Librarians Boycott HarperCollins

by Rachel Baker on March 2, 2011

Due to HarperCollins new e-book lending policies, librarians are boycotting the publishing company.

The sometimes uneasy relationship between librarians and book publishers reached a new level of tension after HarperCollins—citing the explosive growth of e-book sales—announced a new e-book lending policy beginning March 7 that will limit the length of its library licenses to a maximum of 26 loans per e-title. The revised policy has outraged librarians, who say the new policy will strain budgets and is shortsighted, ignoring the role of libraries in encouraging literacy and building an e-book market for publishers. The issue has become so emotional that some librarians have organized a boycott of HarperCollins new books over the issue.

You can read the story here.

In a time when state and local budgets are putting funding to libraries on their budget chopping blocks, limiting the number of times a library can loan a book per each license seems ludicrous. Even if library systems didn’t boycott, this particular publisher would probably see a decrease in licenses sold, simply because the libraries don’t have the funding to continue to buy licenses after each 26 times a book was lent out.  According to the publisher, lending a book 26 times is equivalent to one years worth of reading.  Now, I don’t know what the depreciation value on an e-book is – and I suspect there’s none, since the whole book is intact and will never get coffee stains on books – but I can completely see the license price will not depreciate over time regardless of how long the book has been on the market – it will be a new book forever, regardless of what year it was published.

While I completely recognize publishers need to make money too, they need to realize that people use libraries because they are inexpensive; and libraries get funding only when the economy is good. They are not only hurting themselves in the long run, but also the readers and the libraries. HarperCollins has 31 imprints that would be boycotted in libraries.  That’s a lot of books that people who love to read but are on a budget and can’t buy a new book every couple weeks will not be able to enjoy.

I don’t know that boycotting is the right idea here, though.  Boycotting a publisher is somewhat akin to boycotting a book; and I’m not sure, but that sort of sounds like a borderline censorship issue.  I’m not sure libraries want to get in the practice of boycotting publishers, as it may end up being engaged in a nasty little legal battle.  Of course, my disclaimer is: “I have no idea about the legality of this, or what is really considered censoring.”

Anyway, I find this to be an interesting story and one that bears watching as we view the evolution of the e-book industry and how it affects publishers, booksellers, libraries, and readers.

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