How publishers should learn to stop worrying and love library ebook lending


Good luck. The only reason the library system exists at all today is that it is grandfathered in. Can you imagine someone suggesting a government funded system of free lending of for-profit materials in today’s copyright climate? They would be lucky to be just laughed out the door instead of sued by the publisher’s lobby just for suggesting such an idea.

The shame is that the public library system is a proven good. It’s one of the great equalizing factors in the world, and there is absolutely no chance of anything similar existing in today’s world because copyright holders have all of the power in government. The closest thing we have is the free software movement, and even that still struggles for legitimacy.


Not to mention that it is socialist. If poor people want to read and educate themselves, they should get a job! /snark

The good thing is despite what you mention and the socialist idea behind public libraries is that they do enjoy a great deal of goodwill. I think they need to leverage that goodwill into some more sensible copyright law exemptions for ebooks. A first sale doctrine for the digital age. While working with publishers and authors is laudable, it essentially puts the libraries into the position of beggar, asking for the permission to do things which should be within its rights as a public good.


Our local library is quite cutting edge and not only lends e-books, but all kinds of devices that you can try out. Additionally, in NY any library card holder can get access to a lending library of ebooks from the NYC library system.


Is it possible that every single good reason laid out in the argument for playing nice with public libraries is also exactly what makes the predators salivate when they see an easy, unguarded, source of income? Because they’re publicly funded, nobody feels particularly - by which I mean personally - hurt when they’re robbed blind. We can all feel aggrieved at it, but it’s just not the same thing as being mugged in the street. Maybe it’s not doing libraries any favours to draw attention to their vulnerabilities to robber barons in this way?

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A few questions:

How often, on average, can books be checked out before falling apart? I looked around a bit, but so far I have only found this (which just gives examples of certain books being checked out more than 26 times without falling apart): It also has a statement from Harper Collins’ arguing that “selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity” would

  • undermine the emerging e-book eco-system
  • hurt the growing e-book channel
  • place additional pressure on physical bookstores
  • lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors

I was also wondering how libraries interact with people who self-publish ebooks, especially if those people choose not to use DRM.

If the cards that used to come in the backs of books are any indication, 26 checkouts for a single book is way too low. It wasn’t uncommon to see a book with the front and back of the card filled back in the day, and our library just used little datestamps (from an ink stamper!) to mark them, so it could get several on each side of a card.

Harpen Collins is hardly a neutral voice in the ebook lending debate too. Most of their arguments can be boiled down to “we want more money”. I laugh at the “undermine the emerging e-book eco-system” point most of all, because big publishers like HC have been doing that for well over a decade now and have only recently started to realize how futile it is to fight the future.

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Precisely why it is under attack from all quarters.

Tell me about it. Our local Republicans would seem to want nothing more than to close our public library system entirely. This isn’t the first time service has been “degraded” either.

Shocking. I grew up there. It was a highly-educated county back then.

It is highly educated, but there is a strong ESL presence that the local government has been at war with for a few years now. The current attack seems to be looking at what services they use and cut back on them as much as possible.

As a librarian, I can tell you firsthand that ebooks are challenging the way we do business in practically every way. And yeah, they’re freakin expensive, too. Our library deals primarily with about five different ebook vendors, and lemme tell ya, they’re all different: pricing models, printing allowances, downloading allowances, reading methods, etc. etc. ad infinitum. And again, holy toledo they’re expensive (especially the academic titles).
Where all this is headed, I haven’t the faintest clue. But I do think we all need to recognize what a sea-change the internet and related tech represents, and we need to be able to foster services and resources that are available for the public good without making these goods and services wholly subservient to the gaping maw of capitalistic greed.
And now I will go back to playing with my MARC records and thinking about the difference between a multipart work and a series. Yeehaw!!

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