Five years ago Harper Collins publishing company changed its ebooks licensing terms for libraries. This change in licensing terms led to heated discussions between the publishing world, libraries, and library patrons. In an open letter to librarians, Josh Marwelll, the Harper Collins CEO, stated that the changes in their licensing terms were designed to find a way to make it reasonable for publishers, equitable for writers, and cost effective for libraries to make ebooks available to library patrons (Marwell, 2011). Before the changes, libraries purchased ebooks for a fee, just like hardcopy books, and then lent the ebook out to one patron at a time (Bosman, 2011). The library could lend the ebook out an unlimited amount of times with no additional fees. Harper Collins changed this by establishing a policy that limits libraries to lending an ebook 26 times. Then, to continue lending the ebook, the library has to pay a new fee. What may have seemed like a small change from Harper Collins was perceived as a game changer by many in the library community (Bosman, 2011).
As publishers made more e-books available for circulation through libraries, and more and more patrons started borrowing ebooks, publishers began to realize that the traditional pricing structure may not be in their best interest. Libraries felt that there should be no difference between pricing for a book regardless of the book’s format due to the role of the library in society. The mission of the library is to preserve written material over time, to provide free access to content to library patrons, and to help build a sense of community (Vacarro, 2014). Publishers say that hardcopy books provide the type of traction that supports the mission of the library, while ebooks do not. People access ebooks from anywhere and in some cases a library patron who uses ebooks exclusively, may never visit the local library. This type of activity does not create community or draw people to the library. This, according to the publishers, is one reason why there should be different licensing agreements for ebooks.
Since ebooks began growing in popularity, libraries and publishers have struggled to find a way to make the lending of e-books equitable for all parties involved (Lambert, 2015). Not only do more and more patrons desire ebooks, library systems that serve several libraries can give unlimited access to ebooks to library patrons from a wider region. Publishers feel that this limits their revenue stream for ebooks since potential buyers can simply download free copies of books from services like OneDrive, 3M, and Axis 360 using their library cards. Libraries make ebooks available to patrons through these third-party providers via the Internet and the subsequent decrease in consumer sales means that profits and royalties to writers and publishers diminish even though demand for the content continues to rise.
Today many publishers have licensing fees in place for ebooks or charge libraries more for a copy of an ebook than they do a consumer. Harper Collins may have started the practice, but today it is common place. Random House charges libraries 3–4 times the hardcover price for an ebook. Harper Collins charges libraries a license fee per ebook that must be renewed after 26 loans. MacMillan charges libraries a fee that entitles the library to lend the ebook to patrons for 2 years or 52 lends, whichever comes first. Penguin Group and Simon and Schuster both license ebooks to libraries for a one year period. Whether you agree with Harper and Collins’ original decision to change the pricing structure for ebooks, the fact is most publishers have followed suit and this practice is not likely to change.
After reading post from classmates, other Internet bloggers, and the articles reviewed for this assignment, I stick by my original position. Publishers are within their rights to setup reasonable fees for ebooks. It protects the publishers, the writers, and ensures that more and more e-book titles are released to libraries for my reading pleasure.
Bosman, J.(2011). Publishers and libraries struggle over terms of e-books. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/business/media/15libraries.html
Lambert, T.(2015. Why libraries win: Library lending vs. e-book subscription services. Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/10/why-libraries-win-library-lending-vs-e-book-subscription-services/
Marwell, J. (2011). Open letter to librarians. Library Love Fest. Retrieved from http://www.librarylovefest.com/2011/03/open-letter-to-librarians.html
Vaccaro, A. (2014). Why it’s difficult for your library to lend ebooks. Boston.com. Retrieved from https://www.boston.com/news/technology/2014/06/27/why-its-difficult-for-your-library-to-lend-ebooks