Library Ebooks Showdown

2011 March 1
by Karen

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion about the upcoming changes to Overdrive as a result publisher’s changing their policies (specifically Harper Collins). I’ve been using Overdrive since getting my ereader almost a year ago and I was pretty impressed when their iPhone/iPod application was released earlier this spring. While getting Overdrive ebooks onto a reader isn’t easy, it is a workable process and I think that Overdrive wants to improve the users experience when they can. However, Overdrive is a middleman between publishers, libraries, and library users. Being a middleman means that the level of control they have is limited, a position which libraries themselves can potentially understand. I won’t enumerate the changes, many others have done that. What I will say is that I feel this is not a win for Overdrive, libraries, or readers of ebooks. These changes will make an already bad user experience even worse for library users. Furthermore it will make the management of ebooks and collections more difficult to libraries and Overdrive. Overdrive will have to play content cop and that means they’ll likely cut off access when they have any doubt.

At the crux it would seem that some publishers think that libraries aren’t paying enough for ebooks because ebooks can be lent indefinitely and not replaced when they wear out. There is a huge fallacy in this argument, that different rules should apply to print and ebooks and that the rules should be different between the type mediums in ways that purely benefit the seller not the consumer. Ebooks cost less to distribute which benefits sellers and there aren’t printing costs eliminating the need to sell a certain number because a set number were printed. Yet many ebooks cost as much as there print counterparts and come with fewer rights for readers.

From a consumers perspective, is it reasonable for a consumer to pay $8-$14 dollars for an ebook, read it once and then not be able to do anything with it? In my opinion heck no. But these are the rules that all ebook purchases are subject to now. Such rules actually drive me to buy FEWER ebooks, because it seems wasteful to spend that much on what ends up being a one time rental. I’m a voracious reader and many things I just read once. If I buy those things electronically then I can’t resell them or donate them. They basically become throw aways. So these are the things that I borrow from the library. Since I purchased my ereader in of May 2010 I’ve read 70 library ebooks. Furthermore, borrowing books has often introduced me to new authors who I wouldn’t have risked buying otherwise. The ability to borrow and trade content helps keep the ecosystem of written content working and healthy. When you make it more difficult to do these things you hurt the ecosystem.

Therefore, if we want to continue to have a vibrant community where written content is created and consumed something has got to change. A good starting place is the eBook User’s Bill of Rights I hope that it will get everyone from readers and libraries to publishers and authors to consider a path to a different model which is fair to all parties and helps to keep the ecosystem of the written word thriving.

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