Ebooks and the library of the future

Harper Collins has determined that 26 loans is the average lifespan of a library book before they are replaced.  They have also decided that, in order to protect this revenue stream, ebooks be crippled so that they disappear after that amount of loans – forcing libraries to buy more “stock”.

Am I the only person that sees the inherent flaw in this argument?  No.  Librarians are up in arms over it.  Quite right too.  But there’s a more insidious concept creeping into the discussion – the software license.

Software has always been sold with a license.  This tells you what you can and can’t do with it and is, in effect,  a rental agreement.  There’s always been a grey market in used software (even though some court cases have ruled that licenses can’t be resold) but these are reliant on physical media.  It has also been proposed that some DVDs be sold with a limited lifespan – as far as I am aware, this never took off  (phew – think of the waste!).   I can’t think of a time when this concept has been applied to books … until now.

Books last  and I like having books around.  I like going back whenever I can to dip into my favourite ones whether it’s for research or  pleasure.  I think it’s fair enough to charge for replacing something physical when that needs to be replaced – but electronic files with a built in shelf life?  Really?  Is this something that the big publishing houses think is a truly good idea?

Two flipsides have occurred to me – and I don’t know if proponents of ebooks have really thought about this.

If you can get an ebook from a library for free – why pay?

If you can store a LOT of ebooks on digital media – and you can – why would you go to the library?

If both of those points come true – who is going to pay the authors?

Writers want to write stories that will be read, but should they be expected to be happy amateurs?  Is it fair to inflict crappy DRM and software derived licensing (ugh – the book EULA) on readers?  I don’t think so either.  There’s a happy medium somewhere even if I don’t know where it is.  I suspect the cloud option (a la Steam*) will be the end result.

That’s the world we live in.  As it is written so it shall be, “… you live in interesting times…”

*  but I still want physical books!

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