Irony, Thy Name is Random House
Henry Watson Fowler, in The King’s English, says “any definition of irony—though hundreds might be given, and very few of them would be accepted—must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.”
On the surface, Random House wants to be different than the other Big Six publishers and make all it’s digital offerings available to libraries. The underlying meaning of this offer though, has many libraries reconsidering their generosity.
Economy For All
Making all its titles accessible, also means making them affordable. Especially for libraries. Random House is only adding insult to injury during these tough economic times by increasing its pricing significantly.
I agree that a feasible business model must be developed to benefit all parties involved, but such a dramatic change makes me feel that some publishers care little about supporting the library and its patrons. They still cannot see how working with libraries helps them, not hurts them. That they should work harder to find out all the pertinent data before they make such a decision. In fact they basically admit they haven’t in their statement:
With our price adjustments announced March 1 we are now doing the same for our library e-pricing, albeit with far less definitive, encompassing circulation data than the sell-through information we use to determine our retail pricing for e-titles. We are requesting data that libraries can share about their patrons’ borrowing patterns that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall e-book ecosystem.
They admit they do not have enough “encompassing circulation data”; data which they generally use to help determine pricing. They have decided not to wait for it. They’ve decided to work on the fly to “establish a mutually workable pricing” level after the fact. Putting the cart before the horse there, aren’t we?
Thing is, how accurate will this information be if many libraries cannot afford this new pricing? How skewed will this circulation data be because libraries will have to pick and choose more carefully what titles they spend their increasingly paltry budget on? Doing something to affect the very criteria that will be used to make an informed decision benefits no one. Except perhaps the entity that is trying to retroactively justify its position.
In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle
I’m sorry Random House. It’s not much of an “ecosystem” when the King of the Jungle pretty much denies it’s food source the ability to thrive. It won’t be long before that King is starving too, wondering what happened to all those happy gazelles leaping through the literary Savannah.
Granted, digital copies will never wear out, so providing a title in perpetuity carries a higher cost than a printed book. I get that. What I don’t get is justifying charging $120 for a title that was $40 not so long ago. And if a library wants to make more available, it has to pay for each copy. Just like a print book, the digital model is based on the one-copy, one user per title.
I fear the eventual backlash will be towards the library because patrons will want to know why there is such a long waiting list or why titles are not available at all digitally. In fact, they already are. Many don’t realize that libraries either can’t afford to get them, or the publisher doesn’t make them available.
Again With The Friction
The publishers are counting on this. They want this “friction”. Because rather than wait on a list, or be told that it’s a title the library can’t get, they’ll go buy the book. Whether it be a print book or a digital edition, publishers feel that if it is too easy to borrow a book, then it is a sale lost.
However, there are two things publishers must consider:
(1) Publishers need to realize is that library patrons are also consumers. For instance, here in Reno, we are active and adamant supporters of our library. This is evident in the fact that last year the local Friends of the Library donated $100,000 and since 1991 has allocated over one million dollars to the library system. We have no problem putting our money where are hearts are when it comes books, either in donation or actual purchases. I know, I work in a bookstore. A lot of our customers are library patrons and their lending habits don’t seem to affect their buying habits – at least not in a bad way.
(2) This whole thing about “friction”. I really wonder how effective that is in today’s economy. Consumers used to have more spendable income, so it’s a concept that I’m sure worked well. However the friction nowadays is really between the consumer and their pocketbook. Making it harder to get a hold of what they want, either through limited distribution or higher pricing, won’t work. People hard pressed to pay bills every month will change their priority from getting a non-essential item quickly and easily, to getting it when they can – cheaply.
Is Timing Really Everything?
There is also one other thing to consider. The timing of it all:
There hasn’t been enough discussion about the role that the ongoing battle between Amazon and the Big Six plays in the problems arising with ebook lending. While lending has been a concern for the publishers in terms of trying to prevent piracy and protect the interests of the authors, there didn’t seem to be this much fighting over ebook lending until OverDrive became compatible with Kindle e-readers. Once that compatibility was put in place, publishers quickly began pulling their titles from ebook lending, suddenly citing these concerns that, oddly, were not all that troublesome before. – Mercy Pilkington, from Libraries, Libraries, Patrons to Pay the Price in Random House’s eBook Lending
This is a hard article to write because I want a model that works. It’s like being caught between family or friends who aren’t getting along. You love them both, but there comes a time you need to stand up for what, and who, you feel is right.
- A Guide To Publishers in the Library eBook Market by Michael Kelley
- Librarians Feel Sticker Shock as Price for Random House Ebooks Rises as Much as 300 Percent by Michael Kelley
- Libraries, Patrons to Pay the Price in Random House’s eBook Lending by Mercy Pilkington
- The Digital Reader.com: Random House Raises Library eBooks by Nate Hoffelder
- Washoe County Friends of the Library