Towards a New Model of Ebook Circ in Libraries

On Friday, news broke that, as of March, new HarperCollins ebook titles licensed though library vendors, will have a cap of 26 circulations.

Librarians, concerned about the limits this puts on their ability to serve their communities, immediately began protesting on blogs, listservs and Twitter (#hcod). The protests caught the attention of The New York Times, which published a story last night on the “Media Decoder” blog.

Some librarians are now urging their colleagues to boycott all HarperCollins’ titles, in print and well as eBooks.

Both parties are nervous right now, which makes this discussion particularly heated. Libraries are struggling for their existence, and publishers fear they are, too. The Borders bankruptcy puts a particularly strong light on the shrinking number of bookstores. Further, publishers worry that ebooks will send them the way of the music business.

Two other Big Six publishers have their own ebooks-in-libraries solution; they aren’t making them available at all. John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, explained  last year that he doesn’t see the current model of licensing ebooks to libraries as good for his business. He later met with a group of librarians at BEA, but that did not seem to change his mind; Macmillan (which includes FSG, St. Martin’s, Holt, among others) still does not make their ebooks available to libraries. One of  the concerns Sargent articulated is that an ebook can circulate forever without replacement. The HarperCollins’ circulation cap is one alternative to that objection.

Now is the time to offer other ideas that allow you to serve your users. Creating new models is not easy, but librarians, who have dealt with electronic licensing for decades, are more expert than trade publishers in this area.

On Twitter on Friday (#hcod), HarperCollins tweeted —

We’re reading your posts – and listening to our authors. If you want to share longer thoughts with us, email

Take advantage of that; get a real discussion going.

7 Responses to “Towards a New Model of Ebook Circ in Libraries”

  1. sean fleming Says:

    one solution: work out avg circs per print item prior to any given print item needing replacing. Libraries and epubs could get creative and devise all sorts of categories to derive stats: hardcover vs paperbacks; fiction vs nonfiction; reference vs circulating copies; teen vs adult

  2. Jackie Says:

    Thank you for posting this. I was really frustrated when the original announcement was made mainly because of the way it was made. I don’t trust Overdrive to be non-complicit (I’m not even sure that’s a word) in Harper-Collins’ decision to limit the number of circs. After all, HC and Overdrive have the same goal –sell books.

    Having worked in a corporate setting, I can see HC’s point. After all, in public libraries, if we’re managing our collections properly, we don’t keep print copies in perpetuity. Once books become grungy, we pitch them and replace them if circulation demad drives it. Personally, I think 26 circs is low although it’s high for a mass market paperback.

    I think HC and other publishers do value the library business. Maybe not enough, but they can see the value. To think that libraries will band together to boycott HC is rather laughable. We can’t even get library directors in our state to join consortiums because ‘their books’ will be borrowed by customers who aren’t ‘their patrons.’ All it would take is for HC to publish the new James Patterson and our resolve would be in the toilet.

    A friend of mine came up with a good solution: Pay for the original copy, then after 35-40 circs, pay on a fee per circ basis. As far as that goes, perhaps we could pay based on subscription alone. Maybe we as librarians should be examining our current model of what constitues our collections.

  3. raz godelnik Says:

    I believe that HarperCollins’ decision to limit their ebook lending will not help their ebook sales.

    Why? Because libraries are not the only ones lending ebooks. With both the Nook and the Kindle providing the option to borrow and lend ebooks for two weeks, we see a growing number of websites that provide convenient platform for readers to exchange ebooks. Today you have websites such as, Books for My Kindle, Books for My Nook and (not operating yet), where you can borrow and lend ebooks easily and for free.With a growing number of exchange platforms and users, these restrictions will become meaningless. You can stop tens of thousands of libraries, but you can’t stop millions of ebook readers that would like to borrow and lend books to each other.

  4. Amber Says:

    I really like Jackie’s friend’s suggestion:

    Pay for the original copy, then after 35-40 circs, pay on a fee per circ basis.

    26 circulations does sound kind of low, but I guess it’s better than not getting eBooks at all.

    Amber Elle Turner

  5. Maggie Says:

    I’d like to know how they came up with the figure of 26. Libraries aren’t withdrawing copies of books after only 26 circs unless it’s just taking up room on the shelf. For many children’s titles we start considering replacement at 100 circs! I am concerned about being able to withdraw eBooks so people don’t have so much to wade through. I would also like better ways to search children’s books than author, title and fiction or non-fiction. What about leasing eBooks instead of buying them?

  6. Jackie Says:

    @Maggie – My guess is that they assumed the average circulation was a 2 week period. 26 circulations gives a library or consortium 1 year of use for each title.

  7. Mary Says:

    Raz, can you post the links to the sites you mentioned? I can find ebookfling and BooksformyKindle, but not the others. Thanks.