Thursday Threads: HarperCollins Ebook Terms, Internet Archive Ebook Sharing, Future of Collections

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It is an all e-books edition of DLTJ Thursday Threads this week. The biggest news was the announcement of the policy change by HarperCollins for ebooks distributed through OverDrive. Beyond that, though, was an announcement of a new sharing model and program through the Internet Archive. Lastly is a slidecast recording of a presentation by David Lewis on the future of library collections.

Before continuing, a quick apology and explanation. E-mail readers received a pair of extra Thursday Threads messages and RSS subscribers got a dump of unrelated posts; I’m sorry. The cause was an update of this blog’s WordPress software to version 3.1 and a conflict (maybe this one) with the SimpleTags plugin. I believe all is well, but I won’t know until this post is published.

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HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations

In the first significant revision to lending terms for ebook circulation, HarperCollins has announced that new titles licensed from library ebook vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires.

Mention of the new terms was first made in a letter from OverDrive CEO Steve Potash to customers yesterday. He wrote [emphasis in original]:

[W]e have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.

Though the letter leaves the publisher unnamed, HarperCollins confirmed today to [Library Journal] that it is the publisher referred to.

In an odd one-two punch, this past week saw a disturbance in the status quo of e-book licensing. The first punch came in the letter from OverDrive [PDF] (part of which is quoted in the Library Journal article excerpted above). The second in that Library Journal article when we learned that the publisher pushing for the change of terms is HarperCollins. Since then it has been the source of a great deal of discussion by librarians and a few authors, much of it in the form of tweets with the hash-tag “#hcod” (short for HarperCollinsOverDrive). Damage control comes in the form of open letters from OverDrive and HarperCollins. There has been a call for a boycott. Bobbi Newman, one of the first to jump on the story, is maintaining a list of news articles and commentary.


We’re reading your posts & listening to our authors. If you want to share longer thoughts w us, email library.ebook@harpercollins.com #hcodFeb 26, 2011 via HootSuite

Tweet from HarperCollins

As you can see, much has already been said about the issue, and since collection development is not my specialty, you probably shouldn’t look to me for an informed opinion. (If pressed, I will suggest that it is a perfectly reasonable collection development policy to not buy access to material with terms that are not in the library’s and patron’s best interest.) Instead, there is so much oddness in this new policy that I find I can’t put myself in HarperCollins’ shoes. First, using OverDrive as a proxy for announcing this policy change seems wrong (and, frankly, unfair to OverDrive). Then as word spreads, you don’t make your own announcement, but rather talk to a reporter from Library Journal. Then as news spreads through the day, you send a single tweet. In fact, you don’t really publicly respond until five days after the twitter universe and biblio-blogosphere have been talking about it. And it is pretty much a non-engaging, public relations response. (You do get credit, though, for allowing open comments on your blog post. But some of that credit is taken back because you aren’t using a company branded blog. Really? A typepad.com blog? One of the tenants of most information literacy courses I’ve seen is to look for the source of the information, and it requires extra effort to take this blog seriously because it isn’t in the harpercollins.com domain space.)

If I were to guess, this seems like a trial balloon that was badly floated. I certainly can’t fault HarperCollins for trying something new in the ebook licensing world, but this one has fallen flat.

Internet Archive and Library Partners Develop Joint Collection of 80,000+ eBooks To Extend Traditional In-Library Lending Model

Today [February 22, 2011], a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive announced a new, cooperative 80,000+ eBook lending collection of mostly 20th century books on OpenLibrary.org, a site where it’s already possible to read over 1 million eBooks without restriction. During a library visit, patrons with an OpenLibrary.org account can borrow any of these lendable eBooks using laptops, reading devices or library computers. This new twist on the traditional lending model could increase eBook use and revenue for publishers. …

Any OpenLibrary.org account holder can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time, for up to 2 weeks. Books can only be borrowed by one person at a time. People can choose to borrow either an in-browser version (viewed using the Internet Archive’s BookReader web application), or a PDF or ePub version, managed by the free Adobe Digital Editions software. …

Publishers selling their eBooks to participating libraries include Cursor and OR Books. Books purchased will be lent to readers as well as being digitally preserved for the long-term. This continues the traditional relationship and services offered by publishers and libraries.

This press release from the Internet Archive largely went unnoticed on the eve of the #hcod onslaught. It was covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog and in Library Journal. The latter has a few more helpful details: “IA founder Brewster Kahle and director Peter Brantley also told LJ that small independent publishers Cursor, OR Books, and Smashwords will donate ebooks license-free to the Open Library for lending to all Open Library members. With this venture, IA hopes to establish a “first-sale precedent” for e-lending, according to Brantley.” One must be from one of the participating libraries to check out books. My experience with most Internet Archive efforts is that the initial announcement is very subtle and not picked up widely, then slowly grows to something substantial. I expect this project will follow much the same path and will have a noticeable imprint on the profession in a few years.

Slidecast of David Lewis’ “Collections Futures” Talk

  • Context
    • The Big Shift
    • Interlude with Clay Shirky
    • A Bit of Disruptive Innovation Theory
  • Collections in “A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century”
  • What Will Be Easy and What Will Be Hard

So far in DLTJ Thursday Threads I’ve intentionally avoided pointing to items inside this blog — preferring to link to events, resources, and conversations elsewhere. I’m going to make sort-of-an-exception in this case because what I’m ultimately pointing to is not my work. It is a slidecast (recorded audio synchronized to slides) of David Lewis’ presentation at the 2010 Annual RLG Partnership Meeting. Starting with a foundation from John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison called the “Shift Index” [PDF], Clay Shirky’s “How Social Media Can Make History” TED Talk, and Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation theories, David walks through the possibilities for three strategic issues facing academic libraries: Complete the migration from print to electronic collections; Retire legacy print collections; and Migrate the focus of collections from purchasing materials to curating content. The slidecast is about 75 minutes long and well worth the time as a thought-provoking view of what libraries should be doing to survive the next few decades.

(This post was updated on 10-Sep-2011.)