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ebooks, renting & location location location

Thanks to @librarianbyday on Twitter I found out about OverDrive’s partner update email. Then from @librarythingtim  on Twitter, I heard of HarperCollins limiting check for ebooks to 26. Twenty-six!

@librarythingtim tweeted about not ‘owning’ ebooks. We don’t own ebooks and never have. It is rental with strings. Many strings. Strings that change at the whim of the puppetmaster. Who recalls the Kindle/1984 phenomena? It wasn’t that long ago and yet it seems to be wiped from memory.

Let me remind you. Because of an internal ‘glitch’, Amazon reached out across all Kindles and removed all copies of Orwell’s 1984 – whether it was purchased or not. Wiped it off. Erased. This means those who had indeed purchased this tome and then had taken the trouble to mark the text, customize to their desire, lost it. Completely lost it. Of course Amazon apologized.  [and is it not hysterically funny that it was THAT particular book?] 

We have ‘rented’ e-content since e-content became available. Ask ANY serials librarian about how e-titles disappear, reappear, change the ‘access’ dates or ask the database librarians who deal with the same thing regardless of the promise of the vendor. The publisher makes a change (URL, IP, coverage dates, title, etc.) and ZING, it’s gone. Yes we protest (when we discover the loss) and often, if it is an individual subscription, can get it back but the damage is already done by then.

The repercussions of these changes at OverDrive and HarperCollins have far-reaching potential. If their strategy works for libraries, how long before it goes to the individual level? That when I purchase an eBook I have 26 times to open it before it is locked? Or 35? Or 5?

Alarmist? Perhaps. But I am not the only one, again from Twitter I discover Boycott HarperCollins (go to #hcod to read more on Twitter) and this tweet:

librarythingtim  While hating on HC, take time to praise @orbooks, @cursr—publishers that have gone other way on ebook lending, w/@OpenLibrary

Awesome people AND publishers are out there, we just need to support them.

Now, that’s the renting/owning. Let’s look at geography. This is something that seems to be not in the Twitter world, or rather I have not found it there.  All focus is on the TIMES of access and not the PLACE, which also needs to be addressed. Or perhaps this is the goal? Put something very inflammatory in the contract and focus goes to it – the other ‘little’ things are ignored. But then, I am a bit of cynic. 

In OverDrive’s partner update email, they also state:

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.).

Well that sounds innocent enough! It sure does! But it has deep implications. One of the comments on the article addresses this best (I’m cutting/paste the relevant bit, read the comments for the full post):

 DF says:
February 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm
…What bothers me more is the possibility of geographic restrictions on users. A huge number of my library’s users are military personnel. The soldier may have a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan, but he/she is still a resident of our city and his/her property taxes help support our library. Our library cards remain in force for 3 years, so he/she is still a patron in good standing. Why shouldn’t this soldier be able to use our download service while stationed elsewhere as long as it is not a permanent duty station? And what about the business traveler who spends a great deal of time on the road? Should that person really be penalized just because they aren’t nearby whenever downloading?…

Pfft, Carol, this is just silly now!  How the heck can they monitor this other than by our circ records?   When you access a website it records where you are coming from. It uses information from your computer AND your IP address. So – if you are accessing from an IP not issued in that geographic area…  Oh maybe all libraries have to get proxy servers to work around this? Instead of logging into the site with a username/password, perhaps we’ll have to authenticate via a proxy server first? I know some do this already but many do not – they simply have a username/password to get in, usually the patron’s card number and perhaps a PIN. Sometimes it is just the patron’s card number.

Perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. I hope so. I hope I look back at this post and think “How silly I was!”.  I want to get to utopia but I think we still have a way to go.

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  1. April 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    “If their strategy works for libraries, how long before it goes to the individual level? That when I purchase an eBook I have 26 times to open it before it is locked? Or 35? Or 5?”

    I think this particular fear also came up on some book blogs I read. I have absolutely no trust in big publishers, and I could totally see someone on the decision-making end of things saying, “You know, we did this with libraries, telling them that they should be okay with it because print books wear out, and this just makes things more fair in the e-book world. Why can’t we do the same thing to individual consumers? Brilliant!”

    • April 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      I seem to recall an early CD-ROM experiment like this – the CD ceased to work after one had ‘flipped’ to the last page. As I recall it had something to do with winning a prize, so the reader was only allowed one look thru…or I might have dreamt it.
      In a way, the New York Times has moved to this model – you have X many articles you can read for ‘free’ before the paywall goes up. Reckon we’ll see how that goes for them and others will adopt if it works.

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