Remember a year ago when librarians were up in arms about HarperCollins’ decision to cap library borrowing for their ebooks at 26 copies? Boy, was there a lot of uproar.
There were boycotts and petitions and some earnest librarians even came up with a “ebook user’s bill of rights,” perhaps forgetting that rights aren’t much good if no one enforces them.
The hostile rhetoric was hot and heavy for a while. Librarians felt good about themselves for standing up for principle and against The Man. It was collective action, baby! They were going to show those publishers just what stern stuff librarians were made of!
Except nothing happened, I mean, nothing other than a lot of librarians frothing at the mouth in their condemnation of HarperCollins. As reported last week in this LJ article, even some of the libraries that joined the boycott have changed their minds and started licensing ebooks from that mean old HC again.
What has prompted this betrayal of the collective? As one librarian put it, the HarperCollins deal is “more generous than what we are getting from other publishers.”
Librarians are so desperate for ebooks they don’t care what the deal is. Libraries are actually stopping their boycott of HarperCollins ebooks because HarperCollins is willing to let libraries pay them for ebooks when other publishers won’t.
The lesson? Libraries have no clout when it comes to ebooks and they’ll take a bad deal over no deal at all. Good bargaining strategy!
And let’s be honest, any deal where libraries are giving publishers money for access to an ebook that is then loaned out to one library patron at a time as if it was a physical book is a bad deal. The arbitrary 26-loan cap just makes the deal worse.
Oh, I know. Library patrons are demanding ebooks! Thus, libraries should make whatever bad deal they can to get them.
What library patrons should be demanding is that libraries stop spending their money on ebooks that cost more than print books but come with the same usage limitations. Library patrons should be asking, why are we spending money on ebook titles and I still have to wait for 38 other people to read this book before I can check it out?
The whole thing is a little crazy when you think about it.
The lesson this teaches publishers is that they can do anything they like and librarians will line up like sheep. HarperCollins is probably considering right now whether to lower that lending cap to 20, or 15. After all, what are libraries going to do, boycott them? [Gales of laughter from HarperCollins executives.]
Librarians claim to be doing all this for the readers desperate for ebooks, and they’re fighting right now for the chance to get screwed over by any other publishers who will work with them.
If what they really want is to promote reading, then print books do that just fine. Really they just want to promote convenience, which is a nice thing, but it comes at a high cost. Instead of fighting for a chance to get screwed over, maybe libraries should be grateful that publishers don’t want to embroil them in ebook swindles.