Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Speeding the Decline of Print Books?

A recent article on CMS Wire and other outlets had me wondering if publishers are taking the wrong approach in their efforts to keep the status quo when it comes to books. They want to keep print books, of course. They make more money on print books (and authors make less on them than when they e-publish).

Their recent move is to limit the number of times a library can lend an e-book published by them. This is different from print books, to which publishers do not attach a limit when they sell it to libraries. For example, the policy of Harper Collins is now that “libraries can 'lease' (for a fee) new HarperCollins e-books and loan them no more than 26 times. At that point, the book disappears — digitally — unless the library pays to lease another copy for the next 26 readers.”

This seems to say to libraries either buy the print copy or be prepared to buy and re-buy and re-buy the e-book. I think we all know that most libraries don’t have that kind of money.

We also know that a lot of people need libraries. They can’t afford or don’t want to spend thousands of dollars buying books. And we also know (I know, from experience) that people find authors they love through libraries and end up buying future books from that author. This article backs me up on that with a previous article they ran which concluded that lending e-books leads to increased sales of the print version.

When you consider:
1. More and more people are getting eReaders
2. eReaders will probably come down in price
3. A lot of e-books are cheaper to buy than the print version
You might conclude:
1. People won’t turn to libraries for as many books since they may not be able to get the ebooks there that they want, which will hurt the libraries.
2. HC, and other publishers if they follow suit, will end up losing potential future sales.
3. Authors will lose out because they won’t be discovered by those who try out new authors because they won’t go to libraries because there won’t be a wide selection of e-books because publishers are charging them multiple times for the same book.

So…are publishers, by forcing libraries to buy and re-buy e-books, making libraries less likely to buy them, thus hurting potential sales of both e-books and print books?


  1. It's all about the $. Conceivably, a print book will 'wear out' and need to be replaced at some point. Since this isn't an issue for digital media, they have to find some way to continue to collect revenue on that title. 26? Do print books wear out with that many lendings? Not the hard bounds, I bet.

    I'm a publisher (small) and even I think that's pretty despicable. They're just trying to milk every title for all it's worth, that's all.

    I think some of the small publishers ought to come together and create their own aggregator for generous lending of titles for libraries. We may even get fewer sparkly vampires on the shelves that way.

  2. I've spoken out on this too--I really think it's total nonsense for publishers to limit library lending on e-book titles. To me it's a wrong-headed approach that will ultimately lose readers (since so many readers find new authors and series to read by locating them first at a library and reading them there.)

  3. Interesting post. In some ways, I can see why the publishers want to limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out since the print version has a limited shelf life, but in other ways I think they're only hurting themselves. Either way, it won't affect me much - I do have eReaders, but find that I just don't enjoy the e-reading experience.

  4. I've discovered so many great authors through the library! I can't imagine not having that availabe.

  5. I think the publisher, no surprise, is just hurting themselves with this policy. I just don't get their absolute resistance to ebooks and ereaders and would think they might find innovative and profitable ways to embrace technology and take it into the future rather than be stuck in the past. Time marches on ...

  6. So sad. I can't imagine a world without libraries.

  7. Love the idea of sparkly vampires on the shelves, Fawn.

    bermudaonion, I don't have an eReader, but will probably ask for one this coming Christmas. My DH just loves his.

    Neither can I, Karen.

    Between these comments, we've already heard from authors, readers, and publishers. Thank you all.

  8. Of course they're hurting themselves in long run, if only because it looks like they're setting up this "because we're worth it" model of superiority. The interesting thing about e-readers (at least the Kindle) is that you can download the 1st three chapters for free. If those chapters don't interest you, you just don't buy the book. So new authors will still be found. I think libraries will continue, but with new roles. For example, our library has a computer lab, where people can come and get free tutoring on how to use a computer. We have a lot of reading programs for children and adults. Paper books will never go away because a lot of disadvantaged folks use the library; they can't afford a computer, so how could they afford a Nook? If you add being able to stock more books electronically, that's only a plus.

  9. Helen, you highlight the great paradox of e-readers: they make literature more accessible, but limit accessibility to libraries and the people who need them.

    It's an interesting issue. Let's see libraries handle this.

  10. Thanks for posting this, Helen. I have not been keeping up with the details of the publishers' proposed policy for libraries to lend e-books and had no idea it was this ludicrous. Why should lending an e-book be any different than lending a hardback or paperback? Geesh, this is just another indication that some people in the publishing industry are so focused on making the most money they can they don't cre how it hurts the overall business of writers and libraries and bookstores. Shame on them.

  11. So far as I'm concerned, libraries are a community lifeline. We need them. And they're not unaffected by the economy anymore than other businesses.

    To me, the publishers idea of limiting their e-books to libraries to 36 views is ludicrous. It takes time for word of mouth to engage.

    C'mon, libraries are the perfect place for publishers to get the authors known. Most people have been trained to look for books at the library. They can make their profits in other areas but they could build a following for their books using libraries and increase their long term profits.

    that's just my opinion.

  12. Gayle, I keep hearing about more and more libraries lending e-books.

    I agree with y'all and hope the publishers will pay attention to these kinds of responses.

  13. "So…are publishers, by forcing libraries to buy and re-buy e-books, making libraries less likely to buy them, thus hurting potential sales of both e-books and print books?"

    That seems to be exactly what they are doing. They are going down the same dig-in-your-heals strategy the music industry used and can expect the same disastrous results. Instead of having Apple dictate the terms of their sales, they will have Amazon doing the same, only for books instead of music. The libraries will survive, since they provide a lot of resources these days other than books. But the publishers may not.

  14. Fawn Neun said,
    "I think some of the small publishers ought to come together and create their own aggregator for generous lending of titles for libraries. We may even get fewer sparkly vampires on the shelves that way."

    Brilliant! Please do. Like I said, libraries will survive. Smart publishers like Fawn probably will too.

  15. I can't see any good coming of this policy if it's introduced. I feel sorry for the libraries, and the fans of particular books they can't get hold of elsewhere. The publishers will really have them in a bind. I don't imagine many authors will be happy about it, either.

  16. Helen,
    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I think the attitude of HarperCollins is troubling. On the other hand, I wonder just how many of their books they expect to be lent 26+ times? A few best-sellers, maybe, but I'm guessing that's it. This policy may not benefit HC as much as they think.

  17. Interesting point, Bob. But I have seen books in libraries that are not by big names yet have been checked out many times. If our library lent e-books, I'd be quite likely to try new authors. If I had an e-Reader, that is.

  18. Egregious and usury profiteering if you ask me. Unconscionable cads.

    Hey but you claim that authors make more on ebooks than on print books? Not in my experience - I get about $4 on the sale of a $16 paperback sold on Amazon, whereas I get less than a dollar on an ebook or Kindle book sale.

    Or did I read/interpret that wrong?

    Marvin D Wilson

  19. I understand their logic, because print books do wear out and have to be replaced. However, this is apples to oranges! The different mediums should not be treated the same.

  20. You ask an interesting question Helen. I'd suggest that publishers are just fighting the inevitable transition to e-books. Perhaps the writing/reading world is fighting it too. Change is often scary to some, and the world of books is changing so fast my head sometimes spins. But it's exciting too. I've never been a library person; I prefer my own books which just pile up and up and up, so that's a big plus with e-readers, more storage space! :)

    Judy (South Africa)

  21. It sounds as though they're trying to get rid of libraries in order to sell more books. If they're going to lease books, why aren't writers receiving a small fee from book "rentals," as has been done in the UK?


  22. Our libraries are already strapped for funds so I think many of them will just say no to e-books. I’d like to know how they came up with 26—it seems like such an arbitrary and low number.

  23. A max loan count doesn't look like a wise thing to do.

    Over here, printed books, E-books and audiobooks (and music CDs and DVDs) are lent on the same conditions the public libraries. I hope it will remain like that >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  24. On the #26, lots of libraries limit their "loan period" to two HC is offering you a "year's lease" equivalent (26 x 2 week loans).

  25. I hadn't heard about this. It sounds very bizarre. I can see putting a limit on it because print books do wear out and then libraries purchase another to replace a popular book but where does the number 26 come from?

  26. Marvin, I guess it depends on who published you and what your asking price is. Some authors earn up to 70% of their asking price.

    That's interesting, Jean. I hadn't heard that about the UK.

    I don't think it would take me 2 weeks to read a book. My DH has an iPad and reads a book in a few days.

  27. I think the publishers who do that are shooting themselves in the foot. They generate ill will, if nothing else.

  28. What an amazing and insightful commentary about the e-book situation in libraries!

    This is an exciting time to be a part of this industry because it is an industry in transition!


  29. Monti, we are definitely going through a major transition!


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