Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Whatever next?

Did you know that China-based readers get around copyright laws by joining British libraries and plundering their virtual collections for free? No, I didn't either. But because of this Chinese crime, publishers are re-thinking how libraries access their ebooks. It's not a move admired by libraries as they fight for survival. Here are some of the arguments kicking around at the moment. The links will take you to the original articles.

The Publishers Association claims this poses a serious threat to publishers' commercial activities. So they want readers to come to the library premises to borrow ebooks – which sort of defeats the object of the e-reading concept.
One library authority briefly allowed borrowers outside its geographical boundaries access to ebooks, and publicised the service with the line: "Free ebooks, wherever you are, whenever you want." Reading that, one can see why publishers dislike the idea.

Overdrive (the system that allows remote library lending) insists the debate is a storm in a teacup. The system establishes checks to ensure that libraries serve only to those customers in their service area, abd that particular library no longer uses that particular slogan.

Some authors object to ebooks on the basis that while they currently receive 6p every time a physical copy of their book is borrowed from a library, they don't get a penny if the digital version is loaned.

There is more. HarperCollins has entered the fray, telling libraries that henceforth ebooks will be sold on the condition that they can only be circulated 26 times before they self-destruct. They claim this reflects the usage of the print editions sold by HarperCollins to libraries for literally centuries. As most librarians and readers will know – indeed anyone with a modicum of common sense – this is not true. the ebook deal HarperCollins is offering to libraries. It's bizarre to argue that this finite durability is a feature that we should carefully import into new media.

It is true Ebooks have loads of demerits when marketed to libraries. They are sold at full price, while print editions generally go at a hefty discount to reflect libraries' volume purchasing. They can only be read with proprietary readers, which is a bit like insisting patrons read their books by the light of one preferred lightbulb. They can't be sold on as a library discard once the library no longer needs them for the collection.

But they have virtues, too. The major one is that they don't wear out. To pretend that this virtue belongs on the vice side of the argument is indefensible. Of course ebooks don't wear out. We all know that.


Vicky said...

As a Kindle user, I really like the concept of e-borrowing, but its practical mechanics obviously has yet to be worked out. Like you, I don't think 26 uses is reasonable. I wonder if what's needed is some sort of software that validates legitimate users vs. thieves.

Susan C. said...


The public library here in Starkville, MS, has recently purchased several Nooks and Kindles and preloaded them with a selection of books for patrons to check out. I'm interested to see how popular that turns out to be.