With yet another publisher announcing today that it’s dropping out of the library eBook market, I decided to put up a new sign in our library in a few different spots to raise public awareness.  The sign lists which publishers won’t do eBook business with libraries and provides contact information for the publishers in question.  I’ve posted about the issue on our library blog and pushed it out on our Twitter account and Facebook page.  And here’s a direct link to a downloadable copy of my sign on Google Docs. It’s not fancy, but feel free to take it, modify it, use it. And if anybody has better contact info for these companies, let me know. This is what I could glean from Reference USA and the company websites.

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Sign at the San Rafael Public Library

I know it’s a small gesture. It’s just a sign (although I did put three of them up).  I am also writing letters as the Library Director (in many cases, again) to the publishers on the list asking them to try to work with libraries…telling them we’re open to negotiation and suggestion, but that walking away the library market is damaging to all of us.

As a librarian and as a reader, I am tired of publishers walking away from the library table.  I have no problem with them walking away from a particular third party vendor, but only if they have a plan in place to offer up their own platform or be signed with an alternate vendor already.  Gaps in service, gaps in availability of their titles to our patrons equals stupidity in my opinion.  Walking away from the library eBook market makes no financial long-term sense, nor does it continue the positive relationship that publishers and libraries have cultivated for centuries to help bring information and entertainment to people.

I think it’s about damn time we, as library professionals, started getting the public riled up about this too.  We need legislation passed (or copyright law clarified) that states that indeed, libraries can license/purchase and lend out digital items just like they can with physical items.  Fragmentation and exclusionary business practices hurt the people we serve.  As a librarian I feel we must stand up, as a profession, and say “no more.”

As I was putting the signs up today, I got a few questions immediately from library users.  Within a half hour of the Penguin/OverDrive news being announced, I had three phone calls to my desk from concerned San Rafael residents about yet another publisher not being available through their library’s eBook collection.  Now, admittedly we have a mightily active and concerned citizenry here in San Rafael (I love you guys!), but I’m guessing every other community has a good base of people who would also think this is ridiculous and be willing to do something about it.  I’m encouraging users to contact the publishers and tell other book-lovers they know.  This is one of those issues we’ve been dealing with in the library vacuum–an issue 99.9% of the public has no idea exists, and an issue that would invoke at least 80% pissed-off-ed-ness if we tell people about it.

Put a sign up in your library.  Say something to people at your eBooks classes.  Do something.  Because nobody, including ALA, is going to do it for you.

(Via Librarian In Black.)


  1. In the good ol’ days, when so many people were acting so stupid, the government would step in with compulsery licensing. Perhaps his time for libraries to get together and really push for compulsory licensing of digital books. Then they could user their own infratructure to manage the files. Why would anyone event want to invovle yet another third party?

  2. Perhaps libraries should have a public reduction of purchasing of any books from these publishers. It would be a headache for a while but when patrons begin to protest a bit of education about what the publishers are doing in combination of reminding patrons of increasingly tight budgets may result in even bigger outcries.

    Many writers have been (and probably many still are) heavy library users so they too have an opportunity to speak up about this growing issue of refusing to serve customers by the publishers. It is just another form of discrimination and it is ugly.

  3. Elizabeth, Amazon tried that to protest the agency model but their customers bombarded them with demands to make the books available again.

    I think the better solution is to develop an aggregator who will provide ebooks from small publishers, backlist authors, and indie authors to libraries. Since those are already the people who make ebooks affordable for so many readers, I’m sure they would be happy to jump on board to make their books available. It could even be Amazon or Overdrive with their access to most of the indie books already.

    I personally gave up on anything from the Big 6 when they implemented the agency model. Between indies, free books, and sale books, I have enough reading material to last me several lifetimes.

  4. Compulsion should only be used in extreme cases. Any system that stomps on giant publishers is likely to also hurt authors who’re barely making their monthly rent.

    It’d make more sense to create a system of ebook checkouts that’s a win-win for everyone. That’s likely to be something called Rent-to-read. Publishers would make all their ebook titles universally available. Every public library that wants, should be able to offer for digital checkout almost every ebook on the market. What sane publisher wouldn’t want to have that huge a market? The key is that income for publishers and authors wouldn’t come from spotty sales triggered by pricey advertising with a time-limited impact, but from a per-reader, per-week rental fee.

    Actual sales makes sense for printed books with an upfront cost of printing and a limited lifespan. But it makes no sense for digital books. Digital books cost nothing to ‘print’ and never wear out. That makes them ideal for renting. And once an ebook is released that way, it’ll provide a steady income for the publisher and author, not the blip of sales followed by almost no income thereafter that the traditional Buy-to-loan library market creates.

    You’d think the Big Six publishers would realize this, but at the moment they seem to be behaving like buggy makers when the first cars hit the market. Rather than make the new horseless buggy themselves, they’re refusing to see the marvelous new market opening up for them if they only think a bit differently.

  5. There is a difference between public outcry and a corporation fighting the agency model. Publishers depend on their authors and their readers. But public awareness is the key. Much of this has been hidden to the public. I applaud Sarah Houghton for encouraging public awareness.

    Many readers are increasingly dependent on ebooks and audiobooks for a variety of reasons such as older adults who need enlarged print to those who cannot easily access a physical library due to distance, time or mobility.

    The refusal to sell ebooks/audiobooks to a market group, especially the public sector, is discrimination pure and simple.

  6. Chris,
    We both know that’s not it. Libraries were valued partners for authors and publishers for centuries, and have been letting people read for free for generations.

    There are, however, issues with ebooks being loaned: ensuring that only one copy is in use at any given time, pricing those copies to account for the fact that they don’t wear out as printed books do, and so forth.

    And then there are the other initiatives that libraries have either led or participated in that are likely to have significant unintended consequences for anyone who wants to make a living from their pen, or from publishing.

    I think that librarians are completely unaware of those side effects of their actions. They’re just focused on getting information into as many hands as possible in the easiest and most effective way possible. It never occurs to them to think of it from the creators’ POV, or if they do consider the other players, it’s with a very limited experience base and some faulty assumptions.

    • Except that everything I’ve read suggests that the main thing libraries are doing that publishers don’t like is simply letting people read these books for free. As far as I know, they do and always have limited readership to 1 (or however many they licensed) loaned copy at a time ever since they started licensing books for checkout to begin with. And HarperCollins’s pricing change was to account for the fact that e-books don’t wear out. Penguin, however, stopped loaning them at all.

      I keep seeing articles in which publishers express concern that letting people read their e-books for free might lead to them not wanting to buy those e-books. And you can’t change that without abrogating the entire purpose of a library to begin with.

  7. Good grief. I can’t count the number of authors I discovered through libraries and then went on to buy. In many cases I have bought multiple copies of each title and multiple formats.

    Access to authors via free libraries has netted publishers their share of tens of thousands of dollars from me alone.

    I just don’t get the big publishers’ current business model. 🙁

  8. There’s a difference between what big houses’ execs will say for attribution, and the real reasons that they act, on occasion.

    Security concerns are an issue, because the systems that the libraries are using are pretty weak. Objections to pricing that’s higher for libraries than for individuals are another barrier.

    And I suspect that the other initiatives are even more of a concern. If libraries are thoughtlessly swiping IP when it’s hard (print to digital) what might happen when it’s easy (digital to digital)?

    You might understand more if you were listening to the discussions about where the current trends will land us, and what the unintended consequences of things that seem like no-brainers to outsiders are likely to be. Big publishers want to continue to exist, of course, but they also are discussing what will happen to the world of books and the profession of writing. And they’re thinking much longer term than most of the popular blogs and articles I’ve read.

    Behind the obvious, there’s a lot of scaffolding that makes it possible to change a writer’s manuscript into something that’s good for readers, and that’s easy for the right readers to find.

    Big publishers are thinking about how that model will have to change to make sure that readers can still find the books that they’ll like, and that the experience will be as good as it has been in print, and that everyone whose work is required along the way can continue to earn a living.

    Of course, many different jobs will, once again, be eliminated. But that’s same-old, same-old in the book business. In the 20-some years that I’ve worked in publishing, there has never been enough profit to allow for unproductive practices or positions, contrary to popular myth.

    • But since I can’t read minds, I kind of have to take what the publishers say at face value. If they say their problem with libraries is books being lent out for free turning people away from buying them, why shouldn’t I believe them? Besides, how are the systems the libraries are using any weaker or more prone to security violations than the systems the publishers use for selling the books? It’s usually the exact same DRM!

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