Why libraries shouldn’t have to pay for e-books after every 26 loans

In 2011, HarperCollins Publishers changed their e-book policy to require libraries to pay for further uses of e-books after it have been checked out 26 times. The reason is because they estimated that e-readership reaches about 40 million and if left unchecked, the previous policy will “undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, and place additional pressure on physical bookstores” (Marwell 2011). This translates to, “we are greedy and want to make as much money from e-books as possible.” This decision has set off a “wave of Twitter protests and a call for boycott” (Boog 2011). The decision to renew purchases after 26 times is based on an average number of times physical copies deteriorate before replacing them.

I disagree with HarperCollins’ e-book policy. E-books are a source of information, and are no way any different from physical copies. Publishers do not require libraries to pay for further uses of the same books, magazines, and newspapers that they have in store. Requiring renewed purchases is like requiring libraries to pay for physical books after 26 times regardless of its condition. Nobody does that. Several boycott reasons include that the policy “would undermine libraries’ core values,” “would force libraries to allocate their financial resources less efficiently,” and it will “further weaken First Sale and Fair Use” (Bonfield, 2013). Requiring indefinite payments for every 26 circulations is absurd and goes against the point of having libraries.

The HarperCollins e-book policy affects libraries’ core values such as access, the public good, preservation, and intellectual freedom. Requiring that Libraries pay for books after 26 loans goes against the core value of access, where “all information sources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, equally, and equitable accessible to all library users” (ALA Council 2004). E-books as a source of information should be readily available to all library users, not just after 26 loans. Libraries, where preservation is central and censorship is resisted, are “an essential public good and are fundamental institutions in democratic societies” (ALA Council 2004). If libraries cannot afford to continue paying for e-books indefinitely, they cannot preserve and serve the public with access to the information. The decision to not pay for any further access hinders the authors’ and publishers’ intellectual freedom. Requiring further indefinite payments for e-books will hurt, not help, HarperCollins. If other publishers adopt this method, the point of preserving literature “as our culture’s ‘memory work'” will be destroyed (Schneider 2011).

I get what HarperCollins is trying to do, reflecting the business model of many rental services like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu. It is called Digital Rights Management, and libraries should stop purchasing DRM media for their collections (Doctorow 2011).  The fact is that libraries are not a commercial rental service. It is a public service, paid for by citizens of the community. It is meant to share and preserve information, not to provide money in exchange for goods. Libraries are first and foremost not a business and shouldn’t be treated as one. Libraries promote exchange of ideas and speech and preserve American culture. They already respect the intellectual property at first purchase; they shouldn’t have to be bullied into renewing their purchases every time a patron checks out the book. If libraries in some communities cannot get access to certain information because they cannot afford to pay for the material, it is an injustice for the publisher and the community. Libraries will be forced to make decisions not to pay for the information if it cannot afford it. At least hardcover and paperback books are still dominating the market, accounting 42% share of unit sales in the first half of 2014 as opposed to e-books’s 23% of unit sales. If the publisher wants to make libraries pay extra for the privilege of reading e-books, then that is the publisher’s problem.


ALA Council. (2004). Core Values of Librarianship. American Library Association. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/corevalues

Bonfield, B. (2013, August 7). Ending the HarperCollins Boycott (February 27, 2011-August 7, 2013). Retrieved fromhttp://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2013/ending-a-harpercollins-boycott-february-27-2011-august-7-2013/

Boog, J. (2011, March 2). HarperCollins Responds To Library eBook controversy. Retrieved from http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/harpercollins-responds-to-library-ebook-controversy_b24435

Doctorow, C. (2011, February 25). HarperCollins to Libraries: we will nuke your ebooks after 26 checkouts. Retrieved from http://boingboing.net/2011/02/25/harpercollins-to-lib.html

Marwell, J. (2011, March 1). Open Letter to Librarians. Retrieved from http://harperlibrary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/03/open-letter-to-librarians.html

Milliot, J. (2014, September 26).  E-books still outsold by Hardcover and Paperback. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/64170-e-books-remain-third.html

Schneider, K. (2011, February 26). HarperCollins’ Memento Plan: Short-Term Greed versus Long-Term Culture. Retrieved from http://freerangelibrarian.com/2011/02/26/harpercollins-memento-plan/

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