How much do libraries pay publishing companies for the rights to lend “copies” of eBooks? According to major publisher HarperCollins, not enough. If other publishers follow suit, it could mean less online access to eBooks and fewer titles for library patrons.
Unlike actual books, eBooks last indefinitely and bring no future revenue for publishing companies. Fear of their bottom line caused HC to create a new policy putting a cap of 26 loans on eBooks before rights to the title must be renewed at “paperback” prices.
“Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles . . . Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for eBooks less than that of the corresponding physical book,” they said in a letter to librarians. However, the cost of an eBook has been less than the cost of a regular book and would now become rather expensive long-term.
Suzanne Hodson, long-time assistant librarian at Orem City Library, found the number especially low.
“Sometimes a book is checked out 200 times. If the number were more reasonable for the lifespan of a book, I think it would be less of an issue,” she said.
Orem has been negotiating with OverDrive, the online middleman between the libraries and publishers such as HC, to provide eBooks for their patrons. A boycott of HC by libraries across the country and Canada has caused OD to create a separate account for HC’s books in order to keep their own customers. As the Orem library is partially state-funded, they go through OD and may be affected by the change in HC’s eBook policy, something they may not be able to afford.
It has already been difficult for city libraries such as Orem to pick titles with costs of bestsellers so high. Time will tell whether the international boycott will cause HC to rethink its position.