I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.
Yesterday, Overdrive announced changes to ebook lending in libraries that include the disabling of an ebook after that copy has been checked out a certain number of times (26 to be exact). The company also announced that it would “review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library.”
Overdrive CEO Steve Potash makes it clear that these measures are required by “certain publishers” to allow library ebook lending. Today, Josh Hadro reported in Library Journal that Harper Collins is the publisher behind the move.
The title of this post is from The Empire Strikes Back, uttered by Darth Vader to Lando Calrissian: I will resist my inner dork, who really wants to go into great detail about their deal. Suffice to say in the movie, and in library ebook provision, the party with the most power can alter the deal whenever they wish. So in this scenario, is Darth Vader Overdrive altering the deal with libraries, or Harper Collins altering its deal with Overdrive? I would argue it’s the latter. If Overdrive is merely the messenger, these changes indicate that the broader deal between publishers and libraries with regards to ebooks has changed: library ebooks are disposable, and how libraries interact with their communities can now be scrutinized with amendments/corrections dictated by publishers’ demands.
I personally believe this is move by Harper Collins is motivated by reaction to the recent “ebookpocalypse,” fear of a digital future, and blunt primal need for material resources after moneys owned by Borders to many publishers are tied up in bankruptcy: Harper Collins is owed $25.8 million by Borders.
Regardless of motive, this situation exacerbates existing problems with regards to ebooks in libraries: publisher-mandated digital resource management impedes access (this decision means more DRM), ebook aggregators’ systems are already expensive (the new restrictions will force libraries to buy more copies…oops, sorry, I mean… acquire more licenses for popular titles, and as noted by the LJ article–that Simon & Schuster and Macmillan don’t provide ebooks to libraries at all–these systems in terms of content are grossly incomplete.
The Overdrive/Harper Collins moves also demonstrate that current econtent vendors, the handful of them, do not have enough power to fight back against the publishing industry. Libraries, by uniting our constituencies, represent a huge consumer market. Library Renewal represents great grassroots potential, and we can harness it in a way that reflects who we are as a profession, and on the needs of the American public. Right now, libraries need aggregators to fulfill our missions. But vendors, as do our customers, need libraries to advocate for the removal of obstacles to content.
The future of the library is discussed in many circles, which is a good thing. I believe that future will be built on how e-content problems are solved in the present. That is why this development is so important: our role as providers of ebooks will inform how libraries negotiate the provision of other electronic content.