Friday, April 8, 2011

Artificial Wear and Tear of Library eBooks?

HarperCollins has initiated a new procedure for selling ebooks to lending libraries that sets a maximum of 26 checkouts per book. Since eBooks could last forever, the publisher has set an artificial wearing out time so that ebooks, like print books, will have to be periodically replaced.

How have libraries responded?

They're not happy. Especially at this time of reduced budgets and higher costs. Some have refused to buy more HarperCollins eBooks. Others are negotiating to increase the maximum from 26 to some larger number that more closely matches the lifetime of printed books. I've read that some hardback books are checked out hundreds of times with little wear and tear. Even paperback books last longer than 26 check outs.

As an author, I'm not so sure HarperCollins approach is unreasonable. Those sturdy library editions cost more because they're built to last. Electronic books sell for less than printed books because of the reduced manufacturing cost.

Here is an example of the cost difference: I sell the Kindle edition of Where Love Once Lived on for $5.99 and my cut is $4.16. The iPad version which sells for the same provides a profit of $3.36 after Apple takes its cut. It's less than that if the book is sold in UK or Canada, but not much.

In contrast, the print edition of Where Love Once Lived sells for $15.99 and my share from is $5.17. Books sold in bookstores and by other online outlets bring me $1.98 per book.

Since ebooks don't wear out, is it fair to the copyright holders for libraries to buy ebooks for less than the print editions and use them forever? Especially now with so many people switching to electronic book readers.

What do you think?


  1. I think 26 is a little low, but I think I agree. It is not unreasonable to set a "wear out" number. The problem is, will libraries spend their valuable resources on older ebooks, even if they are popular? Or once the "wear out" happens, will they simply move on to other newer ebooks?

  2. I happen to work in a library and this is a hot topic right now. Oddly enough Lynette's point hasn't come up at all -- and it's a good one.

    I do think it's important for publishers to set a 'wear-out' limit -- otherwise the sale of books will be drastically reduced. I work in a central library for a school board. Every summer I replace about half the books in a novel set because they are so worn. We've invested in these novels for our students' education so have a fixed replacement budget for this. Huge revenue for publishers, vendors and, of course the author.

    We will eventually go to a digital library for these books -- but that's several years down the road. Anyway, when that happens I would certainly expect some limit to placed on the titles we select. Otherwise our publishing houses and authors will go out of business!

  3. Thanks for checking in Kav and giving us the library viewpoint. I think this is an important topic.