Its sales president, Josh Marwell, believes that's only fair: 26, he claims, is the average number of loans a print book would survive before having to be replaced. ... Clearly, printed books last a lot longer than 26 loans," says Philip Bradley, vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.I'm also skeptical that a print book only lasts 26 checkouts. And I'm interested in the topic since I finished reading an e-book edition of Neil Sheehan's "A Fiery Peace in a Cold War" that was "borrowed" from the Philadelphia Free Library. What's frustrating about HarperCollins' idea is that it tries to force a print-book scarcity business model upon e-books. That's unnecessary, and probably dumb. Why not come up with a new model that fits the new medium?
Here's what I suggest:
• Instead of forcing libraries to "purchase" e-books and then purchase replacement copies, publishers should set up a subscription-type licensing service. Charge the libraries (say) a $50 annual fee to make 100 e-books available. (I'm throwing out a number, here, for the sake of argument.) That gives the publishers the renewable source of income they need to continue operating without imposing silly rules.
• The libraries would be bound by somewhat similar rules as they are now. If they wanted to have, say, 10 copies of a "Harry Potter" book as part of their 100 licensed books, they could, but each book could only be checked out one at a time: If 10 people were already reading "Harry Potter" then subsequent readers would have to wait until a copy was free. That would prevent people from bypassing paid e-books entirely—lots of people want their copy of a book now, or they want access to their copy in something like perpetuity—leaving libraries in something like the same role they fulfill now. And libraries could revise their stock at any time, discarding five Harry Potter licenses when the book becomes less popular in favor of other selections.
Full-disclosure: This idea is inspired by my Macworld colleague Lex Friedman, who has written about wanting to see a "Netflix for e-books."
In any case, it's clearly silly to make a library purchase a "new" e-book when the "old" e-book hasn't (and can't) degrade in the same way as a print book. Rather than force libraries to live by a model that doesn't fit the digital medium, make a new model. HarperCollins' solution is short-sighted and doesn't actually serve its customers all that well.