So, there have been a few occasions that I appear to have missed on this blog like National Library Week (but it was my birthday… week) and the big discussion around Harper Collins and e-books. (You know- that whole deal that everyone is up in arms about where Harper Collins want libraries to pay for an e-book for every 26 uses. Check out School LIbrary Journal’s editor’s take here.) However, the discussion has recently been revived on Kent’s listserv, and I feel slightly more qualified to jump on it this time around. How am I more qualified? I got a Nook for my birthday!!! (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
I have since read three library books on the device, and I do say that I like it. I felt quite high tech sitting in a park with the device with multiple books stored on there. I did miss turning the pages and the wonderful book smell, but it’s not like I’ve given up real books.
Now, I’m not such an expert that I can say how much publishers charge for e-books. However, I have looked at the catalog in the library, and a LOT of books have much greater circulation than 26 uses. Some people on the listserv compared the price of e-books with cheap paperbacks that might fall apart, but even paperbacks can have more than 26 uses, especially if they’re treated right. This is even more the case when each circulation has half the amount of time to be used.
However, let’s say that paperbacks DO stop being useful after 26 uses. E-books have only 14 day circulations (in Ohio) while regular paperbacks have 28 days to be read. That means that if everyone took a paperback for the full circulation and an e-book for the full circulation for 26 uses, the paperback would have an extra year of circulation (2 weeks times 26 uses= 1 year of constant use; 4 weeks times 26 uses = 2 years of constant use). This may not be the case for all libraries, but it seems like every state handles e-books differently.
The paperback would also have the opportunity to be looked at, touched, or held by patrons as they make their selection. Someone might only read the first chapter or two in the library, never check it out, and put it back on the shelf. That’s not possible with an e-book. The library will get charged for a circulation even if you only read the first page and immediately delete it. This isn’t such a problem with a traditional book where the amount of wear is the issue, not the number of circs (circulations= number of times checked out). But in an e-book sense, that one page view may have just accounted for 1/26th of the book’s price. It doesn’t sound like much, but when 30,000 titles are available, browsing will suddenly be very costly to a library.
There is also the argument that e-books can’t be ruined like paperbacks can. True (except for file corruption and certain distributors suddenly revoking licenses), but the library can charge patrons for purposefully or accidentally ruining books. If someone rips pages out of a book or drops it in a puddle, the library can charge the patron for the book. The library can’t, however, charge a patron for opening 45 e-books in a day, though it will cost the library more than the cost of one book.
However, like all who are disturbed by this development, I do understand where Harper Collins is coming from. They are simply trying to use e-books to save the publishing industry. They want them to be more profitable so that they can keep their business profitable. It makes sense. However, there has to be a compromise. 26 isn’t enough, but having e-books in perpetuity may be too much to expect from publishers. Anyway, there are a LOT of sides and issues to be considered when discussing how e-books are different from paperbacks or any other kind of book.
UPDATE: Andy of Agnostic, Maybe wrote a post about his petition on Change.org about library e-books and where the discussion should be going. I think that it’s a great step forward in looking at what librarians want an e-book pricing model to feel like.