(This story has been updated to include comments from the New York Public Library.)
One year ago, when HarperCollins Publishers implemented its 26-loan cap for library ebook lending, the new policy brought down upon the publishing house all the thunder that the library world could conjure — from petitions to boycotts.
But over the past year, as the library market has been further roiled, as other companies, such as Penguin Group, essentially stepped back from the market altogether, HarperCollins has remained not only committed to its model but also to the market. And for this, it is receiving from some librarians, if not praise, at least a sober reappraisal — even from some of those who are holding firm to their boycott.
“Librarians’ passionate advocacy of our titles is vital to our efforts and we remain committed to keeping our ebooks available in the library channel,” said Josh Marwell, Harper’s president of sales.
Marwell said that the 26-loan cap remains a work in progress, but no other business model has emerged in the past year that makes more sense to the company.
“We still think our decision was the right one because it fulfills our goal of continuing to make ebooks available to libraries at the same time speaking to our concern about how increasingly frictionless library borrowing could affect the emerging ebook ecosystem,” he said.
The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) in Ohio was not among the libraries that decided to boycott HarperCollins, and the Harper licensing model has not been an issue there.
“We have had no problems to date – smooth sailing,” said Robin Nesbitt, the technical services director for CML. “I’m not sure we’ve even hit the cap – so for all of the hand wringing out there, we have been just fine,” she said.
The Municipal Library Consortium of St. Louis County (MLC), which consists of nine independent community libraries in Missouri, has now changed its mind about the boycott it approved last year.
“A couple of months ago we started purchasing from them again,” said Tom Cooper, the consortium’s president and the director of the Webster Groves Public Library. “The reality on the ground is that it’s more generous than what we are getting from other publishers,” he said.
Anne Silvers Lee, the chief of the materials management division at the Free Library of Philadelphia, said she did not think they had yet hit the 26-use limit for any of their HarperCollins titles, but she wasn’t completely sure.
“The biggest issue for us with the HarperCollins licensing model continues to be figuring out where we are in the count,” Lee said. “I don’t know if the problem lies in how OverDrive is implementing this or if it’s because HarperCollins has asked that this be managed in a certain way,” she said.
For example, the illustration shown here for a Harper’s title, provided by Ted Bohaczuk, the orders librarian in Philadelphia, indicates there are 364 checkouts licensed, which translates to 14 copies (364 divided by 26). There are 68 holds, which is a hold ratio of 4.86 (68 divided by 14). But the displayed hold ratio is 5.67.
“5.67 would be the ratio if we had 12 copies. Have 2 copies been exhausted? I don’t know of any way to tell,” Lee said.
While this is a nuisance, Lee said she was “professionally pleased and relieved” that HarperCollins continues to partner with libraries.
“They’ve opted for this route while Random House has decided to increase prices,” Lee said. “But both companies have effectively signaled their continued commitment to doing business with us,” she said.
The New York Public Library has 5,120 HarperCollins titles in its e-collection, and, to date, none have exceeded the 26-loan cap, according to Miriam Tuliao, the assistant director, central collection development.
“Although the policy change slightly affected our ordering process, it did not alter our mission,” Tuliao said. “And we have greatly appreciated the broad variety of titles, both backlist and new, that we have been able to offer our patrons,” she said.
“Just this week, someone from the group emailed whether we want to revisit the boycott because so many aren’t willing to sell at all,” she said.
Others who are still boycotting, such as the North Texas Library Partners consortium, are more willing to make a nod in HarperCollins direction.
“Our consortium is frustrated with the availability of best-selling titles and would prefer a HarperCollins model over no availability of titles,” said Carolyn Brewer, the consortium’s assistant director, adding that when titles aren’t available it gives libraries an unjustified black eye.
“We probably are a little bit more understanding of their loan cap, even if we still are not sure we agree with the number 26, but we understand there may need to be some caps so [it’s more fair] to authors and publishers,” she said.
Marwell said that HarperCollins has been working with distributors to ensure libraries receive sufficient notification of titles with low remaining circulations, and, in addition to running ebook promotions for libraries and meeting with librarians, the company has signed on with other companies now offering ebook platforms, such as 3M and Baker & Taylor.
The objections over the past year have not gone unnoticed, Marwell said.
“It was good to be reminded of how strong a voice libraries have in the national life,” Marwell said.
But a number of librarians said the model still does not work for them.
“A lot of people have said the fact that they are willing to sell is better than those that won’t, but it’s always been a little bit more about the principle here,” said Timothy Burke, the executive director of the Upper Hudson Library System which does not lease electronic titles from HarperCollins. “We want to create a model that will work for everybody, and I know the American Library Association has been doing some good work in this area and having conversations at the highest level,” he said, referring to the ALA contingent that met last month with Macmillan, Simon&Schuster, Penguin, Random House, and Perseus publishers.
Burke said his system will have a contingent at the Public Library Association’s conference next month in Philadelphia, and that they intend to talk to publishers and OverDrive about what can be done to improve the situation.
“We understand the publishers are looking for a way to come up with a model that works for them, and libraries are willing to work toward that,” he said.
Iowa’s WILBOR consortium, the Nebraska OverDrive Libraries, the Kewanee Public Library, the the Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing consortium (C/W Mars), all are maintaining their boycott.
“We do have it in place. I don’t know how much good it’s doing because I don’t see them changing their position,” said Joan Kuklinski, the executive director of C/W Mars, which was one of the first organizations to boycott. “I’m watching with interest ALA”s effort to establish a dialog with vendors and publishers and hoping something comes out of that,” she said.