When it comes to library ebooks, the usual way for libraries to acquire them is to pay for licenses for individual copies and then loan the ebooks in what Eric Hellman colorfully named the Pretend It’s Print (PIP) model.
Now HarperCollins is popularizing a new model where libraries pay authors and publishers each time a book is loaned to a patron. HC has signed deals with Freading, Hoopla, and Rakuten's OverDrive to loan 15 thousand backlist titles under the new model.
In a major announcement ahead of this week’s 2017 ALA Annual Conference, HarperCollins has agreed to make a selection of its e-book backlist titles available to public library users on a multi-user lending model, via Midwest Tape’s hoopla digital platform.
Starting in July, the publisher will make about 15,000 e-book titles available via hoopla, including works from bestselling authors like Neil Gaiman, Louise Erdrich, and Dennis Lehane. The agreement builds on a 2016 deal that made HarperCollins’ digital audiobook backlist available to library users on the hoopla digital platform.
For library patrons, that means 24/7 access to titles in the hoopla collection—no waiting on a hold list. And for librarians, it’s an alternative to the complicated, inefficient licensing arrangements that have defined the early days of library e-book lending.
HarperCollins continues to offer its frontlist and most of its backlist e-books to libraries on a one copy/one user model, with e-book titles having to be re-licensed after 26 lends.
Freading has been offering this service since 2012 (today is actually the 6th anniversary of the announcement). Hoopla got into this market three years ago, and OverDrive announced only last month that they too were going to offer ebooks under what it calls the"cost-per-circ" model.
Coincidentally, HarperCollins is not the first major publisher to adopt this model. OverDrive revealed in its announcement last month that they had signed Simon & Schuster.
Hardly anyone noticed that detail at the time, but it's still incredibly important. It points to two of the five major US trade publishers having an interest in this model over five years after it first appeared.
If you're puzzled by the glacial response rate, Bill Rosenblatt suggested it may be due to the need to negotiate new contracts:
Publishers, meanwhile, get paid based on actual readership, not on a per-title basis. That’s good for them conceptually, because it makes libraries more like channel partners. So why are publishers slow to embrace this model — which hoopla digital has offered for e-books since 2014?
One reason is author contracts. Many author contracts don’t provide for handling royalties on much other than simple book purchases. From the perspectives of rights management and royalty processing, both e-book retail and PIP library e-book revenues can be treated similarly to print book sales. Things get difficult for publishers when they license into access models that fall short of purchases: sometimes they have to pay authors for each access as if it were a purchase, even if a user only reads a few pages, because the author contracts won’t allow otherwise.
Other major publishers like HMH and Hachette may also be interested, but could still be working on the contract issue.
Libraries are also showing no small interest in this model; PW reports that at this year's BookExpo trade conference, Hoopla boasted that more than 1,500 libraries had signed up for Hoopla (also some 2,500 publishers).
That is still only a tithe compared to the 35,000 or more that have signed with OverDrive under the more traditional "pretend its print" model, but it's a start.