…At least you are if you are the 26th person to check out an e-book by certain publishers..

In a letter to its library customers, OverDrive CEO Steve Potash announced the changes to the terms, writing:

“To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).”

What does this mean for the average library patron?  If you are the 26th person on line for a certain e-book title, you may not get your chance to read it. It all depends on the budget and if the library thinks re-purchasing the digital copy is cost effective. If you are the last person on the waiting list, do you think they will fork over another $30 just for you and the chance of any other check-outs in the future?

Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, has said that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

I have gone to a local library, Sparta Library, and spoken with Carol Boutilier (library director) to hear her thoughts on this.


Have you felt any effect since this announcement?

“Well it doesn’t take into effect until next month, it will take a year really to feel an effect for it.  I am sure it’s going to be as annoying as anything.”

Are you planning on staging a “boycott” of the books in question?

“Not at this point no”

Do you think any of your patrons know about this new term? If not, are you planning on somehow educating them as to what is going on?

“You know the whole thing, from a library point of view, is in such flux. Because a lot of people have Kindles and most don’t use the Overdrive service, I am not sure it won’t be felt until at least a year.  You know it’s really scary to me, because now they can really control and make it harder and harder to run a library, that’s my concern”

What do you think about the number 26?

“I mean where did they get that out of? I am really curious about that. You know, bindings are being so poorly done for the print books that we don’t get much use out of them. We only get about 20 checkouts on some books. The Patterson books fall apart easily and we have to keep replacing them. Shame on them.”

How many average e-books are checked out from your library?

“I ran some reports to see what our Harper print circulation looks like. As far I can see in our print collection roughly 905 Harper titles (out of an excess of 5000 titles though I’m sure I missed imprints) have circulated in excess of 26 times. Of those 905 titles around 300 have circulated in excess of 52 times. I didn’t run reports for circulations beyond 52 but I did note several titles above 100 circs. I’m curious as how Harper came about its number. That the number of circulations decided upon seems predicated somewhat on determining “potential wear and tear” that would apply if an ebook title were a print title seem completely ridiculous. We have about 400 circs on all of circulating ebooks and a circ for our 687 overdrive books.

After the 26th checkout, what is your criteria in order to put out the money and purchase another copy?

“We are actually doing the Advantage program, and I don’t really know how that is going to be impacted.”

What does the Advantage program consist of?

“It’s through OverDrive and it’s about $500 and then you are buying your own copy of a book that only your town residents can take out. If you live in another town and you want to read a book we carry, you will not get our copy. However if you live in the town the library is located and you live in THAT town, you will move up in line. Now I don’t know, I am going to assume that those book are going to disappear too then. They are putting libraries between a rock and a hard place.

Harper is one of the major publishers that everyone is attacking right now. Do you think other publishers will jump on board?

“Oh yes, if they get away with they get away with it sure, I think every major publisher will jump on the bandwagon.”

Why do you think they are doing this?

“Money. They want to feel control over libraries”

Already facing budget cuts and crises, many libraries are struggling to keep their patrons happy with e-readers and e-books. The answer, according to HarperCollins it seems: just buy more printed books. Your thoughts?

“That is just so arrogant. They know they feel we have no control. I don’t know if they should be saying that. I don’t know if it’s a reflection on the future of libraries. It’s such a cavalier attitude”

As a small town library, do you think it will affect you more than larger libraries?

“Isn’t it all relative? More people, they buy more copies anyway. It will just be more people moaning. I don’t think it matters.  Number and numbers.”

Any last words?

“This is such a bad sign of things to come. I don’t see anything positive or optimistic in it.


Throughout our conversation I couldn’t help but feel her frustration and anger about this.  It still baffles me how many hurdles libraries have to jump over in order to have our “must read” on their shelves. It’s easy to get upset when you find the book you want has only one copy and it has been checked out already, but after getting an inside view of how much money is spent per book, it’s amazing town libraries have as many as they do. Town budgets only last so long and patron donations, while generous, don’t bring a huge selection of topics to the shelves. So next time you go to your public library, please say thank you. It’s not as easy as it looks.



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