Do E-Books Have An Expiration Date?

by Emily Price | February 26, 2011

Part of the draw of e-books (to me at least) is that they will theoretically last forever. Barring a small fire attacking every single computer and backup service I use, the e-books I purchase should be with me forever, more than I can say for my paperback collection.

According to Harper Collins, however, e-books have an expiration date. The publishing company has told libraries that after a book has been checked out 26 times that it is no longer readable, requiring the library to purchase another virtual copy of the book if they want to continue to let people read the title.

According to a letter sent to libraries from OverDrive, the company that provides digital books to libraries:

“To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).”

26 seems like a pretty low number. I know there are thousands of books in my own local library that have been there for decades, and based on the cards in the back of them I know they’ve been checked out far more than 26 times.

From a writer standpoint, however, I can understand the writer (and publisher) of a book wanting to be able to make $$ off a book that is obviously popular. Smart e-book readers are often borrowing rather than buying books. The writer (an consequently publisher) shouldn’t have to suffer for publishing a title in an easy to share format. I think it makes more sense to count the number of times a book has been read all the way, or raise the cap to something closer to 50 or 100 before requiring an additional purchase. Maybe just charge a more for the library version in the first place to cover a lifetime of checkouts?

What do you think about the poilcy? Should publishers be able to limit the amount of times an e-Book is shared?

[via ReadWriteWeb]



Emily Price

Emily has been obsessed with computers since the early 80s when she discovered she could play Ghostbusters on her father's Commodore 64. She...