Just Another Brick in the Paywall

Just over a month ago, the library world blew up when OverDrive announced that ebooks from HarperCollins would have a limit of 26 uses, after which libraries would be required to buy an additional copy. Librarians, understandably, were not pleased.

Last week another limit to online access took effect. On March 28, the New York Times implemented a paywall. After using 20 articles within a month, visitors to nytimes.com will be asked to take out some kind of subscription. Subscribers to the print edition will have unlimited access. Little mention of this is being made in the library world.

Nonetheless, there do seem to be library implications. One presumes that IP addresses and cookies are the means by which NYT will track users and uses, and that subscriptions will be monitored with individual IDs and passwords. As of yet, there is no model for institutional access.

All these mechanisms present problems for access on public computers in libraries (or even on staff computers for that matter). Will particular computers begin prompting users for subscription or login information? How will we keep track of public use? What will be our response to the angry patron demanding access? It is unclear what will be the best response. Perhaps deleting cookies will reset the usage clock. Perhaps switching to a different browser will work, or moving to a different computer. Or do we tell patrons to buy their own subscription? All of those seem rather impractical in a library.

Yet librarians, it seems, are not very concerned. We typically have other online access to NYT through database aggregations. I would bet, however, that a large majority of NYT use on library computers happens through nytimes.com. We also have print subscriptions, which would entitle us to one online user per print subscription–we could just run around and log on each library user with our one password whenever the paywall kicked in. (Violation of TOS?)

Perhaps more than 20 NYT uses in a month on a particular computer will be rare, but I doubt it. It may be that NYT will quickly come up with a practical and affordable institutional solution. I doubt that too. Better start thinking about this.

One Comment on “Just Another Brick in the Paywall”

  1. Reeta Sinha says:

    There was an interesting piece on NPR’s All Things Considered on April 4–libraries and this whole eBook thing. “The Future of Libraries In the E-Book Age.”
    2 quotes from the piece:

    From the IT director of the Ann Arbor, Michigan district library:

    “E-books, says Neiburger, are really digital files, but libraries and publishers are still trying to deal with them as if they are just like print books. In other words, they’re trying to do business the way they have always done business.”

    From a sr. VP at Harper Collins:

    “I think the tension is, at the extreme, we could be making a book available to one national library on a simultaneous access model in perpetuity,” says Hulse. “And what that would mean is everyone in the country could check out that book for free at any time, and that’s not a commercially viable solution.”

    This extreme scenario seems, well, extreme, in my opinion. It’s disappointing if this is the sort of rationale being utilized by publishers. The ‘1 Library in the Sky” (or perhaps it’s ‘in the Cloud’ now) was a concern when electronic journals first started. It didn’t happen. And, here we go again.

    Read or listen to the piece at:


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