It’s been rough seas for book lovers. Not only are the soothsayers continually ringing a death knell for publishing, but for libraries, booksellers, and *gasp* readers. It’s hard to fathom that the book and those that read for pleasure are inextricably connected and will go the way of the rotary phone and floppy disk, but more and more pundits are predicting just that.
People may not be reading as much as they used to, but the ones that do are loyal – very loyal. However there is a growing impediment and it’s not technology, it’s pricing and availability. That is why when many are looking for their next read, they tend to go for a deal (Amazon) or go free (library).
Publishers need to do what they can to stay in the black, not to mention pay authors their fair share. I understand that. But I’m not sure why they haven’t realized that we wouldn’t go cheap or free if we didn’t have to spend upwards of $35 for a brand new hardcover. It’s no wonder Amazon has grown to be the megalithic beast it’s become.
Digitizing books seemed such a great idea. An invention to make reading more convenient, economical (hard to type with a straight face, but I did), and help literacy grow instead of stagnate.
In a recent ALA report, they seem to hit the nail on the head:
Because of the fundamental shift facing trade publishing, including the entry of retail companies that currently dominate the ebook market, publishers and authors have much to gain from enabling libraries to distribute ebooks. There is compelling evidence that during periods of technological, social and economic change, people use libraries more. With many bricks-and-mortar bookstores closing, publishers need new ways to “showroom” their titles. Publishers may be willing to offer more favorable terms and lower prices in exchange for specific accommodations.
Yet, instead of working with libraries to help them make it this new technological age, they have spent well over a year bickering over pricing and availability. Meanwhile Amazon is laughing all the way to the bank, which reminds me of something I quoted in an earlier blog post:
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 – Libraries, Patrons to Pay the Price in Random House’s eBook Lending
[For those of you still unfamiliar with the particulars, check out A Guide to Publishers in the Library Ebook Market by Michael Kelley.]
Stuck In The Middle With You
A business model is needed, but not one model will work for everyone. Right now, the only option for publishers and libraries is to negotiate aggressively for what will benefit them the most. In the middle, wanting affordability and availability are consumer’s and patrons who wonder if our concerns are being considered, let alone addressed. I like what the ALA has proposed, but know in my heart several of the publishers don’t see it the same way:
- All ebook titles available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries.
- Libraries should have the option to effectively own the ebooks they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.
- Libraries need access to metadata and management tools provided by publishers to enhance discovery for ebooks.
Even the current ALA president feels all these may not be “feasible, and a library may elect to do without one or more in return for more favorable terms”, but these options are important and not just for the library, but for the patron. I hate sounding like a broken record, and I know I’m not the only one, but libraries can be a relevant and profitable sales channel for publishers. Especially in areas that have lost their bookstores to the economy and competition with big box stores and online retailers.
A Spark Of Hope
In an almost too good to be true scenario, Random House has stated, and stands by its assertion that they “sell copies of [their] ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries. In [their] view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.”
Hold the freakin’ presses. Skip Dye, Random House’s vice president of library and academic marketing and sales actually said that and then backed it up. You can read about it here. However, a licensing agreement of this type is not available with every vendor. As some Kindle owners know all to well, any ebook with DRM attached means they only own it as long as the originator says so. Vendors may promise ownership, but only the publisher can grant it.
I hope this works out and sets a precedent the other big publishers will take into account in future negotiations to get their ebooks back into the libraries. With my health issues, it’s not always convenient to be running back and forth to the library to get the physical books because I can’t download the digital versions. If I’m forced to make that kind of effort, I’d rather spend my money and gas getting a copy at the local, independent used bookstore. I’ll then donate it to Friends of the Library so they can raise money for the library, which needs all the financial help it can get.
*Tap Tap Tap* Is this thing on? Publishers, are you listening? You should be. As a consumer and library supporter, I get to say who benefits financially from my patronage. So I’ll be keeping an eye on all these talks and hoping you finally realize that there are some great ways to generate revenue instead of animosity.
Sources quoted or used for this article:
- ALA Releases “Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries” by Beverly Goldberg
- Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries report (PDF) created by the ALA Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG)
- A Guide to Publishers in the Library Ebook Market by Michael Kelley
- Random House Says Libraries Own Their Ebooks by Michael Kelly
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