Below is the text from a letter that my library, the San Rafael Public Library (CA), sent to HarperCollins regarding the change in library licensing for their titles in digital format. I shamelessly stole words, phrases, and concepts from the many wonderful open letters that other libraries, librarians, authors, and book-lovers have made available on the web (thanks people!). Likewise, feel free to shamelessly steal from us.
Some libraries are boycotting HarperCollins materials (print & digital), others are boycotting digital materials only, and still others are finding new creative ways to protest HarperCollins that their libraries are more comfortable with.
If your library has not yet sent a letter to HarperCollins regarding HC-gate, it’s definitely not too late. The more individuals and libraries they hear from, the more the conversation continues.
The San Rafael Public Library is strongly opposed to your new eBook licensing policy for libraries.
The policy you propose is contradictory to the spirit of libraries and damaging to the relationship libraries have long held with publishers. You are demanding that libraries rent eBooks from your company, but if the same title were to be purchased in paper copy we would still own them. This seems to encourage paper-only purchases from HarperCollins, something that would not help your company’s brand or financials.
The arbitrarily chosen “self-destruct” number of 26 circulations is not reflective of the reasoning you gave in your public statement. Paper copies, hardback or paperback, last much longer than a year and many books see much more than 26 total circulations in their first year alone. As written, your new policy seems greedy, especially considering the low cost involved in producing an eBook “copy” as compared to a paper copy.
The larger practice of digital content licensing is profoundly destructive to the burgeoning eBook market. Libraries help authors find audiences – and therefore help your bottom line. A 2007 study done by ALA (see: http://bit.ly/dYk84S) shows that 40% of adults and 36% of youth purchased a book after checking the same title out from a library. Discarded library copies find new audiences with book sales, donations to schools, and more. In addition, libraries receive donations from individual consumers who purchased a book but are done using it. With the current model of licensing, consumers cannot donate eBooks. This removes one additional way for your authors to get more exposure – and future sales – through library check-outs. Libraries raise exposure for your authors and your books. Let us continue to play that vital role for your company.
You may, if lucky, see some financial benefits in the short-term in more affluent areas of the country that can still afford to ascribe to your model of rentals. However, in the long term libraries will be forced to stop offering your eBooks and increasingly rely solely on paper books. That does not help your bottom line or public image.
Libraries want to buy your titles – in print and in digital copies. As publishers’ most loyal and long-term customers, it is extremely confusing to be punished for wanting to give you money. If, however, HarperCollins is no longer interested in selling to libraries, libraries like ours look forward to the long list of independent publishers and self-published authors waiting to fill the gap you will be leaving in the market. We realize that these newer methods of publishing are perceived as a threat to business by traditional publishers like HarperCollins. This change in the market will only grow exponentially faster in response to decisions like your “rule of 26.”
All of the limits you have placed on library digital content are short-sighted, at best. eBook licensing, and the digital rights management that comes along with it, acts like a tariff in its inhibition of the free exchange of ideas, literature, and information – the ideas, literature, and information that your authors have worked so hard to put out into the world. We encourage you to maintain your positive relationship with libraries and sell your eBook titles to libraries outright, not rent them.
David Dodd – Director, San Rafael Public Library
Sarah Houghton-Jan – Assistant Director, San Rafael Public Library