Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back

Yesterday I received an email from OverDrive with an attachment titled “OverDrive Partner Library Update from Steve Potash”, I glanced at it and filed it away in my to-read pile for a later date (which honestly means I may never have gotten to it). This morning Heather Braum brought it to my attention via this post by Joe Atzberger.

The contents of this document are spun in a positive way and there are some great things coming from OverDrive, but in between the good news is some bad news, some really bad news.

The first bit – ownership of ebooks will now expire after a certain number of check outs to patrons. Libraries may no longer own them forever and ever.  This is unbelievable! And a HUGE step backwards in lending rights and library access.

The past several months have brought about dramatic changes for the print and eBook publishing and retail industries. Digital book sales are now a significant percentage of all publisher and author revenue. As a result several trade publishers are re-evaluating eBook licensing terms for library lending services. Publishers are expressing concern and debating their digital future where a single eBook license to a library may never expire, never wear out, and never need replacement.

OverDrive is advocating on behalf of your readers to have access to the widest catalog of the best copyrighted, premium materials, and lending options. To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).

The second bit of bad news – publishers want to meddle in your library card policies.

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.

OverDrive Partner Library Update from Steve Potash (pdf)

Update 1:05pm EST: HarperCollins is the publisher that forced this issue. From Library Journal HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations

Update 3:45pm EST: If you wanna follow the outrage on Twitter the hashtag is #hcod

Update 3.1.2011 2:20 pm est A message from OverDrive on HarperCollins’ new eBook licensing terms – OverDrive publicly responds to the uproar.

Update 3.2.2011 5:45am esOpen Letter to Librarians a message from HarperCollins

Update 3.1.2011 6:00am EST I am no longer updating this page with links. I am still bookmarking all posts on delicious. You can find new links under the tag hcod, you can find new links related to the boycott under the tag hcodboycott.

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171 comments for “Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back

  1. Peter Atkinson
    February 28, 2011 at 11:55 am

    This is just my opinion but I believe that a boycott is a mistake. From the publisher’s perspective, if we stop buying their books, people will have no choice but to buy books which is exactly what they want.

    • Barbara Henry
      February 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      So, on March 7 libraries should just keep buying? How about “due to budget constraints, HarperCollins ebook purchases are no longer a high priority at our library. If there is money left, maybe we will consider purchase. We cannot afford to purchase at full price an ebook that will disappear after 26 check outs.” If boycott is too strong a word perhaps you can tone it down by calling it a “No Buy Zone” and delay your purchase indefinitely. I think a “business as usual” approach is a mistake.

      • Peter Atkinson
        February 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

        Again, in my opinion, NOT buying is a mistake. We need to engage them in another way. We have two fundamentally different goals. Ours is the greater good, theirs is profit. We can be technically right or morally right and it’s irrelevant to a corporation; they are legally obligated to maximise profit. If we can show that free digital content drives sales of paid content, then this issue will disappear and you’ll see the relationship with publishers bloom. Unfortunately right now I think that’s a mixed bag; yes for films, yes for some musical groups, no for digital music in general.

      • Barbara Henry
        February 28, 2011 at 12:52 pm

        I guess each library or consortia will decide what is good for their library, their collection and their users. And whether or not purchasing ebooks from HC is a good financial decision for their shrinking budgets. It is hard to imagine a library spending lots of money on an ebook that will disappear after 26 circs. We definitely do not want a bunch of hysterical, irrational, angry librarians rampaging in the streets.

    • February 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      Peter – I’m in agreement with you. At this time I do not think that a boycott is the best course of action. I worry it makes us look hysterical and irrational. Not the image you want to take to the negotiation table.

      There may be a point in the future where a boycott becomes necessary to make a statement but that time is not now.

      • Peter Atkinson
        February 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

        Thanks Bobbi. I sincerely appreciate that. I agree with Barbara that we need leadership from our state/provincial/national associations. If data shows e-books in libraries drive book sales this is a no-brainer but if not, publishers will believe that they benefit from a boycott by libraries – but maybe not from the public. That highlights that longer term libraries need a really clearly defined brand. That will make these big issues that we wrestle with individually so much easier to deal with.

      • Barbara Henry
        March 1, 2011 at 9:16 am

        “I worry it makes us look hysterical and irrational. Not the image you want to take to the negotiation table.”

        Interesting choice of words.

      • Peter Atkinson
        March 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

        Here’s why this is happening:

        You can read this two ways. 1) They’re moving to squeeze more revenue out of the faster-growing ebooks channel 2) The growth of ebooks hasn’t affected total sales. Now if only we had someone to have that discussion with publishers for us.

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  3. Peter Atkinson
    March 1, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Here’s why this is happening:

    You can read this two ways. 1) They’re moving to squeeze more revenue out of the faster-growing ebooks channel 2) The growth of ebooks hasn’t affected total sales. Now if only we had someone to have that discussion with publishers for us.

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    • Barbara Henry
      March 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

      That link is the latest from Steve Potash at Overdrive March 1, 2011.

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  9. March 2, 2011 at 10:58 am

    One more resource for the bibliography: The Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books:

    It’s a website and a project that we have been working on for a while now, out of an interest to preserve the right to read in electronic format. We’ll be presenting at ACRL on April 1st, and we plan to cover many of the issues discussed here, as well as how this situation is akin to other movements (F/OSS, etc.).

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  11. eric
    March 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I smelled this coming from a mile away. The introduction or large numbers of ebook readers, ipads, iphones and ipodsbeing sold in the market place today was a big sign of things to come. Having printed materials converted to electronic/virtual materials was just a another way for these publishing companies and writers to exploit the readers for thier every dollars and cents. The best way to combat this activity is to have many underground or so-called street writers willing to provide thier content for free to libraries, and their readers, and who are willing to sue writers of this guild for copyright infringement.

    • March 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

      The writers don’t decide the terms of sale to libraries or to individuals. Even the biggest bestsellers simply don’t have that much power. Very popular and tech-savvy writers often find themselves unhappy with the limitations imposed on digital sales by the publishers.

      My head is spinning, frankly, at the idea of suing the owner of the copyright for copyright infringement, in any case. On what grounds?

      And if you want to stock your library with the works of “underground or so-called street writers willing to provide their content for free”–good luck with that. You’ll quickly find out what the real service is that publishers provide to readers and to libraries. It’s not distribution. It’s selection and editing. If you’ve never read slush, you have no idea what first readers at publishing houses are saving you the experience of wading through. Not that you won’t find gems, too–you will–but in finding them, we’d have no more time to do the rest of our jobs.

      Refusing to buy ebooks on terms that are just not viable for libraries, as Pioneer is doing, is one thing, and I strongly support it. Having hysterical fits, blaming parties who have little influence and no control over the situation (writers), and threatening lawsuits for copyright infringements because you can’t buy the works you want on terms you like–not so much.

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