What Good Is An E-Book Only One Person Can Read?

What is the point of an e-book if only one user at a time can view it? I was thrilled to discover that a text for one of my classes was available as an e-book on Paley’s website, but it looked like another student had beat me to it. When I attempted to view the first chapter, I was notified that multiple users cannot access the e-book simultaneously. If websites can handle multiple visitors, than why not e-books? We are talking about two simultaneous readers – not 2,000. E-books are supposed to provide the flexibility that physical texts cannot provide. Is there any way that Paley’s e-book collection could permit multiple readers?

You do indeed raise a good question. If another student beat you to the physical version of the single copy of a  textbook in our collection there isn’t much you could do. You could put a hold (to be the next borrower) on it but that wouldn’t help you get it right away – which is what you want. Because pretty much everything on the Internet can be accessed immediately and by unlimited numbers of users (e.g., the latest cat videos on youtube). So it’s totally reasonable to expect that a library e-book would also be available, simultaneously, to more than one reader. The only problem is that commercially published e-books don’t always work that way. I asked our Head of Collections to provide some context for the problem you encountered:

While many of our e-book collections do allow for unlimited simultaneous users (see http://guides.temple.edu/ebooks for further info) other publishers think it necessary to limit the number of similtaneous users in order to protect their revenue from the sale of books.  This is particularly true in cases such as yours, where a book is serving as a text for a class.  From the publisher’s perspective, they stand to lose money if a library is able to purchase a single ebook which is then used by multiple students in lieu of the students each purchasing their own print or ebook copy.  In some cases, a publisher will allow multiple users for an ebook, but only if the library pays a very high price premium – something that we are unable to afford.  We agree that it certainly is counter-intuitive to have these sorts of artificial usage constraints on ebooks and would prefer to only offer unrestricted use ebooks, but, unfortunately the current library ebook market does not allow for this.

I hope this explanation is helpful to you. If you go to the ebook guide mentioned above you will see that quite a few of our ebook collections have no restrictions on simultaneous usage. We can only hope that eventually all the ebook publishers will catch on to the value of eliminating usage restrictions. As you say, even allowing 2 or 3 simultaneous users would help. We agree.