Poke the Publisher: HarperCollins "Expiring Licenses" Petition

Yesterday, I asked all you wonderful readers if it would be alright to start a weekly "Poke the Publisher" feature where I link to books that aren't yet available in eBook format with the suggestion that you guys take a second to click the "notify the publisher that this should be in eBook format" links so that we can then enjoy and/or eviscerate the books in blog deconstructions. You guys (being scientifically five kinds of awesome, after all) responded very positively, and I thank you all for that.

This morning, I had my weekly email from Change.org waiting for me in my inbox and I thought it was a little apropos that their featured petition this week is, in fact, a poke at publisher HarperCollins:

On March 7, 2011, the publisher HarperCollins instituted an expiration policy on eBooks that are licensed to libraries. Under this new arrangement, eBooks would "self-destruct" after being checked out 26 times. This would require libraries to re-purchase the eBook if they wanted to continue to make it available. Libraries across the country are boycotting future purchases of HarperCollins eBooks, but our voices alone will not change their policy. We need your help.

As Cory Doctorow wrote, "the durability of eBook is a feature, not a bug." To place a cap on the circulation of eBooks in order to "simulate" the wear and tear of a physical book is not only insulting to readers, but this video shows how easily it can be proven wrong with physical books.

The significant advantage of eBooks for libraries is that it allows people to borrow books from home and read them on their computer or ereader. When the book is due to be “returned” to the library, the file is rendered inert and the next library user can check out the eBook. Limiting a book to 26 total checkouts means that it could be there one day and gone the next, leaving that 27th borrower in limbo as the library assesses whether to re-purchase the eBook. If left in place, this policy would threaten public access to eBooks by making them disappear from the virtual shelf.

Please join us in voicing your opposition to this policy of self-destructing eBooks.

To see if libraries are still boycotting HarperCollins, you can visit the website Boycott HarperCollins.

This issue is particularly near and dear to my heart because I check out a lot of eBooks from the library, and it's not always possible for me to read them all in time, what with my frantic schedule of review requests and books coming in daily. Up until now, my checking out an eBook that I didn't actually get to was a little selfish in the sense that, hey, someone else could be reading this if I weren't hogging the license, but it didn't actively hurt the libraries by costing them money.

I also firmly believe that if HarperCollins is allowed to make the argument that libraries should have to re-buy eBooks as they "wear out", then it's just a matter of time before they institute the same argument for ALL buyers, not just libraries. (Under this hypothetical system, eBooks would wear out 'faster' if you had pets or children in your household, natch.) This is particularly annoying since HarperCollins wants eBooks to inherit the drawbacks of the paper format (i.e., wearing out over time) but not the advantages of the paper formats - don't hold your breath for a "gently used" eBook fund-raising sale at your local library any time soon, because there's still not a method in place for legally transferring license ownership of eBooks.

Libraries already pay a higher price for eBooks than the "list price" for private buyers at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and other retailers. I've donated money in the past to my local library for eBooks, and it's astonishing to me that they have to pay an extra "library markup" on eBooks just because the publishers are so loathe to work with libraries. This recent attempt to get even more money from libraries really, in my opinion, threatens to overwhelm libraries financially at a time when they are both trying to adapt to a new paradigm (eBooks) and trying to fend off budget cuts in a struggling economy.

If you care at all about this issue, please feel free to click over and sign the Change.org petition. (And unless you want to be a career online activist, use an email that you don't care too much about - they do send out a potentially spam-y weekly spotlight petition notice once they have your email address.) There are some people who will say that an unverifiable signature on an electronic petition isn't going to make HarperCollins any more aware of the obvious fact that people hate this decision, but if I'm wrong that taking five minutes to sign a petition can't change the world, then I don't want to be right.


Sarah Smyczynski said...

How sad! Publishers need to make it easier to get books into kids' hands, not more difficult. I've signed the petition and passed the link on. I hope this gets slapped down quickly.

cmerced said...

Signed. I find the entire 26 uses thing silly. How did they arrive at that number? It does not, at all, measure up to the life of the book. If anything, do a per year(s) agreement.

Ana Mardoll said...

C. Merced,

I think the 26 uses is supposed to loosely translate to a year - since most eBook checkouts are 2 weeks (maximum - you can opt for a shorter term or return early), then 26 checkouts x 2 weeks = 52 weeks = 1 year.

The yearly subscription scares me, too, though, because it basically will end up with libraries keeping what's in high demand and tossing older books as they expire. I see this with my Blockbuster movie subscription: any new release they buy thousands (millions?) of copies of it, but older not-quite-classic-but-not-mainstream-either movies are almost perpetually unavailable because there's one copy for the entire country to share. Maybe.

(You especially see this with the anime titles. *sigh*)



I completely agree with you - literacy is such an important benchmark in terms of a country's future potential and anything that makes it harder for the public to read should be opposed vehemently. :)

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