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HarperCollins eBooks now back on shelves, thanks to policy change at library

Ban off because of new information

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Nov 03, 2012 06:00 am

E IS FOR EBOOK – The St. Albert Public Library has lifted its ban on the purchase of eBook titles from publisher HarperCollins.
E IS FOR EBOOK – The St. Albert Public Library has lifted its ban on the purchase of eBook titles from publisher HarperCollins.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

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By The Numbers

• The St. Albert Public Library’s eBook collection consists of 2440 titles.
• OverDrive eBook checkouts stand at 13,903 in 2012. This represents a 142 per cent increase from 2011.
• Only 10 per cent of eBook requests were unfulfilled due to the HarperCollins boycott.

It only took about 18 months for the St. Albert Public Library to reverse its stance against eBook loan limits, and library board chair David Climenhaga says that it’s the right move at the right time.

“I think it’s true of everybody on the library board and certainly everybody on the library staff that they want authors to get a fair return and they want book publishers to be a success.”

In May 2011, the facility decided to halt purchases of new eBook titles from HarperCollins, since that publisher had imposed the arbitrary limit of 26 times that each of its titles could be borrowed before the library would have to acquire a new electronic copy.

At the time, this was deemed to impose an unacceptable cost since a print edition could realistically be loaned hundreds of times during its lifespan.

The St. Albert Public Library was unique in its taking this position, adopting a no-purchase policy. The board determined that the policy would show HarperCollins the error of its ways and that it would revert its titles to limitless loans. Other libraries did not follow suit.

“I think it would be fair to say that we had hoped to build a bit of momentum to put some pressure to get other libraries involved, to put pressure on book publishers to be a little more reasonable with their eBook policies,” said Climenhaga.

Since that time, however, more information has been collected and the situation has been reevaluated. Only HarperCollins, Random House and Hachette – three of the so-called “big six” publishers – make eBooks available to libraries.

Use of eBooks has been monitored and few of the HarperCollins titles that were originally purchased have reached 26 loans. This indicates that the financial burden has not been as high as expected.

There’s also the issue of gaps in the collection.

“Because we are reliant on so few publishers … continuing to exclude HarperCollins from our collection would compound the problem. We are now more concerned that library patrons cannot get access to eBooks from MacMillan, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Scholastic, or current titles from Hachette, than we are about the need to re-purchase a title.”

The good news is that this publishing house has not increased the cost of its eBooks to match the same price of its eAudiobooks, like other publishers have.

“We can now buy a HarperCollins eBook for half the price of a Random House title, and with Hachette’s backlist eBooks set to increase by over 200%, our decision, which at the time made economic sense, needed to be reconsidered,” Climenhaga concluded.


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