The Problem with Hoopla’s Pay-Per-Loan Model

Publishers like HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have recently shown increased interest in the pay per loan library ebook services offered by Freading and Hoopla, but at the same time libraries are pulling back.

Publishers like this model because they get paid each time a work is loaned to a patron.

At first, librarians also liked the model because it meant they would not have to pay full price to get copies that might go unused, but then the monthly bills started arriving and the honeymoon ended.

The Problem with Hoopla's Pay-Per-Loan Model Library eBooks

Many libraries have imposed caps on their Hoopla offering. Some have reduced the number of works a  patron can borrow each month while others have set a limit on the number of loans made each calendar day.

Sonoma County Library, which is located just north of San Francisco, has a daily lending limit which resets every day at 8pm eastern, while on the other side of San Francisco the San Jose Public Library now limits patrons to only borrowing 6 works each month.

The SJPL made it clear that the problem was the cost of Hoopla:

We love this resource, and we want everyone to have a chance to use it.  That means that we have to figure out a way to make our payment model fair for everyone.  After giving it a great deal of thought, we have decided that a way we can make Hoopla available to every one of our users is to decrease the monthly limit from 8 items to 6 items.  This will take effect on November 1.  We hope that this will help us manage the cost so that we can keep providing this great content!

The West Fargo Public Library in North Dakota has also reduced its monthly limit.

The Appomattox Regional Library also cited budget constraints as the cause of their daily lending limits. "Due to an increased number of users on the service and with the budget amount allocated for Hoopla, we are finding that the budget caps we have in place for daily usage and monthly limits are being reached much more quickly than in the past, the FAQ reads. "We are working on a solution and are so grateful that such a large number of patrons are interested in using Hoopla."

And then there is CLEVNET, a consortium of 43 library systems in northern Ohio. The Sandusky Register reports that CLEVNET offered Hoopla for a year and then dropped it because the cost was double what had been anticipated.

Many of the libraries that make up CLEVNET decided to keep Hoopla and fund it out of their respective budgets. Few have had trouble with funding, but then again only 2% or 3% of their patrons are signed up. As that number grows, the libraries are bound to be facing a budget crunch.

image by Changhai Travis

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Anthony26 June, 2017

    The Seattle Public Library offers Hoopla, with a set limit of 20 items per month. Which is apparently generous versus a limit of a half-dozen or so items.

  2. MKS26 June, 2017

    Seattle and King County Libraries use Hoopla for streaming videos and music and comic books, but not e-books. For e-books they use Overdrive, which does the “Pretend it’s Print” model.

  3. Tom Semple27 June, 2017

    San Francisco Public Library limit is 20 items: books (including comic books, ebooks, and audiobooks), music, and video. It is hard to see how many ebooks are available, but they seem to be a different mix than what is offered through Overdrive. SFPL, like SJPL, is one of 5 California libraries which any CA resident can get a card from, so it gets state funding as well as local funding. As such it has a pretty good selection compared to ‘local’ libraries (probably 70,000 titles in ebooks).

    1. Tom Semple27 June, 2017

      I should say ‘Hoopla’ borrowing limit. Overdrive is also 20.

  4. Chris Weber27 June, 2017

    Cuyahoga County Library limit for Hoopla is 100 items. I don’t think there is a format limit?

  5. Sarah27 June, 2017

    To be fair, many libraries put limits on lending physical materials as well to make sure there’s enough to go around for everyone with what has been purchased with the budget available. You might be limited to 2 DVDs/day or 50 items total checked out at one time or any other limit that allows libraries to balance demand with availability.

    I’m not saying Hoopla isn’t expensive, because it is, but reasonable limits are how libraries can afford to serve everyone, and that’s not a new concept or even necessarily a bad thing.

  6. […] it is closer to renting than borrowing, and it comes with financial issues; some libraries have had to impose usage limits to keep from exceeding their […]

  7. PJL23 October, 2017

    MKS, you said Seattle does not use Hoopla for eBooks; what about audiobooks?

  8. Abby26 October, 2017

    I live in a small town. We have hoopla. It started at 5 per month the. Went down to 3. And now it seems like any time I try to order a book the library has already reached its cap.. it’s frustrating!!!!

  9. Mark Roirm5 April, 2018

    Hoopla advertises to libraries as free, but then you get hit with the bill which is shockingly high, especially in rural/low-income areas where any supposedly “free service” is readily embraced by patrons. And don’t forget the “free” data-mining patrons provide even though their tax dollars pay for the service.

  10. Chuck Koehler23 July, 2018

    very disappointing. The Houston Public library will only allow 2 checkouts per month excluding e-books and audio books beginning in August. I only checkout e-books because I like the convenience of not having to return physical books or forgetting to return and incurring a late fee.


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