CECS 5200: HarperCollins eBook Controversy


HarperCollins Library eBook Controversy

            In this experiment, we are to pick a side in the HarperCollins Library eBook controversy and defend it. The side that I would like to pick and defend is the side of the libraries against HarperCollins. I would like to argue that the model that Harper Collins has chosen is not only unfair and unreasonable but that this model also hinders a great civic benefit to the civilian populous.

All about the Money

            There is no doubt that the main driving force behind HarperCollins Publisher’s 26-loan cap on eBooks is money. In an open letter by Josh Marwell (2011), Harper’s President of sales, Marwell states,

“We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.”(Emphasis added)

This decrease in books sales and royalties are HarperCollin’s primary concern because they recieve a share of all book sales and royalties. According to DeFiore (2013), HarperCollins receives $7.87 profit for every $14.99 eBook sold while the author receives $2.62 per eBook sold in royalties. Authors receive twice as much from royalties with the hard copies (DeFiore, 2013). So while Mr. Marwell can decry the author missing their royalties due to the former eBook policy. The real loser according to the older policy would be HarperCollins. The loser with the new policy is the author and the libraries.

 What about Civic Duty?

            Another thing mysteriously devoid from Mr. Marwell’s letter is any reference to the services libraries provide to the community at large. While I am sure that not disrupting the eBook eco-system is a very important and economically delicate issue for such a large publishing company, the effects of such a policy on the populous at large is also an important issue. According to Bonfield (2013), two of the core values of libraries are access and preservation. Libraries exist to provide communities with access to information and resources that they could not otherwise have access to. Libraries are also important civic centers of preservation. For instance, in the Emily Fowler library located in Denton, Texas there is housed a plethora of data archives on the rich history of the city of Denton. This information is free to access for anyone with a library card. Without the Emily Fowler library, where would this information go? Where would historical records be held with easy access without libraries? Doesn’t HarperCollins also have a civic responsibility to assist libraries in maintaining access and preservation of knowledge?

Reasonable or Unreasonable? That is the Question

HarperCollin’s new policy removes eBooks from libraries’ shelves after 26 circulations (Reid, 2011). The question remains: Is such a policy reasonable for libraries?  Imagine a world where you enter a library to check out the latest hardcopy edition of Catching Fire or Harry Potter and are told, “Sorry, that book has been checked out twenty six times already and is no longer available. The publisher took it back and we are not able to repurchase the book at this time. Sorry again for the inconvenience.” Does this sound reasonable? Doesn’t a purchase of a product entitle the person to actual own the product? Do eBooks qualify as a subscription? I understand the economic benefits to HarperCollins for the policy but this policy is hardly reasonable or fair to libraries.

Advocates for HarperCollins will argue that since digital media cannot be damaged like traditional books, HarperCollins must implement some sort of way to equalize the penalty of cost associated with the permanent nature of eBooks.  Traditional books can be lost and wear out while eBooks cannot the argument goes. Granted, someone has to take a loss and any business would be expected to find a way to not be on the losing end but why should libraries, which serve the public interest, shoulder the burden? Couldn’t HarperCollins find a more meritorious way of equalizing the profit loss? What if HarperCollins donated the profit loss to the library for a huge tax write off? Surely, there are other alternatives?


In closing, I have tried to make a case for why this policy should be changed. Not only is this policy unfair to the authors and libraries alike, this policy hinders libraries from achieving two of their core values, access and preservation. Presently, HarperCollins seems to be winning the eBook battle between libraries. Only time will tell which side will ultimately win the war.


Bonfield, B. (2013). Ending a HarperCollins Boycott. In the Library with a Lead Pipe.Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2013/ending-a-harpercollins-boycott-february-27-2011-august-7-2013/

DeFiore, B. (2013). E-books and profitability—What we’ve always said and what publishers have always denied. AAR Digital Views and Rights Klatch. Retireved from http://aardvarknow.us/2013/06/04/e-books-and-profitability-what-weve-always-said-and-publishers-have-always-denied/

Marwell, J. (2011). Open Letter to Librarians. Library Love Fest. Harper Collins, Retrieved from http://harperlibrary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/03/open-letter-to-librarians.html.

Reid, C. (2011). Librarian unhappiness over new Harpes lending policy grows. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/46333-librarian-unhappiness-over-new-harper-e-book-lending-policy-grows.html.


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