Well done, HarperCollins: librarians must change old thinking, by Martin Taylor

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HarperCollins’ US unit has just changed its long-standing ebook policy for library sales. Instead of selling ebooks for a one-time cost and allowing libraries to lend these ebooks in perpetuity, HarperCollins amended its terms to limit a purchase to 26 loans. For an average 2-week lending term, libraries would get a full year of lending for about US$10-20, based on typical ebook prices—that’s about 40-80 cents a loan.

This seems a very modest sum to me but it has got librarians outraged and it has started a library boycott of HarperCollins.  The response within the library world to this issue has been almost universally hostile. Here’s HarperCollins’ response to this furore.

Our prior e-book policy for libraries dates back almost 10 years to a time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure. It is projected that the installed base of e-reading devices domestically will reach nearly 40 million this year. We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors. We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel.

In spite of the heat HarperCollins can expect to receive from its library customers, I hope they stand their ground. Librarians need to shift their thinking as digitisation transforms the reading landscape. They are doing authors, publishers and ultimately themselves and their patrons no favours by this stance.

The fact is that rightsholders do have serious concerns and librarians have not managed to address them. They won’t do it with anger, or with soothing but unfounded assurances that ebooks will be no different from print in their economic impact.

In the face of rightsholders’ concerns, librarians must listen not bully, and they should be willing to experiment with new models that will ensure libraries and other channels can co-exist in the emerging, all-pervasive digital world. No-one has all the answers yet but we won’t solve this issue by denying the existence of the problem and closing off avenues for fresh thinking.

Librarians (and patrons) often make it difficult to work through issues associated with ebooks by doggedly assuming that ebooks will work the same way as printed books in terms of their economic impact, and by insisting therefore that the things they’ve done with print should carry over largely unchanged to ebooks.

But there are very important differences. Ebooks don’t wear out, they’re easy to find and hard to lose, so chances are libraries will need fewer to service the same level of borrowing. And new technology is making the effort required to borrow minimal. These facts underpin concerns about how the paid ebook market will be affected if borrowing (especially from public libraries which are open to anyone) offers few disadvantages over purchase. Borrowing ebooks can be made as easy and accessible—24/7 from anywhere—as buying them. When you combine this with the fact that “owning” a “new” file has less value for most people than owning a new physical book, you can see the potential for more, perhaps many more, people to shift from buying to borrowing especially if borrowing is free.

Librarians’ response to these concerns is typically a claim that they’ve been lending books for years and it’s probably helped rather than hurt sales. Probably true, but the potential ease with which borrowers can get a free ebook is a quantum shift, not merely an incremental change.

A recent attempt to tackle this concern was some research by library ebook supplier Overdrive. It indicated ebook lending had a positive impact on book sales. But it was printed book sales that the survey found benefited. This somewhat misses the point. It’s universally acknowledged that print will be a less  important source of income and many books will be digital-only. Publishers and authors are right to be concerned about the impact of lending on ebook sales. In addition, the past history of library ebook lending is largely irrelevant, given that it was mostly PDF files on clunky PCs—nothing like the experience of reading on a Kindle or iPad. And glib assurances that it will all be fine won’t cut it here when so much is at stake.

Librarians must open their minds to these new realities impacting the creators and important downstream services.

As well as the economic impact on the book market, the second thing to consider is the impact on libraries themselves if they saw a big increase in ebook lending. When authors and publishers look at the severe budget cuts that libraries battle with, and the limited funds they have to buy books, they rightly ask where the money will come from and what might happen as these library loans take an ever larger share of the market.

The issue that prompted this debate and boycott is a perfect example. I would have thought that 40-80 cents to give someone a $10 or $20 book was not excessive. If the book were borrowed 1000 times at the proposed “excessive” rate, it would earn its author and publisher (combined) only about $200-400, after distributor discounts (probably $50-100 for the author). If it were a popular title borrowed 100,000 times, they’d earn $20,000-40,000 between them from libraries with perhaps $5000-10,000 of that going to the author. This is not greed. In fact, I wonder how many people would see this as an acceptable return for the years of collective work that go into writing, producing and selling a book.

So why do librarians think these are excessive returns and how much would they be willing to pay if their ebook lending took a much greater share of the market? While libraries do a public good by expanding readership of an author’s work, let’s not overstate their success turning readership into income for authors and publishers. The fact is that the author could lose the amount of this library income from just 4% of patrons choosing to borrow instead of buying.

So where will the money come from to pay for libraries’ increased market share, some at the expense of paid retail sales? Here are some possibilities, none of them easy.

  1. From the rightsholders—publishers and authors—who would forfeit higher value retail sales for low value library sales. This seems to be the route libraries are taking but it’s unreasonable and ultimately damaging to everyone. It seems to be based on a convenient, but false notion, that authors and publishers make excessive profits. There are rich authors and publishers, but very few. The vast majority already accept low returns.
  2. A quantum leap in funding from local and national taxes. Most people would see this as unlikely.
  3. A big reduction in buildings and staff. This is much more likely, given that politicians are already closing libraries in many parts of the world to control costs. A handful of digital libraries could service a whole country so this could be achievable without reducing access to library books. In New Zealand where I’m based, it costs about $2.50 to make each loan of a printed book, mostly due to staff and facilities costs. That’s about five times the amount that goes to buy the book so it’s certainly a fertile place to find the money. But would it be desirable? Perhaps, but we need to have this conversation.

If we want to have ebook lending while avoiding big cuts to existing library staff, services or facilities, libraries may need to consider other options, all of them with some difficult trade-offs attached.

  1. Limit patron demand. Examples would be requiring patrons to come into a physical library to borrow an ebook, such as UK publishers recently proposed to a similarly hostile reaction; having only a small number of ebooks available, or delaying library release dates to maximise paid sales.
  2. Secure a quantum leap in funding from local and/or central government. As noted above, this is unlikely given libraries’ already tight budgets.
  3. Charge a loan fee for some patron groups and/or ebook types to make the service cost-neutral. This could also bring in extra income to pay fair prices for ebooks, and reduce the impact on paid retail sales by closing the cost gap between borrowing and buying (in my opinion, the best of the available options).

However we address this, let’s start with an acknowledgement that publishers and authors (and indeed booksellers) have a genuinely-held concern and that the consequences of getting it wrong are enormous. So until, or unless they are proved wrong with hard facts, we need open-minded discussion and a willingness to try different models if we’re going to deliver the positive things that ebooks can bring.

All of the options above are uncomfortable to some degree. But this is a time when everyone needs to step outside their comfort zones if we’re not to squander the tremendous opportunity that ebooks present.

Editor’s Note:  this is reprinted, with permission, from Martin Taylor’s eReport. Martin Taylor has been involved in the publishing, technology and internet fields for more than 20 years. He is founding director of the Digital Publishing Forum, an initiative to accelerate the development of digital publishing in New Zealand, and publisher and managing director of Addenda Publishing.

83 Comments on Well done, HarperCollins: librarians must change old thinking, by Martin Taylor

  1. “Librarians need to shift their thinking as digitization transforms the reading landscape.”

    With paper books we can’t do several things, like lending them to several people at the same time. With ebooks, we can. But HarperCollins are forcing us to treat ebooks as paper books because they say it would harm their sales.
    Well, HarperCollins should shift their thinking as digitisation transforms the reading landscape.
    It is really incredible: now, technology offers us so many possibilities and at the same time people are forcing us to do things as old days just because they don’t want to adapt: yes I’m referring to HarperCollins.

    So be it: HarperCollins wants to treat ebooks as paper books? Ok. The problem is that no paper book is dead after 26 checkouts.

    This is just greedy. And I can tell you another thing: I’m 34 years old and through my life I bought more than 3000 books (which I still have – I’m not counting books that other persons gave me, but only the ones I bought). You know why? Because I love books. And you know why I love books? Because of libraries. My childhood is full of memories from libraries. Today I use libraries and still buy books. Lots of them.

    So don’t tell me that libraries hurt sales: I will not accept it.

    I am boycotting HarperCollins (and my husband too). I found out that two collections that I was trying to complete are from HarperCollins and I can tell you, if they don’t change this 26 thing, I will not buy anything from them again.

    I am not a librarian. I am a reader.

  2. I could de-construct your article and argue against it point by point, but it’s simply not worth it. Your article is all based in the wrong premise that libraries are meant to serve publishers and authors, and that is not true. Libraries buy books, just like readers do, and they do with it what are their purpose to do, and do it abiding with the laws created to accommodate the libraries functions. What HarperCollins is doing is basically refusing to sell ebooks to libraries, selling them instead licenses to use ebooks for a limited number of times. That is not acceptable, libraries shouldn’t accept it, and neither readers or anyone else. I will keep boycotting HarperCollins, and I hope many other will do the same.

  3. Libraries are a public service, not a bookseller, and they shouldn’t be treated as adversaries or competitors by publishers. They are in the business of growing readers; they should be seen as partners.

    I have two books on loan from the library right now that are over 50 years old, one almost 80. How many times have they been read? If publishers want to impose a limit, simply say that a purchased e-book can only lend them to one person at a time, making it an entirely equivalent situation. If they want to lend to multiple people at the same time, they can buy multiple copies, as they do now.

    It is funny (but not ha-ha funny) that publishers are telling libraries it’s ridiculous for them to “own” e-books forever for one price at the same time they are telling authors that they will keep their e-rights while the book is in print .. which is forever.

    Rights should revert to the authors after a reasonable amount of time, and perhaps libraries should have to purchase new copies after a reasonable amount of time. One year is not a reasonable amount of time.

  4. The “new model” presented by HC is a joke, that for every paper book that the libraries have to replace before 26 loans, there are probably two dozen books they loan 50 or even 100 times before it needs replacement. What this would really do to libraries is cause the extremely popular books to be available for a couple of years while the library is forced to renew their ebook license, and anything that is marginally popular will just become unavailable once the initial 26 loans is up.

    Even though I love the convenience of the ebook, I’m tired of publishers “protecting” their revenues with this scheme and the agency pricing when they are totally neglecting things like the fact that by adding another tier to the pricing ranges, equivalent to the used paper book’s market price, they would be monetizing the long tail much further out than they are today, especially with today’s short print cycle. The publishers want ebooks to be treated like paper books, except for when they can make more money by not doing so.

  5. If they don’t want us to “assume” that we can do the things we have done with print, than they should not be charging us print prices. THAT is where the hostility, from both libraries and from book-buying customers, is coming from. They are charging the same or more, for less. If they want this to change the rights people have, they need to lower prices to compensate for this loss of privilege. If they want to keep prices at print levels for digital books, then they need to accept that this will drive people to anger and lead them to explore other options.

  6. I totally disagree with Martin Taylor, and totally agree with the previous commenters. Libraries create readers. If Harper Collins want to rent their ebooks, their terms must be better. I’ve sent a letter to HarperCollins and I have joined the boycott.

    Actions like these just make me hostile to publishers. When we’re all mostly digital, authors won’t need them to make money. Amanda Hocking and J. A. Konrath, to name a few already show that authors can make a decent living selling at reasonable prices.

  7. With traditional publishing rapidly heading for oblivion it not surprising that the big 6 will try anything to augment their diminishing income stream. HarperCollins execs must have sat up all night dreaming up a doozy like this.

  8. Is HC next going to put this kind of a limit on their ebooks for those of us who do purchase the book? a “three-read” license, then the book expires? That’s where this kind of thinking is leading. It’s almost like they want people to stop buying their ebooks.

  9. 40 cents a book would be great, that’s actually about what print books shake out at. The problem is that libraries pay about 30 dollars for each ebook, not the same price a retail customer pays, and certainly not the same as the bulk discounts we currently get for print books.

    Additionally, Overdrive is so complicated that many patrons can’t figure it out, there are about 20 steps to downloading your first “free” ebook. (patrons pay for them with taxes) It’s a serious investment in time and education.

    If they want us to get out of the same as print model, then they do too. Charge us per circ, grant us licenses for collections instead of individual books. LIbraries encourage literacy and create readers, this should be a conversation not a declaration from above.

  10. Jonathan Kuyper // March 6, 2011 at 10:19 pm //

    Just another corporate gasbag defending price gouging by publishers who want to protect an obsolete business model, and who are engaged in what is, essentially, a conspiracy in restraint of trade. Keep on gouging the public, fella, and we’ll keep right on pirating.

  11. The part that he seems to be totally clueless about is that a hardcover book will last for many many more lendings than 26.

    And HarperCollins is not selling ebooks for $10 which totally blows his comparison out of the water.

    With this in place, libraries will be expected to pay close to hardcover price and instead of getting a book that lasts for years, they “buy” short term rental of an ebook.

    Piffle.

  12. I would be fine if we recognize that ebooks are different then paper books and the libraries stop buying them. Instead they can compensate the authors directly the $0.40 to $0.80 per loan and leave the publishers out of it. If the libraries don’t have to pay for books that are rarely loaned they could have much better selection and the total cost would probably balance out.

  13. Humus B. Chittenbee // March 7, 2011 at 1:04 am //

    I find you present the monetary side of the authors with understanding. You do not, however, give the same attention to the libraries.

    Using your numbers, I took $15 as the median for a library to purchase an ebook. Their cost spread over the 26 ‘lendings’ would be $.58. So far, so good.

    You then refer to a lending number of 1,000 (using your first number.) For a library to procure enough ebook iterations to provide for that would cost them $577 [1000/26 X $15.] When faced [as you do mention] with funding issues in these times, are you at all surprised they balk at buying a book for $25 that they can loan indefinitely and paying 23 times that cost for being allowed to lend it only 1,000 times? Perhaps a much lower cost to libraries would ameliorate the issue.

  14. Could someone please explain why on earth a library should have to purchase a fixed number of copies of an e-book in the first place? These are digital files not physical objects. The whole mechanism of lending e-books through libraries has already been completely screwed up by publishers trying to make e-books work like physical books rather than adapting the business model to work. Why aren’t libraries allowed unlimited copies to lend, but paying a fixed royalty for each time an e-book is borrowed? It’s pretty clear who really isn’t adapting to digital technology.

    The crazy thing is that publishers are supposedly concerned about Amazon dominating the e-book market, but library lending uses the EPUB format which isn’t supported on the Kindle. If publishers are serious about limiting Amazon’s dominance, you would think that they would be doing whatever they could to make EPUB ending as easy as possible so that Amazon will be faced with the prospect of either supporting EPUB formats or losing market share.

  15. I think the general tone of these comments confirms the point I’ve made that this issue generates too much heat and not enough light. The concerns únderlying HarperCollins move won’t go away and they won’t get the serious thinking and debate they need until all the participants can talk about them freely. Libraries are part of a wider ecosystem, and the debate needs to go beyond inward-looking concerns of whether, and how, much libraries should pay for ebooks.

  16. Andy Jenkinson // March 7, 2011 at 5:36 am //

    So you write an inflamatory, inaccurate and biased article and then use the comments to try to justify your prejudice. Very clever.

  17. It’s very sad to see publishers and libraries fall prey to the same exact backwards thinking that has delivered such a blow to music sales in recent years. Publishers have an opportunity to establish a legal digital reading habit in consumers. Ask the major record labels what happens when you start to treat your customers like enemies, out of a fear of change.

    It took more than ten years for everyone to settle on a model for iTunes that shuns overly restrictive DRM, and a lot of music fans soured forever on the concept of paying for music at all. I think HarperCollins is delusional, at this point. And, unfortunately, the users, (your customers remember?), will suffer the most, followed by their sales. It’s not rocket science, unless you’re over the age of fifty, apparently…

  18. But Martin, you are assuming there has to BE a debate. I don’t think their does. To me (and to most customers) this is a very simple issue. Either we keep paying print prices, and therefore we expect to have the same rights we did with print books, or we have fewer rights, and we therefore pay fewer dollars. Until publishers grasp this essential belief that drives the marketplace, they won’t succeed in it. Ultimately, it matters less what Harper Collins ‘wants’ if they can’t get people to willingly pay them for it. And if they do drive people to other avenues, how do they know that people won’t STAY on those other avenues once the dust settles? I don’t think they understand the risk they are taking.

  19. Felix Torres // March 7, 2011 at 8:05 am //

    Joanna: Actually, the BPHs are in fact driving people to “other avenues”.
    Dark avenues full of massive collections. All for free in one honking big T-o-r-r-e-n-t.
    Just ask David Carnoy at CNET.
    I for one am not boycotting HC over their ridiculous library policy; I was already boycotting them over the Price-Fixing scam.
    One year, BPH-free, and not sweating it.
    And I still haven’t dipped into the Darknet. But I know how to do it.
    I am hardly alone.
    Music Napsterization occurred because the Studios were too late to recognize the market deman for reasonably priced and accessible digital music.
    eBook Napsterization now looms as a reality because the six BPHs are so mortally afraid of the ongoing commoditization of books that they are doing everything conceivable to make “piracy” attractive and giving mainstream readers all the excuses they could possibly need to rationalize away any ethical or moral concerns over availing themselves of the Darknet.
    Instead of adjusting to the new reality, they are trying to stem the tide of change.
    Yeah, right.
    Good luck with that!

  20. Perhaps a third model would be useful. A journal model could be based on a time to 100 circulations subscription.

    Certainly the journal subscription model requires an extreme need to read. Such a need is only partly generated by even wildly popular fiction. But there is a gradient. A popularity gradient can be established by the number of circulations per a timed circulation, say time to 100.

    Publishers will receive compensation based on popularity established by a reliable market measure. (it will even gauge the size of print runs) Libraries can meet the readership market without the need to build collections. In essence libraries continue to cultivate readership.

  21. I understand Harper Collins position, but they also need to move into the reality of ebooks. They seem to forget the cost savings they see from this distribution model and that is not factored into any of these arguments. You can argue what the actual percentage is, but nobody outside of the publishers actually knows for sure and I’m sure it varies from across books and genres. We tend to see big numbers associated with major releases, but what percentage of new releases actually get that level of marketing behind them? I would wager very few.

    I’m not opposed to limiting the number of times an ebook can be lent, but let’s ensure it’s a rationale number. As many librarians have already commented, 26 is very low for a physical book before it needs to be replaced. The other approach could be a license type of model similar to the Software industry. Pay a yearly fee and have no lending limits.

  22. Mr. Taylor is from New Zealand, and is therefore most likely unaware of the U.S. laws that have governed the publishing business and libraries for decades.

    The First Sale Doctrine says that once a publisher, movie studio or record company sells a book, home video or CD, the buyer can resell, loan or otherwise use the purchased copy as they like. Duplication for the purpose of piracy is illegal, however. Now that the distribution of media is shifting to bits over a network, publishers, etc. are using that as an argument to get out from under First Sale. They’re changing the terms from “sale” to “licensing”, which allows them to sidestep First Sale. At the same time, as other commenters have said, publishers are not offering any of the advantages of electronic distribution, such as multiple simultaneous usage.

    Publishers want eBooks to work just like print, but in HarperCollins’ case, they’re unwilling to admit that print books, even paperbacks, are usable for far more than 26 checkouts. In short, they’re taking advantage of licensing terms to take away a basic right that libraries have had for many decades.

    In addition, copious market research in the U.S. points out that libraries are one of the most important points of discovery for consumers to learn about new titles. Readers read books from libraries and tell their friends, who purchase the titles for themselves.

    HarperCollins’ move will ultimately backfire on it and any other publisher that tries to impose similar terms.

  23. Either we keep paying print prices, and therefore we expect to have the same rights we did with print books, or we have fewer rights, and we therefore pay fewer dollars.

    The problem with this logic is: Ebooks actually give you more usability options than printed books, which by your logic would suggest publishers should start charging more for ebooks. So I’d suggest, if you want to improve the likelihood that ebook prices will come down, you’d stop using that particular argument.

  24. They don’t give you more at all though, Steven. They give you less. You can’t re-sell them, can’t loan them out except in limited circumstances, and they can be removed from your digital bookshelf at the publisher’s whim. Also, if you change devices, your former purchases may not be compatible and you’ll have to buy your books again. How is that MORE?

  25. The problem with this logic is: Ebooks actually give you more usability options than printed books, which by your logic would suggest publishers should start charging more for ebooks.

    how so? An ebook only gives me more options when it is DRM-free. Until then, I’m being sold a crippled file that I can only read on a limited set of devices, with no assurance of being able to still access the book when technology changes (note B&N’s abandonment of the pdb file format with the Nook Color), I can’t loan it, give it, sell it. like I can a physical book. How is this *more* value?

  26. “For an average 2-week lending term, libraries would get a full year of lending for about US$10-20, based on typical ebook prices—that’s about 40-80 cents a loan.”

    Libraries in Canada don’t get a deal anywhere near this. We pay *more* for an e-book than for the same print book. According to this NYT study, publishers are making 4x the profit on an ebook sold at the same price as print:

    http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/03/01/business/01ebook_g.html?ref=media

    Sorry, we are being gouged. Perhaps if publishers actually sold ebooks at one-half to one-third the price of print, I might be sympathetic to their plight, but right now it’s pure greed.

    We also don’t even own the ebook — we license it. What is that?!? Gimme a break.

    Steve Jobs figured it out. Apple passed10 billion downloads a year ago: http://gigaom.com/apple/10-billion-itunes-song-downloads-could-equal-10k-for-one-lucky-customer/

    They also dumped DRM in 2009: http://www.brighthand.com/default.asp?newsID=14773

    So did Sony. They partnered with Freegal to offer libraries DRM-free downloads of the entire Sony Music catalog: http://www.freegalmusic.com/users/sndlogin

    How about this as a radical idea:

    Remove the DRM, lower the price and place a few links at the front & back of the ebook to allow patrons to purchase items from the publisher. Publishers will get more sales, more authors will make money and libraries will be able to expand their collections to serve our communities.

    There is absolutely no reason to ever artificially limit an ebook. As it stands, HC’s draconian digital book-burning policies will force libraries to make a choice: buy the same titles over and over and over every few years and forego purchasing new titles or only buy new titles.

    Frankly, I don’t like either of those options. Our library has already made a decision — we’re not spending one cent of our million dollar book budget with HC.

  27. You do have more usability options: You can read on multiple devices; you can adjust font, size and background; you can listen instead of read; if you lose the file, you can re-download it (depending on your source); if you lose your device, you can re-download onto a new one (again, depending on source, and whether or not you were smart enough to keep back-ups); you can annotate, look up embedded links, get word definitions on-the-fly, and when you’re done, download a new book instantly without leaving your seat.

    So, if you weigh the pros and cons, you find your new options outweigh the lost options. And since some of those lost options actually have nothing to do with your purchasing and enjoying the product (nobody buys a book just because they can resell or share it), those lost options are of dubious value.

  28. Felix Torres // March 7, 2011 at 9:41 am //

    @Steven Lyle Jordan: I’m not particularly fond of that argument myself but I would like to see some clarification on your argument against it. Which particular ebook usability features are available in BPH ebooks that outweigh the lack of:
    – crossborder ordering
    – resale rights
    – unlimited lending rights
    – higher-than-print pricing schemes
    – lack of competitive retail pricing
    Understand, I’m a big fan of end-user typographical overrides, the massless nature of ebooks, and I have friends that find TTS valuable. And I would readily agree that DRM-free ebooks offer greater value than print. But that is not the product we’re discussing, is it?
    We’re discussing Agency-priced, zero-TTS, one-time lendable (if at all), region-locked, device locked BPH ebooks, often in TPZ or hard-coded ePub. Of occasionally questionable editing quality.
    It’s kind-of a package deal, no?
    And a small (soon to be smaller) subset of the ebook universe.

  29. Well, if 26 times is the wrong figure, what about 43? 66? 666?

    One of the concerns I have is that titles may, in fact, disappear altogether. A library may choose not to renew a title for a second go because of low interest. In a physical library, somewhere that title remains alive for future generations.

    One also wonders that, if the publishing industry is happy with 40 cents per read, it would be happy to allow Overdrive to open a “Personal Library” division so the rest of us could borrow titles at the same rate and forgo ever “buying” books at all.

    Now there’s a new way of thinking!

  30. Felix Torres // March 7, 2011 at 9:54 am //

    Taking a half step back, it seems to me this “debate” is exposing a clear and ongoing rift in the ebook world between the producers and consumers. On the one hand we have the BPHs and their apologists trying to defend HC’s edict and on the other the consumers that see it as despicable, shortsighted, and indefensible.

    I see no consensus in sight, only escalation.

    When we strip away the smoke and mirrors of ideology and vested interests, the library ebook debate is just another front in the now-openly declared war between the established publishing Oligarchs and consumers. At issue is whether ebooks should be a premium-priced, restricted-use product protected from market forces or whether this new product should be allowed to find its own market-based dynamics as to pricing, availability, and usage models based (to one extent or another) on consumer expectations and demands. More bluntly; will the BPHs traditional “take it or leave it” business model prevail or will it be marginalized by more consumer-friendly practices?
    As in all wars, people will take sides based more on their fears and vested interests than the openly espoused ideologies; those in the publishing industry fear and loathe anything that even hints at commoditization or “free” access to their “rare and priceless” content. Those on the reader side, conversely, want their content as cheap and as accessible as possible.
    In other industries, this debate woud play out in the open, letting market forces shape a consensus compromise. In publishing, the small and medium publishers are doing just that, but their efforts are overshadowed by the entrenched Oligarchs.

    What the BPHs are clearly working towards is a pay-per-read model, across the board, much as the pathetic terms they saddled the Sony Librie upon its first arrival. To get there, they have, so far, sought to elliminate retail-level price competition. Now, they either refuse to license to Libraries (let’s not forget HC is not the worst villain here) or switch to per-read terms that are intended to minimize the value of library ebooks to the Libraries *and* their users. (Which, oddly enough, *improves* the competitive positioning of the dominant ebook reader ecosystem that does *not* support libraries even though their stated goal is to marginalize said ecosystem.)
    Next, they will most likely limit the number of reader devices their DRM’ed products can be read on to one or two.
    After that, they will look for other incremental restrictions they can add to the reading licenses they offer or move to a Google-like cloud-based system.
    The strategy, of course, is to move the bounds of “accepted practice” step-by-step towards a model that restores their gatekeeper powers of the 19th century.

    Let’s not fool ourselves here: consumers have in fact mostly turned a blind eye to the BPHs campaign. Those of us in there venues decrying these practices are but a minority. There really is no meaningful debate going on. The masses are not turning up enmass to publicly express their disatisfaction. Whatever unrest exists they are expressing it privately, through other channels.
    The BPHs gods issue their edicts, the pundits and enthusiasts speak, and the BPHs get their way. Or so it seems.
    Because consumers *do* have an alternative to irrational ebook pricing and licensing.
    And its use is growing ever more tempting by the minute.

    The BPHs see Library ebook lending as a consumer’s alternative to buying when it is, in reality, an alternative to stealing. (To “piracy”, if we are to maintain the internet’s long-standing euphemistic hypocrisy on the subject.)

    The war is heating up, folks.

    Whether the war extends to the medium and smaller publishers is still unclear, but the BPHs are presenting themselves and their positions as applying to *all* publishers. I think it behooves the more rational publishers to clearly distance themselves from the HarperCollinses of the industry and, maybe, take advantage of the opportunities offered up by BPH shortsightedness.

    If they don’t (which Smashwords and Overdrive clearly did, last week) they risk being judged accomplices by acquiescence. There is no middle ground in declared wars, folks.

    From here on out it is going to get bloody.

  31. Even physical libraries remove books if someone decides other more valuable books need the room. Fortunately, many of those libraries are part of library systems that store books in one location and make them available to others. But some of them simply give the books away or dump the books on giveaway locations. Bottom line: Just because a library has a physical book, doesn’t mean that book is forever.

    This is exactly the value of library ebooks: There may be no printed version of the book at your local library, but you can obtain an ebook version easily enough through the library’s connection to the web. The library systems are better off hacking out a workable loan and payment system, and keeping ebooks popular as downloaded resources, than foregoing ebooks altogether.

  32. Reading on multiple devices is like saying I can read in multiple rooms in my house. Most publishers won’t allow text to speech, and the Kindle is the only one that will do that anyway. I can annotate my paper books, look up words in a paper dictionary. The downloading books on the fly is only true in wifi enabled devices, which many are not. And those that are so enabled are generally tied to specific stores. That’s like saying I can go to B&N but not the Borders next door.

    Storing books in the cloud is only good as long as the cloud-based store decides to continue to support you, or to support that book. And it’s only good as long as technology continues to support your format. Just ask all the people who purchased books in no-longer supported formats how they feel about losing their books! Even B&N has decided to stop supporting one file format (pdb) in their new devices (Nook Color doesn’t support pdb).

    The only added functionality that you list that is of value to me is the ability to adjust font sizes. That alone isn’t worth the premium prices the Agency 6 are asking me to pay for crippled files.

  33. oh, and Steve, I *do* buy paper books on the assumption that I can give it away or resell it. I have limited space for keeper books, and frequently give books away or trade them on paperbackswap or bookswap.

  34. A phenomenally stupid post even by post-buyout TeleRead standards. E-books do not wear out and have no artificial scarcity. Even lending them is an undue imposition of print-book constraints on electronic books.

    Just for fun, let’s have a full disclosure of where Taylor gets his funding. Not from incumbent publishers, by any chance?

  35. Nobody buys a book just because they can resell or share it? Those are the ONLY reasons I buy books. I think there’s a MAJOR separation between the haves and the have-nots on this issue. If you make around $40,000 and up, it’s not so much of a problem to buy every book you want to read.

    This is why the move by HarperCollins actually makes a case for libraries avoiding this ebook mess altogether, and that’s speaking as someone that LOVES the convenience of ebooks, from what I’ve seen and used. If it comes down to being a technology that could potentially eat up a larger slice of the library budget, then factor in the time it will take to get eReaders in the hands of the public, then train the public how to navigate the ever-changing DRM requirements…all so they can do something that they can ALREADY do with the books in the library.

    I think the next step, beyond a boycott, is to contact HarperCollins authors directly. Authors like Neil Gaiman and his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, have been touting the demise of the traditional record label, for almost identical reasons, for awhile now, and I’m sure Mr. Gaiman would appreciate some common sense advice from librarians, regarding his relationship to the publisher.

  36. Felix Torres // March 7, 2011 at 10:12 am //

    By the way, the Hollywood studios have a similar issue brewing with Netflix, as discussed over in CNET:
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-20039915-261.html?tag=topStories2

    Like it or not, digital *will* cannibalize physical media sales. Like it or not it *will* commoditize pricing.

  37. Felix is right, of course: The majority of ebook users aren’t at these forums, complaining to the skies; they’re at home, downloading books from Amazon, and not complaining about anything. The BPHs know this, and like most other businesses, will simply keep doing what they want to do, comfortable in the knowledge that they will make the most money off of the sheep in the world.

    This is very unfortunate. There are alternatives to following the sheep, however, and they don’t all include stealing from the BPHs–because that only reinforces the impression that their content is wanted at any cost, thereby encouraging them to sell by their means and wait out the impetuousness of a few black sheep.

    The alternatives include all those smaller publishers and independents… patronize them, and most importantly, get some of the sheep to patronize them, and tell them why they should. Show the BPHs that they’re not the only game in town.

    Ultimately, if the small pubs and independents make a big enough impact in the market, their sales methods will force the BPHs to reshape their methods to suit. But that won’t happen if the small pubs and indies never become a competitive threat. Wasting so much time throwing rocks at the BPHs is time lost in growing the small pubs and indies.

    The libraries are essentially tools of the BPHs (how many indies get their books into libraries?). So, to ignore the BPHs, ignore the libraries… get your books elsewhere. Let the libraries figure out why their model isn’t working, and leave it up to them to fix it.

    Not taking these steps is akin to standing apart, in opposition to the system, and not telling anyone why you’re standing apart. Complaining about it here is merely preaching to the choir.

  38. @Nick:

    If you make around $40,000 and up, it’s not so much of a problem to buy every book you want to read.

    or don’t have a mortgage, or don’t have kids, or medical bills, or…

  39. “For an average 2-week lending term, libraries would get a full year of lending for about US$10-20, based on typical ebook prices—that’s about 40-80 cents a loan.”

    Libraries in Canada don’t get a deal anywhere near this. We pay *more* for an e-book than for the same print book. According to this NYT study, publishers are making 4x the profit on an ebook sold at the same price as print:

    http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/03/01/business/01ebook_g.html?ref=media

    Sorry, we are being gouged. Perhaps if publishers actually sold ebooks at one-half to one-third the price of print, I might be sympathetic to their plight, but right now it’s pure greed.

    We also don’t even own the ebook — we license it. What is that?!? Gimme a break.

    Steve Jobs figured it out. Apple passed10 billion downloads a year ago: http://gigaom.com/apple/10-billion-itunes-song-downloads-could-equal-10k-for-one-lucky-customer/

    They also dumped DRM in 2009: http://www.brighthand.com/default.asp?newsID=14773

    So did Sony. They partnered with Freegal to offer libraries DRM-free downloads of the entire Sony Music catalog: http://www.freegalmusic.com/users/sndlogin

    How about this as a radical idea:

    Remove the DRM, lower the price and place a few links at the front & back of the ebook to allow patrons to purchase items from the publisher. Publishers will get more sales, more authors will make money and libraries will be able to expand their collections to serve our communities.

    There is absolutely no reason to ever artificially limit an ebook. As it stands, HC’s draconian digital book-burning policies will force libraries to make a choice: buy the same titles over and over and over every few years and forego purchasing new titles or only buy new titles.

    Frankly, I don’t like either of those options. Our library has already made a decision — we’re not spending one cent of our million dollar book budget with HC.

  40. “nobody buys a book just because they can resell or share it” – that’s actually not true. As much as I love the convenience of ebooks, it definitely sucks to talk to one of my fellow bookworm buddies after I’ve read one. Because I can tell her how great the book was, but I can’t lend it to her.

    “if you lose your device, you can re-download onto a new one” – I still have books from 20 years ago. I cannot open files from the computer I had 20 years ago.

    I’m not saying ebooks don’t offer many conveniences, but there are real drawbacks too.

  41. Joann said: “If they don’t want us to “assume” that we can do the things we have done with print, than they should not be charging us print prices. THAT is where the hostility, from both libraries and from book-buying customers, is coming from.”

    Makes sense to me.

    A library can buy one p-book and loan it again and again and again, repair the binding and continue to loan it again and again without HC looking over their shoulder and crying foul. The library gets this for price A.

    Now HC wants them to purchase an e-book, loan it for only 26 times while still paying price A.

    If HC wants to limit the library’s use of the book, then it should limit the library’s COST also… price B for 50 loans, price C for 25 loans.

    There is no reasonable explanation for paying the same $ while getting less. Would you go to the grocery store and pay for a gallon of milk and then take home only a quart?

    The whole thing smacks of panic in the publishing world to me. They see their imfluence in the book world being eroded by self-publishing and digital books in general, and are looking to grab every penny they can before they drown in their own self-made lake of denial.

  42. “nobody buys a book just because they can resell or share it” – that’s actually not true. As much as I love the convenience of ebooks, it definitely sucks to talk to one of my fellow bookworm buddies after I’ve read one. Because I can tell her how great the book was, but I can’t lend it to her. If I think I will want to reread and share, I have to go with paper (and forego some convenience)

    “if you lose your device, you can re-download onto a new one” – I still have books from 20 years ago. I cannot open files from the computer I had 20 years ago.

    I almost never use the dictionary feature so I can’t speak to that.

    I’m not saying ebooks don’t offer many conveniences, but there are real drawbacks too.

  43. Steve, all of the ‘benefits’ you mention are solely at the mercy of the vendor. Yu just don’t get it.

  44. Sorry for the duplicate – I’m posting from my phone…

  45. @Katherine, Nick, et al: You buy a book because you want to read it. Reselling or lending is completely secondary to that, and you’re not going to buy a book that you can resell or lend, if you don’t intend to read it. I’m not saying reselling or lending a book isn’t nice to be able to do… but it should never be a deal-breaker, it’s just not that important, especially as you can always “recommend” a book to someone… let them buy it and support the artist.

    Reading is the primary task, and the options that facilitate that are primary options. Disposing of the book afterward is a secondary option, not directly connected with the point of buying a book, so I don’t equate it as importantly as the primary options. You don’t buy a car based on whether or not you can get the hubcaps you want… you buy it to get you places. Let’s be real about what’s important here.

    @Joanne: Those points are all at my command, based on the devices I choose to use and how I store my ebooks. The only control the vendor has over my doing so is whether or not they decide to sell me the book… I can do the rest. I do them right now. So I wonder who’s not getting it here.

  46. Steven writes:
    ” Ebooks actually give you more usability options than printed books,”

    Oh please Steven. Are you serious? Please tell us how this is so ?

  47. Brian/AnemicOak // March 7, 2011 at 11:15 am //

    “Reading is the primary task, and the options that facilitate that are primary options. Disposing of the book afterward is a secondary option, not directly connected with the point of buying a book, so I don’t equate it as importantly as the primary options.”

    There are other ways to read the book than buying it. Borrow it from a friend or the library for example. Some folks only BUY the book knowing they’ll be able to sell/trade it later and factor that into the cost they’re investing into it. Would they buy the book if they didn’t want to read it? No of course not, but if they didn’t know they could sell/trade it they might not buy it at all.

  48. Brian/AnemicOak // March 7, 2011 at 11:16 am //

    “Ebooks actually give you more usability options than printed books,”

    More, or just different?

  49. Steven writes:
    “You buy a book because you want to read it. Reselling or lending is completely secondary to that, and you’re not going to buy a book that you can resell or lend, if you don’t intend to read it. I’m not saying reselling or lending a book isn’t nice to be able to do… but it should never be a deal-breaker, it’s just not that important, especially as you can always “recommend” a book to someone… let them buy it and support the artist.”

    I believe this is wholly wrong for a great many, if not the majority, of people. Being able to lend and/or sell-on a paper book is a key part of how people assess the amount of money they are willing to pay for a paper book. Whether or not it is the primary reason for the purchasing decision is irrelevant. Books are expensive for most people. Faced with prices of $13 or $18 for a paper book, the knowledge that a sister, child, parent can also read it is an important factor when shelling out that kind of money. Knowing that it is also possible to sell it or exchange it in a used book store is also commonly an important factor in shelling out.
    That the publishers are trying to remove those options, among others, reduces the value of an eBook considerably.

    The suggestion “you can always “recommend” a book to someone” strikes me, yet again, as an elitist and totally disconnected statement (no offence to you personally Steven) that is typical of the insider view. A view, among many, that is contributing to the anger among readers.

  50. You don’t buy a car based on whether or not you can get the hubcaps you want

    no, but I buy a car based on possible resale value, and projected maintenance costs and other such considerations.

    Steve, you’re trying to defend the indefensible. Your metaphors just don’t hold up.

  51. becca – you are of course totally correct, well said. Steven’s views on this are quite bizarre to me – but what is really interesting (and irritating) is that those views give us an insight into how the big publishing industry is trying to represent themselves when marketing their titles and when canvassing political contacts in the government about Agency pricing.
    It is critically important that the rest of us make sure we let both the industry AND the Government hears our views.

  52. “Publishers’ job is to eliminate library lending. Not to reduce it, but to eliminate it. It’s the role of libraries and readers to prevent that. It’s that simple. It’s a transition and things could go either way. To pretend that Publishers will care about the greater good or the long-term implications is being naive”

    http://ireaderreview.com/2011/03/06/the-kindle-libraries-subscription-plans-and-the-big-transition/

    That is it in a nutshell, and if library supporters think that most authors are on their side then they are wrong. The old public library system, supported by all taxpayers, would have been in danger even without ebooks. Now with ebooks you have a perfect storm.

  53. Matt Williams // March 7, 2011 at 11:54 am //

    We will stop treating them as print books if the publisher’s stop doing so. They cost less to produce so they should be priced less. They last forever so they shouldn’t need to be replaced. So, either charge us more for them and ensure they are ours forever or charge us less if you want us to replace them. Oh, and our new books go out for a week so that’s half a year’s circulations not a year.

  54. This kind of draconian thinking is what got the music recording industry in the mess it is in, fighting for pennies from consumers guilty of infringement as they leave millions on the table by not responding to new ways of selling, marketing, and distributing music. Libraries are labeled a bogeyman even though total sales of books, CDs, videos, sheet music, and other media formats represent a tiny fraction of total sales for most publishers (that is, all publishers except those that sell almost exclusively to academic libraries who collect the kind of research publications they publish). If the publishing industry wants to implode by grasping desperately to revenue models that the public won’t accept, it’s their own funeral.

  55. Mind-Booster Noori reminds us of an important point…libraries aren’t in the business of supporting publishers or authors, they’re in the business of building communities. The flipside to this , though, is that authors and publishers are not in the community-building business. I don’t think there’s any more reason to expect authors and publishers to give free or near-free product to libraries than any other business to give them free or near-free products. It’s up to the taxpayers to determine how much they want to spend on these worthwhile purposes.

    eBooks are different. A given quantity of eBooks can be lent more often than the same quantity of paper books (for one thing, there’s no need to manually collect books, re-enter them in the database, etc.). For another, eBooks can be checked out remotely, eliminating the need to make a library visit (and therefore competing more directly with eBook distributors). It makes sense to me that publishers would have different rules for eBooks than for paper books. (I think this is a critical point… in the world of eBooks, libraries become far more direct substitutes for bookstores than they were in the world of paper books).

    TeleRead was founded with the idea of a national electronic library… a noble goal and certainly one I believe in. But when he came up with the idea, David Rothman made it clear that authors and publishers would have to be compensated. So far, we don’t have a national approach to how this compensation should take place (in much of Europe, libraries pay a small fee to publishers for each check-out…something we don’t do here in the US). HarperCollins is suggesting that they believe some limits are needed on eBooks going to libraries in order to receive what they believe to be fair compensation. Fair enough…that’s their business decision to make. Libraries can decide to buy fewer of their books if they believe HarperCollins is being unfair. That’s their choice, too.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher

  56. I really wish you had come clean in the beginning of your article rather than at the end. You know, the part under Editors Note where you inform us that you work for a publisher. A publisher that stands to gain a new and yet untapped revenue stream if Harper Collins continues with this shakedown and it becomes an industry standard to be exploited.

    How long until you come out with an article on the virtues of advertising through this new medium (ebooks)? Or endorsing a new standard which will put more money into your pocket?

    I think what I find the most distasteful is someone publishing an article who is seemingly independent and yet has much to gain if your article curries enough favor. This is an endorsement, not an article, it should ne under advertisements. Not cool.

  57. “.. let’s start with an acknowledgement that publishers and authors (and indeed booksellers) have a genuinely-held concern and that the consequences of getting it wrong are enormous.”

    It’s true. Publishers have a genuine concern: they might make less money. And authors also have a genuine and legitimate concern: The publishers are screwing them over completely in order to make more money.

    And now the public has a genuine concern: we’re being told that, in order to protect the profits of a publishing industry which hasn’t learned anything from digital music, we need to accept heavy restrictions on how we can read.

    Look. I’m not advocating theft of books. I buy books specifically to support my favorite authors. But… I’m finding that electronic versions are poorly edited, and so badly restricted that in some cases they’re unusable. And, frequently, the books I want aren’t actually available digitally. So what do I do? I stop buying ebooks. I go to a used book store and buy a used paper copy, or buy a used copy on-line. And then the author gets nothing. Or I buy a paper copy, and feel no need to buy the digital version.

    Let’s get one thing straight: the music industry spent years demonizing the mp3 format. “It will destroy the music industry!” they said. “It will mean no one can afford to be a musician!” they said. “We have to put restrictions on use!” they said. You know what? It didn’t destroy the music industry. There are still people who can afford to be musicians. And all that DRM has been dropped at Amazon, and from some tracks on iTunes. A lot of people are buying more music now than they ever have before, simply because it’s so easy. In other words, the music industry was wrong. So is the publishing industry.

    Martin Taylor is wrong. It’s not the libraries that need to change old thinking: it’s the publishing industry.

  58. Steve, you’re trying to defend the indefensible.

    I guess you’re right: Trying to explain myself to people who buy ebooks, not based on how they will use them, but how they plan to dispose of them, is clearly pointless. I concede that I don’t share your priorities at all, and I’ll bow out here.

  59. The inherent bias in this article is laughable. It’s very much along the lines of ‘publishers good, libraries bad’. I wonder if the OP could write the same article again, but from the viewpoint of libraries – I very much doubt it, because he’s not capable of viewing or seeing the viewpoint OF libraries.

    Libraries are not here to make life easier for publishers, or indeed for themselves. They are there to be of assistance to their members. This means that their over riding concern isn’t to make the last possible dollar out of a situation, which is what publishers need to do.

    A basic problem that we’ve all got is trying to fit eBooks into an existing paradigm, which is nonsensical, since they’re something new, and need to be seen that way. Any attempt to see them otherwise is bound to fail. For example, if HC wants to view an eBook like a physical book they’re absolutely justified in saying to a library ‘you can only loan this out sequentially’. However, they can’t then turn around and say ‘but you can’t also use it for 26 loans because that’s how long a real book lasts’ when it’s perfectly obvious that’s simply not the case.

    Equally, a library can say ‘we have this item and want to loan it as often as we like, including concurrently, because the technology allows us to’ but they can’t then complain if the publisher decides to put other limits on it.

    So, let’s stop looking at libraries V publishers, which is quite frankly boring and not constructive. Blocking access to eBooks in this way is only going to hurt one group of people – the reader. It’ll particularly hurt those on shift work, those in rural out of way locations that can’t get to libraries, the elderly, the infirm, other housebound readers and so on. Does HarperCollins really want to be seen to be limiting choice in this way? I guess not. Would a library, by blocking access to HC titles want to be seen to be limiting choice in this way? I guess not again. HC are simply pricing themselves out of the market. Libraries need to help them understand the full impact of the issues.

    Having a go at libraries in the way that Taylor has done is pretty infantile and certainly shows a distinct lack of understanding for the real issues.

  60. Rob Preece – I believe your post emphasises the irrelevancy that Libraries are inevitably becoming.

    Firstly Libraries should not be an instrument for community building. They were brought about with the intent to bring reading and education and an intellectual life to those who could not afford it. As instruments of community building their are poorly designed, manned and planned.

    In a world, soon coming, where readers can borrow eBooks for free from the comfort of their own sitting room, there is no chance of developing a successful business model for commercial publishing.

    When readers can borrow any eBook they desire for free, and they do not have to leave their home or experience any negative image issues in doing so, there is no remaining motivation to actually BUY an eBook commercially.

    Trying to force an out dates and irrelevant institution into a new world is pointless and misguided.

    What is needed is a completely new model, without bricks and mortar libraries, to enable the less well off acquire eBooks at an affordable price. I have no idea how that model might look like.

  61. Howard,

    Perhaps in ten years, any reader will be able to borrow any eBook they desire for free, but not today. Just because a publisher makes an eBook available doesn’t mean that they make it available for lending. In addition, what happens to the huge collection of print books that libraries already have purchased? Do they have no value to the community?

    Have you considered libraries in low-income communities, where many of the people who live there can’t afford an eReader, tablet or PC, let alone the cost of buying eBooks? How about school libraries that have even less money to replace print collections with eBooks…should they be closed as well?

    Until you have a “completely new model” for replacing libraries that’s viable, both economically and politically, libraries will remain an essential part of our communities.

  62. Don’t worry everyone, the way the A6 are acting, within 10 years they will all be long gone…

  63. Steve, I buy books for two different reasons. One is to read and collect. The other is what I consider disposable books… books I’ll read once, maybe twice, and get rid of because I simply don’t have space on my shelves for books I’ll never read again. I’m willing to pay higher prices for books that I collect than I am for read-once books.

    I think there wouldn’t be all that uproar over HC’s decision had they chosen a more reasonable number of checkouts. 26 is essentially one year’s worth at 2 weeks per check out… but libraries keep books much longer than 1 year.

    Our point is simply this: if you’re going to sell us a crippled file (either sell me directly, or sell to a library with a limited number of check-outs), the value of that item is less than it might otherwise be… and therefore the price should be lower than that of an uncrippled item. I don’t see you, or the other HC apologists addressing this issue. Instead, we get metaphors about buying cars and hubcaps.

  64. Well, as I don’t agree with your assessment of those files as “crippled,” I have nothing more to say about it.

  65. I’m sure, Mr. Taylor, you have a different definition of what “is” is…

  66. Sorry, Mr. Jordan…

  67. Andy Jenkinson // March 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm //

    The publishers regard the public as a bunch of crooks trying to rip them off. If this was so then no-one would buy emusic or ebooks as everyone would doenload from Torrents. Most people are basically honest and don’t do this. They do, however, object to being screwed, and I can see every overpriced ebook purchased resulting in a couple of torrent downloads. That makes people dishonest. Once they have taken that step, where does it end?

    The facts are that with tree books publishers need authors and readers, authors need publishers and readers and readers need publishers and authors. With ebooks authors need readers and authors.

  68. Andy Jenkinson // March 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm //

    Last sentence should have read:
    With ebooks authors need readers and readers need authors.

  69. Len – I wrote “I believe your post emphasises the irrelevancy that Libraries are inevitably becoming”. I was therefore referring to a future where this argument applies. And at the rate online lending is developing I suggest it will come much earlier than ten years.

    You wrote: “In addition, what happens to the huge collection of print books that libraries already have purchased? Do they have no value to the community?”

    When eBook versions become available (many hundreds of thousands are being scanned now and personal scanners are becoming available) then what use do you think they will have ?

    “Until you have a “completely new model” for replacing libraries that’s viable, both economically and politically, libraries will remain an essential part of our communities.”

    I would suggest to you that old institutions do not wait until new ones are built when they become obsolete. The point of my opining is to question how unlimited borrowing or even nearly unlimited borrowing, which is what libraries are aiming at, can be sustainable if it renders publishing uneconomic.

    That there remains a portion of society in need of access to free eBooks and education is undeniable. To hide one’s head in the sand, as the Library community is doing, is not a solution. To retain a ridiculously expensive nationwide infrastructure across the upper and middle and working classes solely to achieve access for that tiny minority is economically unsustainable imho.

    We need a new model.

  70. Howard,

    If there’s any evidence that unlimited borrowing makes publishing uneconomic,, then show it. Libraries have existed in large scale in the U.S. for more than 100 years. During that time, it was no more convenient to go to a library than to go to a commercial bookstore, yet print publishing thrived and authors made livings.

    You make broad, general assumptions–for example, everything in every collection will be scanned, digitized and made available for free–without evidence. The firestorm that Google’s unauthorized scanning efforts created should illuminate the problem. And, the term “completely new model” was yours, not mine. You were the one who wrote that you had no idea what this new model would look like, or how it would work.

    It appears that your argument is really being driven by your being forced to pay for services that you don’t use. If libraries are a “ridiculously expensive nationwide infrastructure”, how much do they really cost? How do they compare with, say, the overall education budget in the U.S.? The military budget? Libraries are a “flea on an elephant” compared to those expenditures. And, you’ve completely ignored the school library issue…perhaps because it doesn’t fit into your worldview.

    If you don’t want to pay for your local libraries, you can protest to your local government, or move to a community without libraries. However, please don’t deny them to the many people, of all socioeconomic groups, that use them.

  71. I’m not. I don’t expect to see one of my books in any library system, nor do I use libraries myself, so I regard this as largely irrelevant to me. And since my efforts to participate in a logical conversation only ended up with my being boxed about the ears for my trouble, the heck with it.

  72. Len – for some reason you appear to deliberately ignore what I am saying and the fact that I am referring to a situation in the future, if libraries achieve what they are trying to achieve, where they have access to enormous numbers of eBooks for free lending.

    Please don’t make assumptions about me that you haven’t a clue about. Firstly I have frequented my local libraries for thirty years. The same for the my son. I have three books out now on his behalf. But I see no future for them if I can borrow free online.

    Do you really think that the borrowing availability now is comparable with what is being aspired to in the near future ? Right now my library stocks a few thousand books. One a few miles away has probably ten thousand. If I want a book they don’t have I have to wait until it arrives and then travel to the library to pick it up. Few of my colleagues or wider family use libraries. It is too much trouble, they say. This is why do few people use libraries to borrow books now.
    What about in ten years time ? if hundreds of thousands of eBooks are available online ? You think that is comparable with now ? I find that hard to grasp.
    You appear to only defend libraries for some aesthetic reason while avoiding the scenario I suggest could come about in the not so far future. Yet I read every day about more and more libraries enabling access to huge online library catalogues.
    Do you really think people with an eReader or a computer will go to an eRetailer and buy a $10 eBook when they can navigate to a library site and borrow it free ?
    Yes I admit I don’t have a solution .. but does that really negate the existence of a coming problem ? No one knows how to feed the starving in the next 50 years, but does that mean there are no starving people ?

  73. Howard,

    One additional comment, just so we understand what U.S. libraries cost compared to other expenditures: According to the American Library Association, for FY2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, total operating expenditures for the more than 9,000 public libraries in the U.S. were $10.72 billion (http://www.ala.org/ala/professionalresources/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet04.cfm). According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the 2006-7 school year (the most recent year for which they have statistics) were $562.3 billion (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_180.asp?referrer=list). In other words, total public library expenditures were equal to 1.9% of total K-12 public school expenditures.

    One other thing that you might find educational: “Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2009–2010” (http://www.ala.org/ala/research/initiatives/plftas/2009_2010/index.cfm). It will help to explain all the ways that libraries are used that you appear not to either understand or care about.

  74. I bought an ebook from Amazon a while back. Turned out it was really poorly formatted. They couldn’t fix it and replace it – their “solution” was to credit me back the money and remove it from my edevices. Yes, Amazon can remotely remove your books. Generally, they won’t just do it for kicks, but the fact that they can is creepy.

  75. Len – I find the spending of $10.72 billion and $562.3 billion on libraries continuing into the future where eBooks can be delivered at a microscopic fraction of that cost as absolutely shocking and a most shameful waste of money. I am totally shocked at the thought of it.

    And if you think I would pay any attention to the propaganda pamphlets of the American Library Association …. What a load of twaddle.

  76. Andy Jenkinson // March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm //

    Amazon can’t fix formatting errors in books – that is done by the publishers. Amazon do not and will not remove books from your Kindle unless you ask them to. You try getting a refund from a tree book publisher for a badly formatted book or one full of typos.

    I’ve pointed out typos and formatting errors to a few indie authors, and they have corrected them within a few days – often same day. You can then ask Amazon to download the free replacement. You need to ask them because you may have made notes you want to keep, which may well be irrelevant or misplaced in a corrected copy.

    And they can’t remove a book you’ve copied to your PC – just stop you reading it. Which I feel is fair if you’ve obtained a refund.

    Amazon will also inform the mainstream publishers of errors you’ve found – but generally, don’t hold your breath for a correction.

  77. E Thorne Morris // March 8, 2011 at 9:48 am //

    Anything that raises the price of information, will limit education to a minority of wealthy customers. The future of any civilization will depend on free schools and books that are provided by towns.
    As an unemployed librarian it is sad to see that many libraries are being reduced in staff or closed to save money.
    The loss to the people is the free education that is the main purpose for libraries. Librarians serve as teachers, answer questions, direct research, provide books and journals on request.
    The immigrants in the last century benefited from free books, as well as the local population, by benefited I mean their education beyond and after their school system.
    I don’t have an ebook, I like physical books, have bought thousands over the years. And when I want to read an old or rare book I check out Google Books and the Internet Archives.

  78. “Is HC next going to put this kind of a limit on their ebooks for those of us who do purchase the book? a “three-read” license, then the book expires? That’s where this kind of thinking is leading. It’s almost like they want people to stop buying their ebooks.”

    Becca, that scares me. But you’re right – I could see things going in this direction and if it does I will toss my Nook out the window.

    (Btw, I still love physical books – I buy them all the time!)

  79. “Is HC next going to put this kind of a limit on their ebooks for those of us who do purchase the book? a “three-read” license, then the book expires? That’s where this kind of thinking is leading.”

    This is indeed a scary prospect that we cannot ignore, considering the control-freakery being followed by these publishers.

    I would not put it past them to claim next year that the average customer reads their eBook only 5 times, and as an anti piracy measure and to save them ‘millions of dollars’ they will limit customers to 10 reads, renewable with an additional $10 payment.

  80. Andy Jenkinson // March 9, 2011 at 10:32 am //

    If ebooks replace tree books publishers will suffer. Many will continue to read and buy tree books only. Many will buy ebooka AND treebooks. Many will only buy ebooks.
    Publishers can’t stop ebooks. They CAN stop their own ebooks which is effectively what they are doing. Readers have a vast choice. Not all books are brilliant and not all are bad, whether from indies or publishers. Publishers are driving readers {at least Kindle readers) to sample indies – and the forums suggest that generally they like what they see. These are readers who would have bought from established authors if the books had been sensibly priced. A lot of their potential sales have been lost and that may be a permanent situation brought on by publisher greed.
    They are doing the same with libraries. Someone who uses a library is usually a reader. Unless they cannot afford to buy books readers buy books. Libraries keep readers reading until they can afford books, when they do. Publishers actions work against this, guaranteeing a decreasing customer base.
    Why don’t they see ebooks and libraries as sources of ADDITIONAL revenue?

  81. Taylor, consider that a physical book, a hardback, can be circulated more than 100 times with proper repairs by library staff. You may think that 40-80 cents per circulation is reasonable, but in comparison to, say, 16 cents per circulation that they may be paying now on often-stretched-thin budgets? In this article I see the same blindness so prevalent in the online discuss of ebooks – assured that ebooks are the way of the future, you ignore the fact that ebook readers are a luxury item that many people served by public libraries cannot afford.

  82. @Steven Lyle Jordan
    “You don’t buy a car based on whether or not you can get the hubcaps you want… you buy it to get you places.”

    “I don’t expect to see one of my books in any library system, nor do I use libraries myself, so I regard this as largely irrelevant to me..”

    I’m glad you finally came out with the fact that you don’t use the public library system. Your reasoning makes a lot more sense now. I can’t condemn you for having a bias and an opinion on the matter, but you made a very bad metaphor/analogy.

    Book : Resale :: Car : Hubcaps
    Book : Lend :: Car : Hubcaps

    Neither one really works now does it? When you a buy a car, unless you are really well off or plan to drive it until it dies, you do have to think about what happens to it after you are done with it. If you have kids, then you have to take into account whether or not the car will be appropriate when it comes time to handing down the car to them. If you don’t have kids yet and plan to, how soon will you have to buy a different car and how much can you sell the one you’re driving; i.e. resale value. If you don’t have kids and don’t plan to, will your significant other be able to drive your vehicle? They may not know how to drive a manual or it’s uncomfortable for them (too high/low/big/small). If you are someone who has no dependents/family and plan on driving the car to the ground, then sure pick the car you want and don’t care about what to do about it afterward.

    You can apply the same ideas to books. Is this book something appropriate I can hand down to my kids or future kids? Is this book something my significant other can enjoy as well? The only difference is, you don’t have to be as well off to not care about what happens to a book afterward.

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