Quirks in eBook Lending


You’ve probably asked this same question: “Why isn’t the book I want available as an ebook from my library?” or a variation of that question might be “Why can’t I download this book wirelessly, especially since I’m able to do so for most of my other ebooks?” Unfortunately, the answers don’t give users satisfaction. The basic answer at the heart of this issue is that the publishing world is still trying to fit the old paradigm of printed books and brick and mortar stores upon a rapidly evolving market. It seems as though the majority of publishers are treating ebooks and other e-access as one more format for readers to choose from rather than as a business model that is revolutionizing the way users interact with authors and books.

The publishing world is scrambling to keep up with users’ demands and expectations, while also trying to maintain a profit margin compatible with old expectations. Unfortunately, there have been missed opportunities and bungled interactions between publishers, users, and libraries/booksellers. A few publishers, such as Harper Collins, are trying to tweak the ebook paradigm to make it fit in more smoothly with profit margins, and some of these attempts are laudible, but rather misguided. Here is a summary of the major publishing houses’ actions in regard to ebooks and specifically public libraries:

Harper Collins instituted the 26 check-out limit on library ebooks. This artificial limit attempts to simulate the wear and tear of physical books in libraries. It is an averaged number and does not seem to take into account the many books libraries maintain for years and dozens more circulations.

  • This limit is the reason you or our patrons sometimes recieve error messages through Overdrive stating that “Some of our digital titles are only available for a limited time. This title may be available in the future. Be sure to check back.”
  • Examples include: Coraline by Neil Gaiman; The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; Coop by Michael Perry

Penguin is embroiled in a dispute with Amazon over the price at which most ebooks are set. It appears that Penguin is taking their argument out on libraries and users because Kindle ebooks published by Penguin must be downloaded via USB to Kindles.

  • This limitation creates an error message on Overdrive that informs patrons that “Due to publisher restrictions, this book in the Kindle format cannot be delivered wirelessly and must be downloaded and transferred via USB.” This causes confusion and frustration for users who are used to downloading everything else wirelessly.
  • Examples include: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet; The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell; The Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Random House increased the price of ebooks sold to libraries by 300%! Perhaps they believe that the greater price is equivalent to libraries purchasing replacement copies of books? However, it seems arrogant and presumptuous to assume that every single book is equally valuable and worthy of being replaced when it is worn out in physical form. This decision doesn’t seem to take into account the fact of diminishing library budgets and that only about 40% of readers use ebook at this time, and that readers are only a portion of the overall population and thus ebook readers are actually about 20% of the overall population.

  • This limitation means that some libraries may not buy ebooks from Random House due to this pricing structure, or that fewer copies of a single title may be bought, which may falsely inflate its demand.
  • Examples include: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Hotel Vendomeby Danielle Steel; Game of Thrones by George R. Martin

HatchetteSimon & Schuster, and Macmillan don’t even sell ebooks to libraries!

  • This limits users from discovering fantastic authors published by these business as ebooks. It creates confusion and anger among library patrons who are able to see the same titles available for sale on popular websites, but not for use at libraries. Also, it has the unsavory effect of making users frustrated with the distributor (libraries) instead of with the publishing houses that instituted these restrictions.
  • Examples include: too many titles to mention!

Do these restrictions frustrate you? Do you want to do something about it? If so, consider going to the issue website eBooks for Libraries created by the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library and David Lee King. Read the information, make your decision, and if you want, sign the petition.

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About shortlibrarian

I am a woman working in the Twin Cities as a programming Librarian.
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