Wednesday, May 04, 2011

News Corporation is at it again - this time attacking our libraries

Ebooks are a great idea. They permit you to conveniently download books from the comfort of your home, read them on trains and planes without having to slog much more than a kindle or its equivalent around. Importantly, they permit libraries to stock more content because they're not physically limited by shelf space.

Enter HarperCollins owner News Corporation (the owner of Faux News, as well as the Simpsons, the Times in Britain, the Australian on Down Under and any number of other mass media outlets from India to the USA).

Harper Collins decided to limit the number of users who can borrow its ebooks from libraries to 26 per book. After 26 check-outs the ebooks self-destruct. The argument is that books that are read by a lot of people will also eventually be destroyed and replaced by new copies. The trouble is, of course, that any book that falls apart after 26 people read it, is likely of pretty low production quality (ie News Corporation type quality). The magic number also assumes that all 26 readers read the book really thoroughly, turn every page and so on and so forth, when in the real world someone might just xerox a chapter for personal use, or read bits and pieces in different chapters. There are bound to be very many books that exist happily ever after even if 26 people borrowed them at one point or other.

As with so much of the digital-only stuff, the books the libraries purchase cease to be theirs. This publisher can delete them by remote at any point in time (here the magic number being 26 check-outs).

Here is a letter you'd write to the big-shots at HarperCollins, protesting their policy and threatening to boycott their products.

Mr. Brian Murray
HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022

Dear Mr. Murray:

I am writing to express my concern about a recent announcement by HarperCollins. I understand that you intend to place a limit on how many times libraries can lend HarperCollins ebooks. If you go through with this policy, library ebooks will self-destruct after they have been loaned out 26 times.

I urge you to reconsider this policy. Like many people, I respect and rely on libraries. The increasing popularity of ebooks is giving libraries a chance to reach people in new ways, continuing to spread literacy and engender a love of reading. Your proposed policy will hurt libraries and, more importantly, it will limit the options available for millions of current and potential readers across the nation. For that reason, I cannot see myself purchasing books or ebooks from HarperCollins or any of its imprints until you stop your policy of causing library materials to self-destruct.

Libraries do not abuse their relationship with publishers. I hope HarperCollins will soon return to treating libraries and library users with the respect we deserve.


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