That Publisher Post & More Questions

In the comments of my post, “How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher’s Tale)”, the highly esteemed Liz Burns wanted me to clarify something I said regarding “jacked up” prices concerning library editions. Here’s our exchange from the post.

Liz:

Andy, what is your source that library editions are “jacked up” prices — which I take to mean that the profit margin on those books are more than other books. If you don’t mean that, please explain what you do. What do you think is an acceptable profit margin for publishers?

Me:

As I am not in a position of ordering materials (with an exception every now and again), my source is more anecdotal in that I heard about it from other people who are in such a position, what I have seen from invoices that are shown to me, or what I have read in various blogs over the last couple of years. It is certainly is not a survey of all pricing, and I’ll admit that my statement is based more in the emotion of the moment. But I don’t believe that makes it completely untrue (and I look forward to being proven otherwise).

My concern is less than with an “acceptable” profit margin of publishers and more of a concern about what value the libraries are getting for their money. As I suggested in the post, I’d like for publishers to start considering bundling ebook rights with their books (library edition or not); they could charge an additional premium on top of the physical book cost. I think it would be a win for the publisher, the library, and the patron. For certain, it would be an additional source of revenue that could be directly recouped for the publisher.

Liz:

Andy, to be honest, it’s my understanding that there is a slim profit margin for most books. Also, I’m a bit puzzled by how much anti-publishers sentiment I’m seeing on some library blogs/tweets. When did they become investment bankers making billions?

Pricing can be more if cost is more, which is why my question is on profit. Better binding for library edition or ability to get free replacement CDs? That’s going to cost more than other books.

Me:

[…] For the record, I’m talking about print books, not library edition audio. The latter is higher because you are buying into a service that will replace discs. It is a premium that makes sense to me, for certain.

I had messaged Liz on Twitter to ask if I could use our exchange as the basis for a blog post. We ended up wondering a few things of our own, so we decided to toss these questions out to the blogosphere audience:

  1. Does anyone buy library edition of print books? Why or why not?
  2. Can anyone tell us where the anti-publisher sentiment has been coming from lately? (Links or articles would be a bonus!)
  3. And how is it that the publishing industry gets the ire of librarians when the television and movie industry get a relative pass when it comes to downloading, purchasing costs, and copyright permissions?

Come, take a swing at a question or two, and enlighten us.

4 thoughts on “That Publisher Post & More Questions

  1. To tackle question 3, perhaps. I believe some of it probably stems from the inevitable digital shift. I think we’re all (publishers, librarians, writers, and readers) are starting to see the writing on the wall in regards to eBooks. It becomes clearer at every quarterly report when Amazon announces even larger Kindle book sales (Amazon’s latest press release: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1486648&highlight). Digital eBooks are going to be with us in the future.

    I believe this prospect scares the hell out of publishers, and they’re reacting in the methods they see are the best for protecting their business interests (and the interests of their authors too). The problem is these methods they’re using (restrictive DRM, shifted releases, accessibility, etc.) are changing the traditional ways that libraries have associated with publishers and have purchased books. We see challenges to Fair Use and to the Doctrine of First Sale; rights which libraries have traditionally relied upon to be able to best support their patrons. We’re seeing the same shift that’s happened to periodicals (from ownership to licensing) occurring with books – libraries no longer have as much control over their collections.

    So, I think a lot of the ire comes from the fact that librarians feel betrayed by publishers, who we’ve always believed to have close ties with. Instead of working together as technological changes challenge both of us, publishers are seeing this as a way to break from libraries and the concessions librarians have fought for (Fair Use and First Sale for example) in order to preserve their self-interest.

    • I don’t see a problem with preserving their self interest. They are businesses that attend to the bottom line. I mean, libraries have our own interests too here, but I digress.

      Amazon is a poor example since there are no actual numbers for comparison; we only have Amazon’s word on what they have done. Even then, the price of ebooks is such that when it is roughly the price of two ebooks equaling the price of one hardback, I can imagine selling more ebooks than hardbacks.

      For myself, music started with DRM. Then it went away, for the most part. I think books will follow the same cycle.

  2. re: Question 1. I don’t buy library binding and we’ve been encouraged not to do so in general. Particularly in a public library collection and in children’s (where I am at present) we have a fluid collection. We know that things are going to turn over, books are going to come and go, and we want to stay current. Library bound things tend to come in looking like they’ll last til the apocalypse. This is not appealing to kids. :)

    And I don’t think film companies get tons of slack either–we got pretty irritated when Fox was trying to sell us films without all the extras because they wanted those to be personal purchase copies only.

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