetuity; your model has some merit. I strongly disagree with the reality of the number 26 as a reasonable number of circulations for a copy. In effect, this is a pay-per-use model. A cost of $1.00 per circ is not reasonable nor comparable to anything else we circulate. Many of our libraries have books, particularly fiction titles, which have circulated far more than 26 times.

Please reconsider the number of circulations - 40 or 50 would be far more realistic. Consider also that we pay the full retail price for each copy. Why should we pay so much more for ebook content than for a physical book, which is usually discounted 30-40% and circulates so many more times?

You also say future replacement price points will be pegged to a paperback price. While going through your catalog on Overdrive, I'm finding the majority of titles reflect trade paperback cost. Since many of these titles can be purchased in mass market format, I do not understand why we must pay trade cost.


VEDow nails it - 26 ebook "circulations" aren't the same as 26 hardcover circulations. HC is like Scott Walker in Wisconsin -- he doesn't like unions so he uses the state's budget crisis to kill them. I suspect HC believes libraries hurt their sales more than help and would just assume be done with them, and sees migration to ebooks as a way to limit that nasty "multiple reader" business.


Your assumption that public libraries will have the funds to re-purchase titles for the "back catalog" etc is based on poor information. Materials budgets have been slashed drastically and I don't think they'll recover any time soon. So, we already have far fewer dollars to spend than we did only a year or two ago.

Also, how does curtailing library lending of ebooks help "physical bookstores?"

I hardly see that this move will help the "library channel" thrive - it's just an added headache.

Frankly, I'm really disappointed in HarperCollins. You have offered no options when you had a great opportunity to create a truly revolutionary and workable model.

And, 26 circs equaling one year presumes that everyone keeps that ebook for 2 full weeks. My experience is that the really in-demand titles will hit that 26 circ, especially in ebook format, much faster than one year.

Also, I have not seen any real reduction in price for ebooks vs print. Actually, I have found that many are priced over what I would pay to a jobber for the same titles in print format.

I appreciate that you have a business to run. But, to say that you are committed to libraries just doesn't ring true right at the moment.

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