DON'T MESS WITH LIBRARIANS

Public libraries are among the most respected institutions in our society. Beloved even. So why does Rupert Murdoch think he can get away with trying to squeeze them for another nickel in profits?

Public libraries are among the most respected institutions in our society. Beloved even. So why does Rupert Murdoch think he can get away with trying to squeeze them for another nickel in profits?

Among other things, this multibillionaire, right-wing media mogul owns HarperCollins publishing house, and among its products are e-books. These downloadable, digital publications are increasingly popular with the reading public. Librarians like them because e-books don’t get tattered, torn, or lost, even after they’ve been repeatedly lent out. Good product, happy librarians, happy patrons. What could go wrong?

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Rupert, that’s what. In March, his publishing entity suddenly decreed that libraries will be allowed to lend out Harper e-books only 26 times. After that, the corporation will pull the plug, effectively taking the book off the shelf. Bear in mind that libraries pay for these books, which are usually priced at about $13 to $16 each. And remember that, physically, e-books can be checked out hundreds of times.

So what in the holy name of Gutenberg is going on here? Money grubbing. By enforcing an arbitrary expiration date, HarperCollins can force libraries to buy the e-book again, or disappoint patrons waiting to get it. Also, Harper honchos fear the competition, saying that if libraries can keep the book available for free over a long period of time, people won’t buy the book for themselves, thus pinching poor Rupert’s profits.

He might get something else pinched if he doesn’t back off. At a time when library budgets are being whacked, staff let go, and hours reduced, this ridiculous corporate ripoff has galvanized many librarians into action, with some choosing to boycott HarperCollins e-books. To get involved, contact the American Library Association: www.ala.org.

“Library E-Books Live Longer, So Publisher Limits Shelf Life,” The New York Times,” March 3, 2011.

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