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OverDrive, HarperCollins, and 26 Circs

OverDrive customers received quite a shock last week, via a letter from OverDrive CEO Steve Potash (pdf). HarperCollins is changing its licensing terms for library lending. For future purchases of HarperCollins ebook titles, a library (or consortium) will not own the title in perpetuity; instead, the title may be lent 26 times, and then it must be repurchased.

Librarians have responded ("Librarian by Day" Bobbi Newman has compiled a massive list), OverDrive has responded, and now HarperCollins has responded. Changes in ebook licensing are a new challenge, and WPLC members are watching it very, very carefully.

Update 3/3/2011: WPLC has released statistics about the HarperCollins titles in our collection:

WPLC owns 459 ebook titles from Harper Collins; 821 total items
Average cost per item= $13.02
Grand Total Circs = 10,522

See: HarperCollins titles and circs (xls)


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I did a search of our OverDrive titles for eBooks published by HarperCollins, and there are a lot of them. And a lot of them are popular ones. :(

From the first LJ article: "The new terms will not be retroactive, and will apply only to new titles." So the 26-circ limit will not affect titles already in our collection (just future additions).

Me too on the frowny emoticon. >:(

The libraries do not have any bargaining power over this issue? If we all pulled out, it wouldn't affect Overdrive financially?

Libraries leaving OverDrive would hurt OverDrive; however, HarperCollins is requiring the same ebook licensing terms for all vendors in the library market. (Not that there are any comparable alternate vendors we could switch to.)

OverDrive's response (linked above) indicates that their options were to accept HarperCollins licensing terms, or not offer HarperCollins titles for libraries at all.

So far most of the boycott action seems focused on HarperCollins: http://boycottharpercollins.com/. Other responses are being suggested by the Library Renewal group: http://libraryrenewal.org/blog/.

All the proposed solutions are painful in their own way. If you have ideas, please suggest!

I'm also unhappy with the newly imposed limits, but then I'm not that happy with the hoop-jumping that OverDrive requires to register, download, then upload to a personal device either. The previous limits on access to digital materials was never ideal. Not for individuals who buy their own materials. Certainly not for libraries.

How much are we paying for the e-materials we provide? How many times do they circulate? If they circulate fewer than 26 times, we're not losing much. If they circulate more than that, we should probably be purchasing multiple "copies" anyway. I know the idea of paying twice to access the same material is bothersome but we're buying new copies of "classics" all the time. We replace materials that get worn out or lost. How is this so different?

I am a little concerned about people checking out materials just to "mess with us" and either spend more to purchase new copies or do without. How can we prevent that? Could that be an argument we could present to publishers for more leniency? Or do we start thinking about reasons to restrict access to such "power-user" patrons?

I'd be very interested to know what publishers would want us to pay to have an e-material that allowed permanent access to multiple simultaneous users. Then compare that cost to what we pay for similar physical materials, plus processing, plus handling (shelving, checkout/return, delivery, etc.). Plus storage.

We should be able to negotiate better prices on backlist titles too. Or maybe publishers should be willing to drop prices on materials when they're re-released in paperback. Or more than a couple of years old. And definitely when they've been remaindered.

I'm very interested in what we should tell our patrons who ask what our position will be. Should libraries with web pages be posting information about the situation? Should we be soliciting public opinion? How are our various Library Boards being informed of the situation? Is anyone consulting with our various city attorneys or the state Attorney General on the change? Can we bring the situation to the attention of state or even federal legislators? Is it possible to extend the "right-of-first-use" to e-materials? Should it be? Can we shorten copyright to a more reasonable number of years?

For the most part, it's still early days for e-materials. And the situation will probably continue to change as technology improves. And piracy of digital materials will probably be a bigger issue for publishers than library licensing agreements soon enough.

For anyone interested in current ebook pricing, WPLC has posted its most recent orders here: http://www.wplc.info/current-projects/ (see #Ebooks for the holidays, December 2010 and Titles ordered February 2, 2011).

Yes, it's good that this is not retroactive, but looking at what we do already have by them gave me a good idea of what we could be missing in the future. While the OverDrive process can be confusing, most patrons I help don't think it's too bad once they've done it a few times. The apps are especially easy to teach. What I think is more likely to turn people away is poor selection.

I agree with Sarah that poor selection is probably more of a deterrent to ebook lending that OverDrive barriers. But having an item unavailable because it is checked out is a pretty big deterrent to me. My own feeling is that if something is down-loadable from the web, then it should be available now.

Thanks to Rose for updating her original post with circulation numbers for the HarperCollins titles we've licensed. Do we have any data on items that have circulated more than 26 times? Do we have any items with more than 26 people on a waiting list?

Below are a couple of articles from the "Copyright and Technology" blog that speak to e-materials and libraries. Interesting reading, but I'm afraid there are no easy answers for libraries.



Oops. Rose already add a spreadsheet with HarperCollins ebook circ information. Quite a few titles went out over 26 times and many have lengthy holds lists. My apologies for missing this.

Do we pay a monthly fee to OverDrive to maintain access? Can we negotiate with them to get a lower price since this new restriction changes what we were originally paying for?

WPLC pays an annual fee to OverDrive. The next WPLC board meeting is March 16, and the HarperCollins issue is one of many OverDrive topics on their agenda. I've also requested clarification about how WPLC's contract with OverDrive works (and will share it when I know).

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