Libraries have a high motivation to pay for ebook licenses for the most popular works because the physical copies are under intense usage, and must be moved around in library trucks among branches and handled by librarians and clerks to move them on and off hold shelves. An ebook requires a few clicks, never degrades, nor is it “lost.”
Except when it doesn’t. HarperCollins put a limitation on its ebook lending for libraries: they may loan a book a total of 26 times within a license, and then it expires. Other publishers have circled around this notion, but not yet grabbed at it. It’s very appealing to them, almost skeuomorphic in the business model, as it lets them take a model for print publishing that is falling apart, and use copyright, licensing, scarcity, control, distribution, and cartel power to force an analog model into a digital world.
But physical books don’t typically fall apart after 26 loans. HarperCollins’ ebooks are disintegrated in a form of digital book burning, an extreme analogy only because they are copies of a perfect original. Nonetheless, such a license takes books a library has purchased at ostensibly full price and takes them away forever.