HarperCollins has changed its agreement with the main distributor of e-books to libraries: e-books will now become inaccessible after 26 checkouts.
I understand publishers’ desire to limit ebook access so that selling one copy doesn’t serve the needs of the entire world. But think about what this particular DRM bomb does to libraries, one of the longest continuous institutions of civilization. Libraries exist not just to lend books but to guarantee their continuous availability throughout changes in culture and fashion. This new licensing scheme prevents libraries from accomplishing this essential mission.
It’s beyond ironic. Until now, libraries have in fact had to scale back on that mission because there isn’t enough space for all the physical books they’ve acquired over the years. So, they get rid of books that have fallen out of fashion or no longer seem important enough. Now that the digital revolution has so lowered the cost of storage that libraries can at last do far better at this culture-building mission, a major publisher has instituted the nightmare culture-killing license.
So, why do I say that HarperCollins has lost its soul instead of just criticizing it for this action? Because I don’t see how this scheme could make sense to a publisher unless the publisher had given up on books as a primary way we build a culture together. If you cared about books as vehicles of ideas and not just vehicles of commerce, you would have dismissed with contempt an idea that treats them as evanescent as chatter on a call-in show.