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Harper Collins and some numbers

Day 364 - kindle!So after the Harper Collins Incident of the last couple of weeks, I thought it would be interesting to see, based on my library, what the numbers looked like for books that have circulated more than 26 times. Here are all the caveats, in hopes of derailing some of the questions that I’m sure this data will raise:

  • This is, roughly, 10 years worth of circulation data. The last major ILS migration happened 10 years or so ago, and the data from the decades prior to that is non-trivial to access or non-existent.
  • UTC has about 10K FTE students
  • Our circulation is, based on peer-institutions, ridiculously low. We are working on fixing part of the problem.

Now, the numbers: removing AV materials (DVD/VHS, audiobooks, CDs), reserve items, and things that don’t circ (journals, etc), we have 409,213 things in our catalog that qualify, mostly, as “books” and that are available circulation. That includes Reference, which only circulate to Faculty, but seemed worth including. Of those 409,213 items, the total number of them that have circulated more than 26 times in 10 years is:


Yep, that’s right. 126 books, or just about .03079% of our collection. Looking at the titles, that’s even including multiple copies of the same work (we have three copies of A rhetoric and composition handbook that are all on the list of >26, for example).

If you add the total number of times these books circulated, and divide each by 26 to determine how many additional books the library would have had to purchase IF they had all been eBooks under the Harper Collins rules, my library would have had to purchase an additional 148 books in order to meet the demand. That’s under 15 titles a year, on average. I don’t have average costs of Harper Collins ebooks handy, but if they followed the Amazon pricing model for eBooks, they would be between $9.99 and $14.99 each. Let’s split the difference and call the average price $12.99…that means my library would have to find an extra $194.85 a year to keep up.

I understand that eBook have the potential to circulate more often than print…the decrease in access time alone should push them to be more popular choices, if what we’ve seen happen to our print journals is any indication. I also know that one small academic library is the equivalent of anecdata in the grand scheme of libraries. But if we don’t look at numbers, and only look at rhetoric, I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

I still disagree with Harper Collins new eBook rules, but for a lot of reasons that don’t necessarily come down to “it’s horrible for my library”. It is, I think, a bad idea to change the rules of the game midstream, at least without a lot of input from all the concerned parties (and no, I don’t actually think that a lot of libraries were consulted about this change). But it’s also a bad idea, as I’ve said a few times now, to just assume that the digital needs to act like the physical. We need to find new ways of dealing with these things, and I hope that situations like #hcod are just growing pains.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

7 replies on “Harper Collins and some numbers”

I’m going to admit before saying anything that I have zero data to back this up. But. I suspect that in academic libraries we have more use of material that doesn’t result in a circulation tick. We have a lot of material that’s referencey, whether it’s in the non-circulating stacks or not. And those uses don’t get counted. There’s all sorts of weird arcane ways libraries have tried to capture this – the “string” method comes to mind. Certainly there is browsing in public libraries. But I think at least in fiction and popular non-fiction, use probably correlates more tightly with circulation. Again, that’s based on no data.

And meanwhile, at my medium-sized public library, we have over 3500 items that have circulated more than 100 times. If I did it as just over 26 times, it would doubtless be many, many more.

And we have a lot of books from HarperCollins. They publish Janet Evanovich. Need I say more?

Oh yeah. Laura…I expect the numbers to be very, very different at any public library of any size at all. But it would be really interesting to see HOW different. And to see if my small academic is similar to other academics on this front.

Agreed… I ran some numbers on my bestseller collection a few months ago and those alone checked out 30+ times, and those books were under 2 years old.

About the pricing – libraries actually pay more than Amazon or B&N pricing for ebooks, especially newer titles. I was looking at the HarperCollins titles in OverDrive’s Content Reserve Marketplace this morning, and the prices I saw were closer to $25. While it’s certainly annoying to have to purchase a second copy of something, libraries are used to that. My (and my library’s) bigger concern is about how this will change the ebook universe and what it will do to libraries’ ability to provide these materials for our patrons. Other publishers are bound to be watching very closely and will make their decisions about how to proceed based on how this works out for HC. Right now, libraries are being cut out of the decision-making process and will suffer for it.

At our library system, a quick and dirty search revealed over 8000 books that had circulated more than 26 times, many (most) of them less than 2 years old– and most of them more than 40-50 times circulated.

So, by your math– we’re out $104,000+ if we wanted to keep up. Not exactly chump change and indeed more than many public libraries’ annual collections budget.

In my paublic library we have 151,847 books that have gone out more than 26 times, which is around 27% of our collection. We have 7,126 books that have been checked out more than 100 times, or 1.2% of the collection.

So while I understand what Harper Collins is after, I don’t think they have the right solution. And the lack of consultation has guaranteed stiff resistance from libraries. It’s all stick and no carrot.

The “books on a shelf” model may no longer serve either libraries or publishers of e-content, but this first crack at a different business model is a failure. Publishers should offer libraries the advantages of flexible solutions that digital formats offers, such as just in time, customer-driven licensing. In exchange for metered-use licensing, the base price should be lowered. A little give and take of this sort would go a long way toward negotiating ebooks pricing that is fair for publishers and for libraries.

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