back to article Library e-books to become too tatty to lend

Does an e-book wear out? If it’s from publisher HarperCollins and belongs to a library, then the answer is now 'yes' – and potentially in as short a time as one year. New terms introduced by the publishing giant mean that instead of being sold with a perpetual licence, as they are now, e-books sold to libraries will be limited …


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  1. James Hughes 1


    I sort of agree with the principle. Harper are going to lose revenue if they never wear out - revenue that would normally be used to pay for more authors etc (and the general company expenses). With no income source, no more books.

    However, 26 lends would appear to be a bit on the low side, unless the 'recharge' fee is pretty low also. There should be massive savings overall (quick few pence to recharge against transport and printing costs of a new copy), which should be shared between the libraries and the publisher. Whether that happens is another matter.

    1. Paul M 1


      But isn't it true that publishers get paid an amount according to how often their books are borrowed? If so I fail to see what they are moaning about, other than unsustainable profits that they feel entitled to.

    2. blah 5
      Thumb Up

      They ought to talk to Baen Publishing... find out how to do e-book lending right!

      1. Criminny Rickets

        Baen Website

        I tried to read the page at the link you posted, but the top portion of the page was totally unreadable to me as it was overlaid by the menu. I tried it with both Firefox 3.6.14 as well as IE 8. I did send an emai lto Baen about the issue.

    3. dssf

      As Khan Noonien Sing once said...

      "Let them eat STATIC!"...

      As for HC... they are striving for "A$$HOLE OF THE YEAR AWARD" going down this path. If they are that cash poor, they should open their own library and pay the library 10% of reading fees for finders fees.

      The public tax dollars should not be directly funding a shoddy business model of a publisher that probably is not accurately compensating orignal authors or their heirs/estates. Kudos to those that DO compensate, but phooey on those that do NOT.

  2. Algernon

    Money grabbing

    Yes, costing them sales. Of course a paper copy has all those little overheads that a digital copy doesnt. Printing costs, Cost of distribution and storage.

    So unless the publisher is going to charge a fraction of the amount of the cost for the new 'licence to lend' then it is nothing more than a way of making a quick buck. (which is their business after all, but it still sucks)

  3. JaitcH

    Will they have worn e-book sales as they do with paper books?

    Libraries derive quite a bit of revenue fro selling off 'worn' books.

    Does Harper-Collins allow them to do this?

  4. Leona A

    How Ridiculous

    Profif, Profif, Profif that's all we seem to hear these days, at times when Libraries are closing down because the government is refusing to fund them, surely this is a great way to save money, so if we don't have a library, there will be no one to buy your stupid book in the first place! Move with the times!

    1. Aaron Em


      "All we seem to hear"? I've never heard that word before in my life!

      1. KroSha


        That'd be what it sounds like when they're nostrils deep in the trough

  5. Ian 14

    Hardly surprising...

    Hardly surprising that this mean, penny pinching move comes from HarperCollins, given that it's one of the organs of Satan on earth, being owned by News Corporation.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    I agree to their terms but I will be using loan money. It ceases to function after 28 days and gets returned to me.

    No deal?? ok I'll just pirate them.

  7. graeme leggett

    Perhaps I was borrowing the wrong books

    But before the local libraries brought in electronic issuing of books, a book would have several date stamped sheets in the front cover - you could follow its issuing history back for years.

    Actually many books still have the date sheet in the front it just doesnt get stamped anymore.

  8. NightFox

    Book'em, Danno

    When is the book publishing industry going to come to terms with the 21st century instead of desperately hanging on to the comfort of 'how it's always been done'? I guess judging by the time it's taking the music and film industry, it's going to take a while

  9. Ally J
    Thumb Down

    26 lendings?

    Absolute bollocks, and wishful thinking on the part of the publishers. I'd respectfully suggest the cash-strapped libraries buy 'real' books and put revenue intended for Harper Collins' e-books into the glue and sticky tape required to keep books going.

  10. jake Silver badge

    HarperCollins is yet another "traditional publisher" ...

    ... which doesn't understand that they no longer control the distribution channels.

    It would be kinda funny, if it weren't so sad ... The entire traditional publishing set needs to open it's eyes and come up with both a new marketing meme, AND a realistic copyright scenario, given that anyone with a computer can copy anything that has been digitized. Just makes sense, when you think about it. Not that Marketing ever made any sense ...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to admit...

    ...the vast majority of my books are still physical.

    Perhaps it is because I'm a technology freek that I just don't trust it. After all, physical books don't change file format on you or demand an upgrade of your book case.

    1. Jedit
      Thumb Down


      If you've never had to upgrade your bookcase, then you don't own enough books.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Gordon 10 Silver badge


    What a bunch of muppets. Have HC not learnt any lessons from the music industry?

    Fingers crossed that HC suffer badly and more enlightened publishers like Baen (who are brilliant for ebooks) prosper.

  13. Whitter

    long-term issues of digital media

    Digital documents with a format 100+ years old? Storage media still useable then? "Perpetual" cloud storage truely lasting 100+ years? Doubt it. Paper can and does. So any discount for inevitable death in the mid to long term?

  14. Samuel Williams
    Thumb Down

    What piffle

    Have HarperCollins ever actually taken out a library book? Many I take out have years-and-years of date stamps in the front. Even the well-chewed and abused kiddie books last longer than 26 loans.

    1. CABVolunteer

      Sadly not!

      Whilst the books you've borrowed might seem have had a long and useful life, sadly that's not the fate of the bulk of the current purchases of public libraries - new books purchased (and chosen by a bit of software based on the latest bookshop sales) are predominately multiple (10+) copies of "popular fiction" (think James Patterson et al) which have a frighteningly short shelf-life before disposal. After the hype of new book has died down, then perhaps one copy per branch will be retained (the rest being sent for recycling) for a year or so, then it'll be one copy for the whole library authority until the final copy disintegrates.

      The copy that you've borrowed is the copy that's been retained (showing all the date stamps) - all its siblings went into the skip within months of their first reading.

  15. irish donkey

    So more expensive than Hardback Books

    And they don't last as long as normal books.

    I guess the only advantage with eBooks is they don't go on fire.

    Maybe the office of fair trading should visit some more offices. Different license agreement I know but this isn't exactly helping Library's fight off the ConDem Cuts.

    Nice to see everybody do their bit.

    1. Fred Dibnah

      eBooks don't go on fire

      The ebooks themselves might not burst into flames, but the device you're using to read them with might, if it has certain makes of battery. Of course if you're reading by the pool you could throw the 'book' into the water to put the flames out. Oh, hold on...

  16. Studley

    Utter stupidity

    I know you need to protect your revenue streams, but still...

    While we're at it, let's enforce some other "just like real books!" rules:

    - all of the rude words become circled after 10 loans

    - the front cover gains an extra coffee-cup ring stain every 7 loans

    - over time, random bookmarks (expired bus tickets, scraps of takeaway menus) begin gathering between pages

    - the final page "falls out" after the 25th loan

  17. Paul_Murphy

    No I do not want to do your survey on mbile phones!

    >HarperCollins UK described the 26-loan limit as one of “many models that may

    >need to be tested before we reach the optimum outcome”, adding that it was

    >preferable to simply not allowing e-book lending, which is the line taken by

    >some publishers.

    Many models - as in 'we will keep on trying until people stop complaining'

    Optimum outcome? for whom - your customers? no I didn't think so.

    And if the publishers think that not offering e-books for lending is the answer then they are just burying their heads in the sand like the music industry does - good luck with that one ...

    It probably won't be long until authors are going straight to e-book - possibly via an editor, and the publishers will find themselves with a very much smaller workload to worry about.

    Paper books won't go away, and they won't be getting cheaper, but e-books are definitely a good idea.


  18. KroSha

    Byting their cake?

    Isn't one of the supposed upsides for ebooks their longevity? That bit where they don't ever need to be replaced, and one of the many reasons that publishers think that they are entitled to charge well over the odds for the latest novel which will be on the shelves of Oxfam in less than a year?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Business models.

    Now they've realised that ebooks don't wear out their business model looks a bit crap and so artificial obsolescence must be introduced.

    Consequently - "ownership" will have to be redefined or people will, rightly, object.

    A tax on reading is what it amounts to. Not enough that you support an author by buying his book - you must also support the publishing company.

    Something tells me that this idea might not work out quite how they hope.

  20. andy 10

    “many models that may need to be tested before we reach the optimum outcome”

    I assume they meant "optimum income"..?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not for libraries

    Libraries should not buy these ebooks.

    1. CABVolunteer

      Libraries aren't buying them anyway

      Read the article - see the bit about Overdrive?

      The public libraries offering an e-book service aren't running their own in-house service "lending" e-books to the public, but are using contractors to provide the service. You think the contractors don't have a vested interest in seeing such a publisher's policy adopted?

      (Otherwise, I'd totally agree with you!)

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        To be fair to Overdrive ...

        They don't seem terribly happy about this either.

        Libraries still buy the books that they want to use via the OverDrive service, and I think in that regard OverDrive acts like a distributor (in fact, for a while they also powered the WH Smith eBook store).

        They've announced that following this decision by HC, they've removed all the HC books from their main catalogue of library eBooks and put them in a separate one, so that librarians can't help but notice that HC eBooks aren't the same as everyone else's.

  22. Nigel Whitfield.

    Worth noting ...

    ... that in the various discussions about this around the web, there are some pointing out that eBook lending via libraries means authors lose out.

    While that's true to a small degree - though I'm not sure how many people really would buy books if they couldn't borrow from the library - there's also a big difference between the US and Europe.

    The US doesn't have an equivalent of the Public Lending Right, which provides authors with an income based on loans from libraries. Since that's paid direct to authors (at least in the UK), it doesn't really make a difference to publishers. But it may have an impact on how some authors and those who speak for them view libraries as a whole.

  23. DrXym Silver badge

    The optimum outcome?

    I agree with Harper Collins assuming they follow it to it's logical conclusion. If they want digital copies to be like a physical book, then fine. Grant me the perpetual right to do ANYTHING I LIKE with my digital book. I should be able to lend the book to someone else for as long as I like, sell it for any price I like to anybody else in the world via any means (ebay, bookstore, jumble sale etc.). I should be able to buy any book in a similar fashion, and I should be able to give the book away to Oxfam or just delete the book and destroy it forever. It's my book.

    Not doing those things would ever so slightly stink of hypocrisy by Harper Collins. It would suggest that they only want digital books to be like physical books when it suits them, not anybody else.

    I suggest that all the properties of a regular book are achievable in the digital realm with a DRM / escrow service where keys can be transferred between publishers & users for a nominal fee (waived for charities). It's even possible this DRM can be enforced by a P2P database in much the way Bitcoin operates with publishers and owners of books living on the same network and transactions recorded across nodes.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Oh, c'mon

      "I suggest that all the properties of a regular book are achievable in the digital realm with a DRM / escrow service where keys can be transferred between publishers & users for a nominal fee (waived for charities). It's even possible this DRM can be enforced by a P2P database in much the way Bitcoin operates with publishers and owners of books living on the same network and transactions recorded across nodes."

      Why are you asking for fracking DRMs, do you feel some need to be controlled and told what to do in every little aspect of your life or something?

      You don't need fracking DRMs on fracking ebooks from the library - just agree with the library to send you reports on how many times the book has been borrowed and charge an agreed rate for it. What's difficult about it?

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        It's called reality

        You obviously don't understand the issue I'm referring to.

        A physical book has a presence. It can only be in one place at a time. I know I'm buying a book because I walk out of the shop with it. I know when I'm giving a book to someone because I physically hand it to them. That behaviour needs to be modeled in the digital realm.

        That means encapsulating possession as some kind of digitally signed transferable token that represents the item. In the real world the book is the token and the token is the book. In the digital world, the two would be separate. The token would be the key that opens the content. The content could have multiple copies but only one key. The token can be transferred to irrevocably receive / send to establish ownership.

        That implies DRM. Your problem is you see DRM the way it's implemented now, where a central authority (who is usually the publisher / store) grants you extremely limited rights to ownership. You don't even own the book, you own a license which can be revoked. You can't transfer your book, or sell it, or lend it or anything else.

        DRM does not have to be like that at all. To think of it another way, DRM the way I'm proposing protects YOUR property and YOUR rights, not the publisher's.

        DRM could be enforced by a neutral broker that allows licences to be transferred from one person to another. The broker might have to enforce some reasonable rules to address legit concerns such as unfettered lending (e.g. a pool of a million Harry Potter loaners would mean nobody would ever buy the book again) and might have to make the distinction between charities, stores, libraries, publishers, schools, and end users, each with their own lending / resale rules. But it could be liberal and it could model how things work in the physical world.

        I mention Bitcoin because although the problem is not quite the same (or as complex) it represents a distributed brokerage for money. Every node participates. To pass money from one person to another just involves pasting their address and an amount into a dialog and then the money is transferred, the P2P network constructs the signed transfer and off it goes. In this case money is the asset being transferred, but it could equally be a token representing a possession.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          It is not reality, it's misperception

          The typical mistake of advocates of DRMs (I mean those who try to accept DRMs in good faith and not as an instrument for securing anti-competitive advantages) is that they are trying to devise a way how to emulate a physical item in the data environment.

          There is no need - they are too different.

          When you are trying to impose a system of limitations on a virtual item, which will approximate its properties to those of a physical item, all you achieve is losing the attractive qualities of the former without gaining any advantages of the latter - and at a significant cost.

          A widely used public access system that relies on a third-party broker is untenable - it is too complicated to secure and maintain, is too expensive and is vulnerable to the same type of attack - once one copy is extracted out of the system the whole system is defeated. It will never work.

          What you need is to embrace and use to your advantage the unique qualities of the virtual items - wide and cheap distribution and low cost of replication, and accept as inevitable that some copies will be made without authorisation.

          Concentrate on quality of content and convenience of search and access and you will *always* outcompete the "pirates".

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Tom 15

    I understand...

    I understand the issue but then surely come up with a new price which reflects that they don't expire and charge that? Most books won't be popular enough to actually be rebought anyway, maybe only 10% or 20% are, so by incrementing the costs of all books by 10% or 20% you can offer life licenses. Then, knock off the manufacturing and sales costs and just give us it at the price the book already costs!

    On a related note, as a user who has bought e-books will some of them get randomly deleted because in real life I'd occasionally lose or destroy a book? Or lend it out and never get it back?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      ``lend it out''?!?!?

      Haven't you read the license agreement? You're not allowed to ``lend it out''! Verboten! Nicht! Nein! That will cost us revenue! Your scummy friends must buy^H^H^Hlicense their own copy! NO LENDING!!! Only libraries may lend and only twenty six times! Read the article! Back in your box, miserable revenue source!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    hypocrisy , perhaps HC should be lawfully required to grow their own trees. They've sucked the teet of mother earth, and exploited it for years, and all they seem to have learned is how to be MotherFscker's ultimately.

  26. cs94njw

    Tis simples

    Librarian: "Hmm... do I buy a tree book and have it last anywhere from a year to maybe 5 years, or do I buy both a tree book and an eBook, where the eBook costs almost twice as much, and I must replace it every year...."

    Surely this artificial-cost practice is highly dubious. I appreciate that a Versache shirt costs more than a shirt from M&S, usually due to the brand name than the materials used.

    Please tell me the justification for the higher cost for the eBook.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Simple really

      The dead tree publishers are scared shitless by digital distribution, and are trying to charge enough to cover all lost sales.

      I personally think every hard cover should come with a voucher code for an ebook for free, considering the outrageous cost of hard covers and ebooks.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      5 years?

      There's lots of popular books in my local library that are a damn site older than 5 years.

      1. Framitz
        Thumb Up


        If you are able to see the checkout history I would bet that some of them have been checked out hundreds of times and they're still in reasonable condition.

  27. James 51

    Are they being investigated for fixing their prices

    They should be forced to give e-copies of books the same way they have to give phyical copies.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Market forces

    Tell HC it is no longer commercially viable to stock library shelves and besides, what about the advertising opportunity usually extended to publishers when stuff is loaned to the public.

    Librarians: re-negotiate costs of e-books with a view to terminating supply should key performance indicators not be met. Say,

    ebook to be:


    last longer

    cater for multiple and simultaneous loans on a single copy

    have all traces of publisher or other adverts removed from the library copy

    than printed books.

    Beefed up into KPIs and applied throughout the land (see another el reg thread about how government services expect to big reduction on costs).

    HC - foot - shot?

  29. Hollerith 1

    26 lends... or 260, or 2600...

    I am a Reader at the British Library. Some of the books I read date from the 1700s, many from the 1800s. These are books that have been read for a century. Admittedly, they can't be chaecked out, but they are still being handled. I also belong to the London Library, founded int he 1840s, and from there you can check out booked. They even mail them to members. Again, I read books that are 100 or 200 years old. They are still doing fine. Paper is very duable. The only things that haven't lasted are many of the publishing houses that produced them. Perhaps these libraries not 'renewing their purchases' every generation brought them to their knees.

  30. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Authors vs Publishers

    Authors get a fee each time their book is borrowed - I'm guessing publishers don't get a cut of this.

    Whereas publishers get a big chunk of the cover price of a new book and authors get a small cut of this.

  31. Anonymous Coward


    I love the way that the adjacent story on the El Reg headline bar is "Europe confirms raids on ebook publishers - Antitrust and cartel concerns"


    srsly, wtf? 26 loans??? Having just had a delve around on my shelves I have foun d an ex-library book (bought at a library sale I hasten to add), with *4 pages* of stamps glued on top of each other at the front. Given my local libraries preponderence to trying to save these sheets that adds up to about 200 loans. Over 7 years.

    The book istelf? Fucking fine. Due to libraries habits of gluing plastic spine/cover protectors to the books. 26 loans? BS.

    On an aside...

    "Surely this artificial-cost practice is highly dubious. I appreciate that a Versache shirt costs more than a shirt from M&S, usually due to the brand name than the materials used."

    I recently paid upwards of three grand for a three piece suit from Saville Row. The nice thing is that you only need one. Take it to a tailors to get panels copied and made and you can be talking about a near equivalent for £50 (Bahrain). There must be some parallel to piracy here that I can't quite get my head around yet. We shall see.

    Mine's the one from Norton & Sons.

  32. Youngone

    Business Model

    HarperCollins' business model has just gone the way of the dinosaur, and so the pirates will have to teach them the error of their ways. Seems to be working with the music leaches.

  33. Scott 9

    Too much like any other industry facing digitization

    26 loans on a popular title would last about two months, as one person reads it in a few days, returns it, and then another reads it. This will end up in the same copyright/DRM fiasco as music and software. Only three ways I see this being "solved":

    E-readers become cheap enough that the reader *is* the book, and is what is sold, loaned, etc., which kind of defeats the whole point.

    Someone comes up with a locked down "library" E-reader that will only download from the list of titles the library has bought rights to. The E-reader still needs to be checked out/loaned, but there is some more flexibility as more and different titles can be loaded onto it.

    A magic uncrackable file format is devised that once licensed and downloaded can only "move" itself and destroys the existing copy. We're right back to the same logistics and approach as a physical copy, since only one licensed digital copy can ever exist. The entire copyright/DRM problem is solved, manna falls from Heaven, and the world goes back into business as usual again.

    If anyone believes those three will ever happen I also have a bridge to sell you.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Yes, there must be another way

      Nobody needs these uncrackable file formats, DRMs and other bullshit - readers don't need it, authors don't need it and publishers also don't need it (but they must fire the lawyers who have taken over management of their business and put business people in charge instead).

      Why people go to libraries? - to read books that they either can't buy or don't want to buy.

      If the book is not available for sale - even if the reader copies the library text he/she causes no loss to the publisher/author. That is an open and shut case.

      Now, what happens If the book is available but the reader prefers to borrow it from a library? Just think with your heads, people:

      Most readers would read most books only once in their lives - so if they read the library copy the publisher must have absolutely no expectation that he will sell his book again to the same person. So, even if some people would keep a copy of occasional library text, it again causes no real loss to the publisher and/or author.

      Some may argue that if you have a particularly expensive specialist title (engineering, business) then people would always prefer to borrow from libraries and copy it, rather than buying it outright. But, please, explain why these titles are so expensive in the first place? Because they are published in small numbers. But if you make that book available electronically you don't need to make it so expensive anymore - so more people will buy it.

      And taking into account the savings from not having to pay royalties for stupid and useless technology (DRMs) and from firing all the thieving lawyers the publisher will actually end up with more money. It is fracking simple.

  34. zxcvbnm

    Library payment system

    In the UK the author gets about 6p every time you take a physical book out of the library (7 million pounds divided by total books loans).

    If you take out an ebook the author gets NOTHING because it is not a printed book. The legislation is there for ebooks to get payments in the digital economy act but the government has not chosen to do it yet.

    Almost all Libraries with proper ebooks use the overdrive system from overdrive of Ohio because they are the only people to really organize all the rights issues. (They also provide ebooks for WHsmith and Waterstones).

    So Harpercollins idea is in efffect not that different from what the UK does with regular books, though twice as expensive and unclear how much goes to the author.

    It would be nice if libraries were just given the books for free and then charged 10p a loan or something. Mind you its a worry in these tight times that lots of money will be poured into ebook collections whose drm will be obsolete in ten years and they will have to start again. Sensible libraries join together and run a joint overdrive ebook library sharing the cost.

  35. BlindWanderer

    Regular books wear out just like library books...

    If you ignore the entire "information wants to be free" thing, this makes sense and is reasonable. After all why shouldn't they preserve their existing business model? The problem with this thinking is that it can be applied not just to libraries but to individuals too. Why shouldn't an ebook you buy not wear out just like library books? What about your iTunes collection? CDs scratch, crack or flake, records warp and become scratched, magnetic tapes stretches and snap. Nothing lasts forever. So why not protect those business model too? What's good for the goose should be good for the gander, right?

    Of course it was tried, most notably with music via DRM. Nobody liked it, the early business built upon it (it being Real and WM DRM) have since folded. Everyone tried to control copying (Sony Rootkit fiasco), some tried to create self destructing content with mixed success (24 hour self destructing DVDs ). It's only been with libraries that DRM has been able to get a good foothold (though not complete as some content is mp3, which is likely to end since OverDrive now does transcoding of WM content for iTunes devices).

    If Harper Collins pulls this stunt off, all the other content trolls will do the same. The fun thing here is that library licenses cost more than a regular single user licenses. So if this comes to pass, they will pay more and get less. Ultimately it's our money that's funding their greed, be your library sustained by donations, membership fees or taxes.

    And once again I find my mind drawn to "The Right to Read" by Richard Stallman and each time it seems that we are that little bit closer to that world. The first time I read it it in the 90's it was science fiction, now it just scares me.

  36. rbryanh

    So What?

    The corporation is by definition an amoral profit machine. It's a lofty legal abstraction with its feet firmly stuck in the all-too-actual swamp of human fear, aggression, and greed, and nothing in the concept itself in any way limits what it may do in pursuit of its single goal: to get more than it gives.

    Harper Collins, like any corporation, is free to do whatever it likes in pursuit of profit. If its best options are illegal, it - like any large corporation - will simply apply money to the law until its either changed or rendered irrelevant. Like all corporations, it regards everything, everyone, every notion, feeling, itch, and scratch as a potential product to be exploited. The only thing that can impede such a machine is the failure to make a profit - everything else is subordinate to that one defining characteristic.

    I don't think Harper Collins is good for writing, for authors, for art, for readers, or for information. Exploiting readers and writers alike, they create nothing, and consequently there's nothing about them that I admire or require. I don't think they're good for the species, I know they're not good for me, and they're just one instance out of hundreds of similar relationships.

    At this point in my access of digital information, anything I turn my attention to is automatically stripped of DRM and stored for as long as I choose to keep it. It's largely effortless, and if I find some item that's intractable, I either beat it over the head until it submits or turn my attention to something else. Either way, the only way Harper Collins and its ilk can get me to pay for anything is to convince me that they serve some good purpose and deserve to exist.

  37. Anonymous Coward


    I didn't know HC published anything that was worth checking out by 26 different people. So, double-WTF!

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