Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Wearing out an eBook

Don't you hate it when you wear out an eBook, or when someone tries to palm off a worn out ebook file on you? And I don't mean when you drop the reader into the bath and the annihilation of your e-library flashes before your eyes.

No, I mean when the electronic-book file itself gets all tattered and torn, with pages you can't open without one of those rubber thumb things, or when the pages are so underlined and covered in comments that you can't read them any more, or when pages are missing, and when the book has that smell that ebooks get when someone has left them with their burger or their fish-and-chips. In short, when the file reaches that point when a conscientious electronic-book distributor would retire and replace it.

No? You don't? Well, HarperCollins have been worrying about this and have decided that—in order to avoid these problems, and in order to demonstrate the vast superiority of ebooks to actual books—their eBooks will be "available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached." They have determined "the total number of permitted checkouts" that "library ebook vendors will be able to circulate" is 26. That is right, 26, after that the license expires and a bright, shiny new electronic-book file must be purchased.

Josh Marwell, President, Sales for HarperCollins, told [Library Journal] that the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies

Of course, this announcement has no implications whatsoever for those who have been snapping up e-texts from "the sparkling digital pond" that Nicholson Baker talked about in Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (New York: Random House, 2001). No, no, it is not a warning that replacing hard copy books or journals with digital files and then ditching the originals (individually or collectively) may not be a great idea. Because it is obvious that no other publisher of ebooks will follow suit or extend their duty-of-care in this way.

For (a lot) more on this, see here.

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