Recently, major book publisher, Harper Collins, told free libraries across the nation to limit the amount of times users can download e-books. Instead of having unlimited downloads to e-Book readers, Harper Collins wants libraries to restrict patrons to 26 downloads for books published by Harper Collins.
The limitation comes from the sudden increase in the sales of the Kindle and the Nook eBook readers to the general publish. Harper Collins predicts that at least 40 million eBook readers have been sold in the United States, and the number continues to grow.
As a result of the rise in eBook reader usage, the major book publisher fears that users will stop purchasing eBooks, since they can easily download them from their local Free Libraries. The decrease in eBook purchases will threaten sales and royalties paid to book authors.
The surge of e-Book usage has raised various intellectual property issues in the book publishing industry. One major issue is how to sustain a financial livelihood, when the digital age continually threatens the book publishing industry with free access to almost everything.
Unlike tradition tangible books, eBooks may be borrowed simultaneously by multiple users through simultaneous downloads. No longer do users have to wait for other patrons to return books to the library after a typical 2-3 week period.
Most free libraries carry some form of digital downloading software, such as Adobe Digital Editions and NetLibrary, which can be accessed only with a library account number. After the time for the download has expired, users must renew the download in order to regain access to the download.
A problem with Harper Collins’s presumption is that a large amount of people have free library cards. Generally, Free Libraries tend to have a diverse population of patrons, some of whom tend to have lower incomes.
Historically, the purpose of most free libraries is to ensure free access to information for all. Harper Collins policy uses copyright law, not to deny access to the information in their books, but to limit the amount of times the information is available to people.
Some critics contend that Harper Collins’ policy is too far-reaching, because often researchers, students, and the general public may have multiple needs and uses for information over the course of the years. Moreover, Harper Collins’ policy undercuts the purpose of having a free library, where users can continuously borrow books perpetually without licensing restraints.
Some librarians have threatened to boycott Harper Collins, because they say the policy strains an already financially-strained library system. Libraries already pay licensing fees to download eBooks for the general public, but Harper Collins’ policy would potentially limit libraries’ ability to circulate previously purchased eBooks freely to the public.
Harper Collins argues that equipping free libraries with perpetual downloads threatens the entire book ecosystem and the publisher’s ability to thrive financial. What Harper Collins overlooks is that fact that the book ecosystem is already threatened by the spread of e-books, regardless of whether libraries freely circulate them.
The actual reality may be that Harper Collins needs to change its entire financial model to catch up to the speed of technology, since it entered the market to sell e-books along with tangible books. Thus far, Harper Collins’ theory of falling book sales from e-book lending to libraries has not been proven, and to some library patrons, their claims show greed.
Nonetheless, book publishers need to make profits to adequately compensate authors. While libraries may be free, book publishing is not.
Dahleen Glanton. “Harper Collins puts new limits on library ebooks,” LATimes.com.
Julie Bosman. “Publisher Limits Library Shelf Life for Library E-Books,” NYTimes.com.
Violet Blue. “Scorned librarians and the eBook Library Underground, ” ZDNet.com.