How HarperCollins plans to squeeze libraries

Posted: March 2, 2011 in News & Views, Professional News, Public Libraries

Please keep this in mind when purchasing books. HarperCollins publishers plans to put the screws to libraries regarding use of the publisher’s eBooks. They propose to allow each title only 26 circulations, then charge the library all over again for use of this title. Granted, the second charge will be less, allowing for the paperback issue of the book, but it is a charge nonetheless.

Libraries are already over-burdened, with many closures and lay-offs. HarperCollins doesn’t require libraries to purchase regular books again after so many circulations, and there’s an actual cost of manufacture involved. With eBooks it’s almost pure profit for the publisher. Two words: Cha. Ching.

Just keep this in mind the next time you purchase a book, consider how this company proposes to add to the burden of already strapped libraries. Then, consider checking the book out of the library rather than buying. Because, for now, they’re okay with that.

Make up your own mind, but here’s the letter they’ve released to libraries:

HarperCollins letter:

March 1, 2010

Open Letter to Librarians:

Over the last few days we at HarperCollins have been listening to the discussion about changes to our e-book policy. HarperCollins is committed to libraries and recognizes that they are a crucial part of our local communities. We count on librarians reading our books and spreading the word about our authors’ good works. Our goal is to continue to sell e-books to libraries, while balancing the challenges and opportunities that the growth of e-books presents to all who are actively engaged in buying, selling, lending, promoting, writing and publishing books.

We are striving to find the best model for all parties. Guiding our decisions is our goal to make sure that all of our sales channels, in both print and digital formats, remain viable, not just today but in the future. Ensuring broad distribution through booksellers and libraries provides the greatest choice for readers and the greatest opportunity for authors’ books to be discovered.

Our prior e-book policy for libraries dates back almost 10 years to a time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure. It is projected that the installed base of e-reading devices domestically will reach nearly 40 million this year. We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors. We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel.

We spent many months examining the issues before making this change. We talked to agents and distributors, had discussions with librarians, and participated in the Library Journal e-book Summit and other conferences. Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist. If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount.

We invite libraries and library distributors to partner with us as we move forward with these new policies. We look forward to ongoing discussions about changes in this space and will continue to look to collaborate on mutually beneficial opportunities.

To continue the discussion please email


Josh Marwell
President of Sales

  1. Maurice J. Freedman says:

    Harper-Collins and the Boycott of Its E-Books–Revised

    Interestingly, the New York Times article (March 15, 2011) on the boycott by libraries of Harper-Collins e-books omitted two fundamental points:

    1. The great profits publishers make by selling e-books.

    With e-books, the publishers have eliminated paper, printing, binding, distribution and returns by publishing books electronically–thus dramatically reducing their publication costs. Publishing everything in e-book format was their dream because of the reduced costs to the publisher. This view was expressed by Jack Romanos, then head of Simon & Schuster, at an e-books conference in Washington about 10 years ago. Not having to share profits with Baker & Taylor, etc. and the few remaining bookstores make e-books a great product and a money-maker. I don’t know the per cent Overdrive and other e-book firms pay for the right to distribute e-books, but–intuitively, at least–it would net far more money for the publisher given the whole B&T-like apparatus required to fulfill orders for physical books, offices for selectors & buyers and warehousing, plus selling and physically distributing the books. to libraries or its other customers..

    2. The first-sale doctrine and what it guarantees for libraries

    Clearly Harper-Collins (a Rupert Murdock-owned subsidiary of his News Corporation) wants not only to pocket all of these savings, but take away the benefits of the first-sale doctrine ( U.S. libraries have always enjoyed via the device of a license. Specifically the first-sale doctrine means that if a library buys a book, it is free to circulate it as often as it chooses without any per usage charge, royalty, or externally imposed limitation. Harper-Collins wants to limit library e-books to 26 circulations–thus abridging the right of the first-sale doctrine. It knows it is not illegal because libraries aren’t “purchasing” the e-book, they’re acquiring a limited use license to circulate it. However Harper-Collins is the only publisher of which we are aware that wants to limit the libraries’ use, i.e. 26 circs.

    The libraries can choose to view the license as not affecting the right of first purchase and boycott those vendors–beginning with Harper-Collins–that set limits on circulations via the license device.

    This is why I strongly advocate and support the Harper-Collins boycott. Circumventing the 1st-sale doctrine via the license agreement does not mean that libraries have to accept the license provisions. There is nothing to stop libraries applying the spirit of the 1st sale doctrine in their e-book procurements.

    Simply, libraries should only enter into agreements for e-book licenses which provide unlimited circulations.

    Forgive the cliché, but Harper-Collins is the proverbial camel getting its nose in the tent. If libraries accede to license-limiting circulation; it is not too great a leap to think–once the precedent is established—that other e-book publishers will follow.

    In the article’s concluding paragraph, I was disappointed with the librarian who said that ultimately some accommodation would have to be made between e-book publishers and libraries.

    There is no middle ground on this issue. E.g. There can be no middle ground or compromise between the conflicting positions that the Earth was created in 7 days and is 6,000 years old according to creationists (; and the position of modern science that asserts that the Earth is over 4 billion years old ( The contentions are mutually exclusive. There is no splitting the difference or accommodation which can be made regarding these polar opposite positions. Which is how I see the Harper-Collins licenses. There is no compromise between unlimited and limited.

    Librarians must stand rock solid against any proposition that would imperil the libraries’ unlimited circulation of e-books.

    The principle that has always applied to printed book purchases must be applied to e-books. There is no reason we can’t subject e-book licenses to that condition.

    I urge all librarians to not enter into licenses with Harper-Collins or any other publisher that wants to limit the number of library circulations.

    Maurice J. Freedman, 16 March 2011
    ALA Past President
    Publisher, The U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*DTM, the ‘how I run my library good’ SM letter

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