Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One More Reason I Won't Buy An E-Book Reader

Publishers of e-books are involved in disputes with libraries. Some publishers refuse to sell e-books to libraries:

The ease with which e-books can be borrowed from libraries — potentially turning e-book buyers into e-book borrowers — makes some publishers uncomfortable. Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, two of the largest trade publishers in the United States, do not make their e-books available to libraries at all. 

Others sell only crippled versions that expire after a time, or after a specified number of checkouts.
Last week, that agreement was upended by HarperCollins Publishers when it began enforcing new restrictions on its e-books, requiring that books be checked out only 26 times before they expire. Assuming a two-week checkout period, that is long enough for a book to last at least one year. 
And as popular as the Kindle is, e-books available to libraries cannot be read on a Kindle.

Lending libraries serve at least two purposes. One is as a provider of books available to people who for one reason or another cannot or do not buy those books. The societal argument for allowing this is simple: people's educations will be truncated (or worse) if they have to be wealthy to explore a variety of books, some of which will inevitably turn out not to be suitable for their purposes. The other is as an accessible archive of a society's store of knowledge: it is almost impossible to predict what nonfiction books will be of use a decade or a century from now. E-books that expire have the potential to thwart both purposes.

I depend on Houston Public Library for a portion of my reading material. At present I have three books checked out (do the names Krugman, Greenwald, Hartmann ring a bell?), each coming from a different branch of HPL and all brought to my "doorstep," i.e., my neighborhood library, for my convenience. What if libraries had to come up with the money to relicense those books, typically once a year? Of course I suppose they could have a special level of membership in which a patron would pay a yearly fee to be allowed to check out e-books, but that is awfully damned classist. No, the solution is to force publishers to provide libraries with e-books on the same basis as print books, but at a higher initial cost. Publishers need to remember that they exist for our benefit, not we for theirs.


  1. I think the publishers are taking lessons from the record labels, who still haven't figured out that pissing off their customers and artists is not a good business model. Especially when the customers aren't dumb enough to buy the "think of the artists!" argument, because we know they don't make a dime off of physical recordings.

  2. Constance, it's good to see you. I miss your blog. Are you blogging in a new place, or have you given it up altogether? You can email me at doggerelist@stephenbates.com if you like.

    W.r.t. sound recordings, my own trick is to have tastes that are hardly mainstream in this day and age. Many CDs (still my preferred medium) of old jazz are available, new, on very cheap labels, and the CDs themselves are now filled to capacity... almost 80 min. of music. But if a recording would cost me as much as a meal out at a decent restaurant, I'll pass on the recording and take the meal instead. For a number of years, I bought no new recordings at all; I didn't want to reward companies for jacking the price up without justification.



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