From Steve Potash, OverDrive CEO:

Since Friday, we’ve heard directly from many library partners about the new eBook licensing terms instituted by HarperCollins. As an initial step, here is what OverDrive is doing about it.

Beginning March 7, we are making changes in the eBook ordering process. HarperCollins eBooks and their catalog of titles will be moved from our general eBook catalog to a separate collection. Until we have time to review the effect of these new terms with our library partners, HarperCollins eBooks will not be listed in our Library Marketplace. You will be able to review and order HarperCollins eBooks from a separated catalog, if you so choose.

For those librarians who are less familiar with me or OverDrive, we know that you have expressed concern that OverDrive failed to stand up for you and your readers in this situation with HarperCollins, and that OverDrive did not do enough to prevent these changes. This sentiment does not accurately characterize my and OverDrive’s work in the library market over the past decade, nor does it reflect our discussions with HarperCollins regarding these changes. OverDrive did not invite, recommend, or suggest the need for any changes in terms.

We did have an option to stop carrying or distributing HarperCollins eBooks to our library partners.  Instead of taking this approach, we made the decision to continue to make the world’s second largest publisher’s catalog of eBook titles available to you, communicate the changes in advance to our library partners, and offer the option to make informed purchasing decisions.

As a library advocate, my team has made dozens of presentations to publishers and their associations in the US and abroad communicating the marketing and discoverability, and the economic opportunities the library market represents to publishers. We are aware of the challenges you face because of increased demand, shrinking budgets, and incompatible devices entering the market. As a result, we are prompting publishers to consider less restrictive licensing for eBook and digital media lending. OverDrive’s advocacy efforts for libraries have been ongoing for most of the past decade, most recently with the UK Publishers Association and at Digital Book World 2011. Last year we also released a White Paper to encourage library eBook lending.

We are also a firm believer and supporter of open standards and greater compatibility for digital content. OverDrive was one of the founders of the IDPF (EPUB standard), introduced iPod-compatible MP3 Audiobooks (no DRM), provided thousands of DRM-free Project Gutenberg titles, and developed the first mobile apps for direct over-the-air access to library eBooks.  We proudly partner with for LEAP, which supplies accessible eBooks to your visually-impaired customers.

I have been listening to public librarians for more than 10 years on how you want your digital book lending system to work. We have visited with you in all 50 states (and a dozen countries) hosting events with your libraries, your associations, and via the Digital Bookmobile. We will continue to listen to your concerns and are actively asking for your direction, through initiatives like our OverDrive Library Advisory Council and our user group conference this summer, Digipalooza. We’re also following the unofficial channels with which many of you are already familiar (#HCOD).

I can promise you that we will make the OverDrive platform even easier to use for you and your customers. We will protect your ability to make informed choices and we will work with you to set the direction and policies that serve your customers’ interests. Most importantly, we will continue to innovate, invest, and advocate for libraries so readers will have the best options for accessing digital books, anywhere and everywhere.

Please help us determine how we can best serve your library by leaving a comment below.

51 Responses to “A message from OverDrive on HarperCollins’ new eBook licensing terms”

  1. Barbara Henry

    Thank you Overdrive. Your message is encouraging.

  2. Conrad Rader

    Thank you for the clarifications and your actions to date. I understand the position that Overdrive was placed in and the level of transparency you have chosen is commendable. At no time did I feel animosity towards Overdrive, or in fact towards Harper Collins. The terms they are pursuing are at this time not in the interests of the library, and so I appreciate the separation of their titles into a separate space. This helps me in the responsible use of library funds. Keep up the good work.

  3. Liam Hegarty

    I think putting HarperCollins in a separate catalog is an excellent idea. We have decided not to purchase any of their books until they reverse this policy and the separate catalog will make that much easier.

  4. Ruth Ann Copley

    As a founding member of the NC Digital Library, I would like to express my appreciation for the advocacy that libraries have received from OverDrive and especially Steve Potash in making available the best publishers have to offer to our borrowers. I am very sorry that HarperCollins has seen fit to view libraries as villains or pirates who would abuse borrowing privileges for titles. Anytime, we have a high-demand title we purchase more copies to try to meet the demand even as our budgets are being cut by our government funders. Already, we pay more for the privilege of lending these e-titles than those who have the wherewithal to purchase them for themselves from online e-bookstores.

  5. Natalie Binder

    Thanks Overdrive. I also appreciate your position and thank you for your support of public libraries in this matter. Putting HarperCollins’ books in an alternative catalog seems like a reasonable accomodation.

  6. Mike

    Two questions come to mind immediately:

    Are you actively pursuing other metered solutions that might be less burdensome upon our patrons and technical services departments?

    Moving forward, how do you plan on collecting and representing libraries needs and potential value to publishers. This blog?

  7. Mike

    A further question:

    Have publishers expressed to you, as libraries’ ebook advocate, what they see as our long term role in ebook distribution? Marketer, competitor or both?

  8. Lora-Lynn Kahler

    We are new partner still in development, but going live April 11th. My only question is what other DRM software tools are on the horizon? The Adobe Digital Editions installation & registration for a first time user breaks the flow of service (browse, checkout and download). What is this Bluefire software and are there any other options available for rights management that are less cumbersome for the user than Adobe Digital Editions?

    I appreciate all that your company has been doing for libraries and have been advocating to purchase your service for 4 years now. We finally go live in a month.

  9. kaye grabbe

    I think it’s too little too late. Downloading is very difficult for patrons and the continuing restrictions make it difficult for librarians to acquire and offer e books. I think we’ve lost the battle. As a national digital library develops, libraries will be able to offer those titles and the popular e books will be available commercially.

  10. Edmond Cooley

    Putting HarperCollins in a separate directory is preferable to not being able to provide their titles at all. Thank you for making that effort.

    The overall issue of DRM is very fluid at the moment. Further, there are competing, incompatible formats. Hopefully some resolution will be obtained in the near future.

  11. jessamyn west

    Thanks — hoping to not see too much meddling with how libraries determine who is and who isn’t a patron. I’ve been pleased to see you moving in no-DRM directions and recent communications in the face of this conflict have been exceptional. Loved your talk at the DPLA meeting today.

  12. LInda

    I have a problem with librarians who don’t seem to respect intellectual property rights. A national digital library is a naive idea that shows this disrespect. We won’t have people writing excellent books without the profit motive, just like we wouldn’t show up at work with being paid.

    Also, thousands of people per day manage to adapt to Adobe Digital Editions–it isn’t hard. It’s the price of admission.

    I think HarperCollins is overreacting with these new terms, but abuse by large consortia has led to this backlash. HarperCollins represents authors, whom I assume you support. Librarians need to appreciate the book industry so that it doesn’t go away.

  13. Dan Stasiewski

    @Mike Thanks Mike. As Steve mentions, we did not invite this change and we’re not actively pursuing any other circulation model changes. As always, our goal with any changes that affect our system is to design an improved user experience and minimal impact on readers and library staff members.

  14. Jae Bass

    Since Harper Collins is basically presenting a lease model for their titles where nothing is ever really “owned”, how about instead of limiting to 26 checkouts, they offer an umlimited use license that renews annually for a reasonable subscription fee? Isn’t this the way that it works with some of the other publishers?

  15. Lily

    I respectfully disagree with you, and feel that this sort of thinking is premature. We are very early in the digital-lending system, there will be kinks in the road. To speak so negatively and to give up on a solution so soon is a disservice to our patrons as well as allowing publishers to dictate the usage of materials to libraries. That is a bad precedent to set, and OverDrive is doing the right thing by treating HC differently. Our job is not to give up and say we lost; it is our place to inform our patrons of the debate surrounding the HC titles when they request them, and allow library dollars and patron voices to speak to the publisher. Libraries are to serve everyone, and e-books are the future. People should not have to purchase the books for e-readers, saying they will be available commercially is a cop-out. Downloading is not difficult, once you learn how, and library staff should be educated in how to assist those who cannot follow the video. Don’t give in to negativity.

  16. Ben

    I agree with Jae and Mike in wanting to know if Overdrive has pursued other possible solutions with publishers. It’s not so much that I see Overdrive as an enemy here, but they’ve not been wholly transparent in their dealings, referring simply to oblique ideas like “not inviting this change.”

    Did they offer other alternatives that might be more palatable (such as the aformentioned subscription model)? Are there other changes in the works that we don’t yet know about? I feel that libraries preparing to renew, and even those that are not, have the right to know how these dealings were conducted and how they might be conducted going forward. At least if the term “partner” means something.

  17. Eric P.

    Thank you for moving Harper Collins books into a different catalog. My library will not purchase e-books from Harper Collins until they change their policies and this makes it easier not to accidentally give them a dime of our money. Thanks

  18. Linda

    Thank you for the update. I agree we are in new territory; let’s not take one situation and paint it as a pattern. I am surprised that publishers don’t recognize this also. They will sell libraries print books for cover price, and don’t blink at the number of circulations. Yet somehow they (and we) are guilty of trying to create new models for nonprint formats where they do not need to exist.

  19. Mike

    Ben raises some key questions. It has nothing to do with being an enemy. We’re all trying to figure out this ebook business from our own perspective. But rather, moving forward, how can we know that Overdrive is representing our best interests and presenting alternative business models to publishers so that librarians don’t have to end up fighting the battles with only press releases as background.

  20. Jennifer

    What are you doing to protect patrons private data?

    “Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.).”

    You aren’t exactly holding yourselves up as the protector of patrons in either privacy or digital access.

  21. Wendy Reynolds

    Thank you for this update. I think the idea of segregating HC titles into a separate catalogue is an inspired move, allowing librarians to make informed choices.

  22. Mark Dellenbaugh

    Have you explored Netflix-inspired models? The truth is, demand for bestsellers is not linear. If there has to be a cap on per-license circulations, could we opt to have all 26 circs simultaneously? Try expaining waiting lists for digital files to Joe Q. Public.

    Think about it. Thanks!

  23. Herman

    I am a poor retired accountant, but HarperCollins decision does not make sense ($.00). If hard copy books can be loaned out for 200 or 300 times (or more) before the library has to buy a new copy (if it is a classic and only if it was treated badly) then why after 40 some times does the library have to buy a new electronic version?
    I could see after maybe 300 downloads this decision, but only 40?

  24. Tish Lowrey

    Let’s hope that HarperCollins sees the problems with their plan sooner rather than later. I try to keep in mind that HarperCollins was the first really big publisher to make a lot of frontlist content available through OverDrive. They were willing to take a risk when most others were still afraid that their titles would be “napstered”. This is a challenging time and we are all trying to figure out what is best for our organizations and customers. Since I think it unlikely that we will automatically re-license any title after 26 checkouts, we are going to need some new circulation data in order to make good decisions about HarperCollins titles.

  25. Terry Palin

    While I can appreciate HC’s thinking – if indeed it is for the protection of authors and not for HC’s bottom line – I am concerned about the bookkeeping nightmare that will hit us. Each e-title will hit that 26 circ mark at different times and we will spend much precious time renewing these licenses. The suggestion from Jae that there be an unlimited license for a year – like OverDrive’s Max Access – might be a compromise. Preferably, HC will get innundated with “hate mail” on this topic and change it’s business mind, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also concerned that this is just the beginning…

  26. Barbara Henry

    What specific librarians serve on the OverDrive Library Advisory Council especially the Content and Licensing task force which is charged to “develop new content models and prioritize the acquisition of digital content.” What was their role in the process that ended up with the current HC model. Who determines who serves on this advisory council?

  27. Jackie

    I think the library community is trying to fit the digital ebook market into the print model. I agree with many that Harper Collins limit of 26 circulations is unreasonable. We can usually get upwards of 50 circs on a hardcover print book before it becomes unfit for circulation. However, I also know that we do not leave books in our collection forever. If they don’t circulate, if they’re nasty, we get rid of them and repurchase, if necessary. Why should we expect Harper Collins to provide access to their ebooks indefinitely. I think the subscription or fee per checkout model is much more attractive from all standpoints. There is already a model available to libraries in musice that is basically a fee per use model. Why wouldn’t this work for ebooks.

    Concerning Overdrive, I too feel that their “transparency” is a bit more opaque than they’d like us to believe. Their statements – the original and this new one – are chock full of great soundbites that don’t hold a lot of substance. In the end, Overdrive is as concerned about selling content as Harper Collins is about selling books. If we trust Overdrive to be the library advocate, we’re doing something akin to letting the fox guard the hen house. Harper Collins has provided an email contact for this discussion. I urge all librarians to take advantage of that and be your own advocate.

  28. Barbara

    Thank you for separating out Harper Collins titles. That will make it much easier to see what to buy…..and not to buy. I too worry that this will escalate to other publishers.

  29. Barbara Kruger

    We appreciate all that you do for libraries and understand this is a Harper Collins decision. Therefore we have removed all HC books from our current carts and will continue to not purchase their materials until they understand libraries.
    We look forward to the overdrive site improvements. Thank You

  30. ALA

    Thank you, OverDrive, for your help and for standing by us libraries to the best of your abilities in this mess. We appreciate you.

    And we LOVE that you have removed HC titles from your regular catalog. 🙂

  31. The Giggler

    Libraries have historically been a place for books to be stored and copied yes?

    Now that everyone has the potential to become a library…

    Attn: Overdrive

    If you want monies, you should probably figure out a way to make monies from individuals copying and sharing books. At the moment all I can see is retaining of a purchase link within the shared book itself. This lets all books be shared openly and still lets money flow, perhaps even more money than before.

    I disregard the idea that people will no longer pay for something that they have essentially already received and read for free. This idea paints humanity as insane, incapable of recognizing the need for artistic work to be sustained.

  32. Lucy

    I’m sure this will be viewed as heresy, but, after my initial surprise/anger at Harper Collins’ new model, I took some time to think it through. We don’t purchase a copy of a regular book in perpetuity. It wears out and we have to make a decision whether or not to replace it. Why should eBooks be any different?

    I appreciate that Overdrive is placing the Harper Collins items in a separate catalog rather than just not providing them. We would be missing out on many popular titles if this were to happen.

  33. Deb Czarnik

    I’ve been out of action the last couple of days, so I haven’t been able to put my angry 2 cents in, but must of it has been covered by my esteemed colleagues. But here’s one little detail that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. No lending system can really tell how a book is being used during a checkout. Does 26 checkouts really mean 26 real uses of an e-book, or a print book for that matter?? I think not. I have many patrons who’s reading appetites are bigger than they can manage. They checkout too many books, and cannot read them all, so they check them out again. and again. Should a checkout count against this 26 limit, if the e-book was never “cracked open”, so to speak? Definitely not, but there’s no way one will ever know. So 26 checkouts is even less of a value than we realize.

  34. Dan Stasiewski

    Thanks everyone for your feedback. We’ve heard a lot of tech related questions, how this will affect staff and patrons. We’ll have more info on that soon.

  35. ialib

    26 checkouts in a consortium, or even an individual library, isn’t very many. I can see maybe saying after something like 2 years – when we wouldn’t be likely to replace anything except popular series.

  36. Sean

    @Deb C
    That’s a great point. If for no other reason, the 26 limit is too low because not everyone that checks it out will actually read or “consume” the book and we probably won’t get 26 reads out of it. It’s not a good value for the library in $ per a read.

    I don’t like the idea of a any expiration limit with library ebooks but I would be more comfortable with a larger number such as 50 or 60. 26 just seems to low to be a good value for library purchase. An ebook should “last” at least a couple years.

    I would also be comfortable with more expensive pricing when a book is new versus an older book, similar to the hardcover pricing of a book for a year or so before the paperback is released. I could understand the publishers asking higher prices for OverDrive ebooks during the first 12-16 months after its publication. If a library wants to add a “new release” or high demand book to it’s ebook collection, it has to pay more. But then such a book shouldn’t self destruct after such a short period of 26 checkouts. It should last several years before a library would need to relicense it.

  37. Carol Trais

    As Deb mentioned, the same person may be checking out a title not reading it, and checking it out again. I am very pleased that HC titles are being removed from your regular catalog. I do feel that it will be a real problem if titles remain in our Overdrive catalog after usage has been met, and we don’t want to renew. What are the logistics involved? Does OverDrive notify us? Will there be separate stats for HC in reports?

    • Dan Stasiewski

      Hi Carol, as a start, Content Reserve will show available checkouts in Reports, plus throughout the ordering portal. There will be an alert system set up as well, and we’ll have more information about how this will work and the affect on patrons soon. We’ve heard from many who are concerned with the title appearing in the catalog beyond the 26 checkouts, so we are taking that into account as the platform changes develop.

  38. David G. Wirth

    I am pleased to see that problems with Overdrive are being addressed. Overdrive is not operating at anywhere near a satisfactorily efficient level.
    In our area, less than 10% of posted non-fiction titles are available for immediate download. As a partial solution, I believe that patrons must be given a more user friendly means of returning books early. Adobe Digital editions is far to difficult to download and use for any patron not highly skilled and knowledable in computer technology.
    Perhaps a nominal fee for each use to help compensate authors and publishers
    so that copywrite problems can be reduced.
    I have heard some talk of people looking to have the ebook distrubution “privatized”. These people are not satisfied with the time delays
    inherent in the Ontario Libraries and overdrive agreements and I can certainly
    understand why!

  39. Carol Coffey

    Frankly, the information about how this will work technically needs to be presented sooner rather than later. We need to know if we’re going to be stuck explaining to patrons that they can’t check out a title they can very well see in our catalog because we’ve chosen to not renew the license. We also need to know if our overworked selection librarians are going to have to manually check for soon-to-expire licenses or if they’re going to get some sort of alert. I’m having a hard time believing these questions never came up when OverDrive was planning how to handle this. The fact that Steve’s original email simply told us that “a publisher” would be doing this and promised to tell us who it was with very little time between the promised revelation and the date when the change would go into effect does NOT give me very warm and fuzzy feelings about OverDrive right now. Neither does the fact that I’ve asked these technical questions of our rep and have yet to even receive an acknowledgment of my email, much less answers to my questions. This is an OverDrive PR fail as far as I’m concerned.

  40. Ivy

    I am so glad to see the general solidarity in the library community against this decision. It will end up working out when the market forces it to do so. The music industry went through this, and now the book industry is going through it. I just hope it’s sooner, rather than later.

  41. Dan Stasiewski

    @Carol Coffey Thanks for your feedback. We posted a Critical Alert in Content Reserve this morning with additional tech information. If you don’t have access just contact your library’s OverDrive administrator and they can provide the information currently available.

  42. Carol Coffey

    @Dan Stasiewski
    Dan, actually I am our administrator and I’m looking at the critical alerts in Content Reserve. Unless it’s linked from someplace other than the Content Reserve homepage, the only HarperCollins alert I see is from March 2. The header says that it’s updated, but the alert doesn’t seem to contain any information other than what we were told last week. It doesn’t answer either of my questions.

  43. Grace Allen

    I am surprised to see that these comments are so reasoned and well thought out. I believed I would see far more anger and activism in the form of informing as many patrons as possible of the Harper-Collins action. And encouragement to pass the word as widely as possible to boycott HC and any other of the publishers that attempt to engage in such practices. This is the 21st century. Publishers still want to treat their customers as though it’s still the 19th. Clearly they will have to be dragged into this century, kicking and screaming, much as the music industry was..

  44. UNIT 411

    You aren’t Evil, and you could have been. It seems you are taking a reasonable stand. And I think we are all thankful for that.

    I think now would be a good time to approach simon and schuster as well as macmillan, make a nice deal.

  45. Kate N. Ryan

    I just posted my suggestion for libraries, Overdrive and publishers on my site at, but it boils down to this: libraries embrace the idea of licensing a certain number of check outs (what number still to be worked out), encourage all publishers to do the same, but require simultaneous check outs rather than sequential.

    Imagine it, a patron goes to the download collection and all the titles are available to check out instantly. When a title has reached the limit of the license it is automatically hidden until or if the library selectors renew the license. Much better service for patrons, while supporting authors, and I think it’d encourage more people to try out e-readers.

  46. Elvenrunelord

    Perhaps you should start listening to the patrons desires as well considering we are increasingly the number one source for funding into the library system since the government is hellbent on eliminating every single social safety net service we have in this nation.

    I think you would have made a huge impression in the minds of HarperCollins if you had decided to no longer carry their titles in your catalog. As a support of the HarperCollins boycott, I certainly will not be reading any more of their books ever.

    Companies have to learn there are consequences for their actions and sometimes a “opps I’m sorry, it won’t happen again” is not enough. Quite simply, HarperCollins is engaged in a war against the transition to digital information exchange.

    If you read the report you can find by clicking my name, you will learn how DRM, and especially HarperCollin’s ideas on how ebooks should be treated in the future are a serious threat to national security and could lead to an informatio crisis in the event of a disaster serious enough to knockout major parts of the internet.

    Since DRM needs centralized servers to operate, those without access would be prevented from utilizing ebooks available locally.

    The bottom line is that most consumers find this and other aspects of ebook publishing that is being pushed down out throats unacceptable. When I spend money on a product, I expect to own it, not a license than be revoked for any reason at any time.

    Other publishers like O’Reilly media and Baen books have moved past this paranoia and embraced the digital ebook age and have a great reputation amongst consumers. Sadly this is something HarperCollins does not seem to care about.

  47. Elvenrunelord

    Linda, are you out of your mind?

    A national digital library is exactly what we need, one who also has secure backups in many different places to prevent the lose of the entire sum of human knowledge as we creep toward 100% digital storage.

    This is not a matter of respect. many authors are making good money with ebooks and frankly, not many are concerned with these issues at all other than wondering if their publisher is going to survive considering some of the anti-digital luddites who apparently work there.

    Consumers are rightfully confused about checkout limits on digital files when with the push of a button you can make 1000 copies in seconds. Why should we look at things from the scarcity model of physical books when that scarcity model does not apply in the digital world?

    Concern about their books being Napsterized? What a lovely idea. A NetFlix inspired service for ebooks would be a wonderful thing for consumers and authors alike. Would allow authors to skip expensive publishers and have a ready made market for whatever they write. It might not be as much money up front, but over time, residual income is a clear winner for authors and their families.

    I am currently working on a residual income model right now and estimate I will be making a middle class income for the rest of my life within the next few years, even if I never lift a finger to do work again.

    Your writing can help you do the same if you are an author. I know, because I am already doing it.