Tuesday, March 08, 2011

eBooks: durability is a feature, not a bug

Cory Doctorow has posted a pointed reply to HarperCollins' recent decision to establish a 26-loan limit on their eBooks. This means after 26 checkouts, the library must pay for a new license if they want to continue lending the book electronically. The rationale offered by the publisher is since paper books wear out and need to be replaced if they are to remain in a library's collection, the same should be true of their electronic formats. The publisher argues that it should not be denied revenues that come from reselling replacement books and resources. Because the publisher assumes digital resources never deteriorate, they have set an arbitrary limit to the number of times an electronic resource can be accessed. Libraries are not pleased with this policy.

In his article in the Guardian, Doctorow says
"Now, in point of fact, many ordinary trade books circulate far more than 26 times before they're ready for the discard pile. If a group of untrained school kids working as part-time pages can keep a copy of the Toronto Star in readable shape for 30 days' worth of several-times-per-day usage, then it's certainly the case that the skilled gluepot ninjas working behind the counter at your local library can easily keep a book patched up and running around the course for a lot more than 26 circuits. Indeed, the HarperCollins editions of my own books are superb and robust examples of the bookbinder's art (take note!), and judging from the comments of outraged librarians, it's common for HarperCollins printed volumes to stay in circulation for a very long time indeed.

But this is the wrong thing to argue about. Whether a HarperCollins book has the circulatory vigour to cope with 26 checkouts or 200, it's bizarre to argue that this finite durability is a feature that we should carefully import into new media. It would be like assuming the contractual obligation to attack the microfilm with nail-scissors every time someone looked up an old article, to simulate the damage that might have been done by our careless patrons to the newsprint that had once borne it."

In protest of HaperCollins' policy, librarians over at The Virtual Library made this video:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Despite the recent decline in the durability of bound books, they last a good bit longer than 26 circs. There's also the fact that by the time a popular book wears out, at least one patron will have donated a personal copy. At our library, we usually have several copies of last year's best sellers in our book sales. By design, there is no mechanism for donating or giving away an eBook.