Libraries Could Preserve Ebooks Forever, But Greedy Publishers Won’t Let Them

Caitlin McGarry, reporting for Gizmodo: There are currently 342 potential borrowers waiting for 197 digital copies of Ronan Farrow’s investigative thriller Catch and Kill at the Los Angeles Public Library. […] Why can only one person borrow one copy of an ebook at a time? Why are the waits so damn interminable? Well, it might not surprise you at all to learn that ebook lending is controversial in certain circles: circles of people who like to make money selling ebooks. Publishers impose rules on libraries that limit how many people can check out an ebook, and for how long a library can even offer that ebook on its shelves, because free, easily available ebooks could potentially damage their bottom lines. Libraries are handcuffed by two-year ebook licenses that cost way more than you and I pay to own an ebook outright forever.

Ebooks could theoretically circulate throughout public library systems forever, preserving books that could otherwise disappear when they go out of print — after all, ebooks can’t get damaged or lost. And multiple library-goers could technically check out one ebook simultaneously if publishers allowed. But the Big Five have contracts in place that limit ebook availability with high prices — much higher than regular folks pay per ebook — and short-term licenses. The publishers don’t walk in and demand librarians hand over the ebooks or pay up, but they do just…disappear. “You think about Harvard Library or New York Public Library — these big systems that, in addition to lending out stuff for people to use, are also the places where we look to preserve our heritage forever,” said Alan Inouye, the American Library Association’s senior director of public policy and government relations. “You can’t do that if it’s a two-year license.”

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