Penguin Unfriends Libraries

In joining the other publishing benchwarmers today, Penguin pulled the rest of its catalog from Overdrive. Enjoy the Penguin press release on this occasion:

In these ever changing times, it is vital that we forge relationships with libraries and build a future together.  We care about preserving the value of our authors’ work as well as helping libraries continue to serve their communities.  Our ongoing partnership with the [American Library Association] is more important than ever, and our recent talks with ALA leadership helped bring everything into focus.
Looking ahead, we are continuing to talk about our future plans for eBook and digital audiobook availability for library lending with a number of partners providing these services. Because of these discussions, as of February 10, 2012, Penguin will no longer offer additional copies of eBooks and audiobooks for purchase via Overdrive.
Physical editions of Penguin’s new and backlist titles will continue to be available in libraries everywhere.

This sort of sentiment begs the old saying that starts out “With friends like these…” They could have at least thrown us a bone as to whether it was Overdrive or libraries that were making them nervous about their bottom line. In looking back at Molly Raphael’s report from meeting with publishers last week, I’m guessing that it is us.

“A key issue that arose in each meeting is the degree to which “friction” may decline in the ebook lending transaction as compared to lending print books. From the publisher viewpoint, this friction provides some measure of security. Borrowing a print book from a library involves a nontrivial amount of personal work that often involves two trips—one to pick up the book and one to return it. The online availability of e-books alters this friction calculation, and publishers are concerned that the ready download-ability of library ebooks could have an adverse effect on sales.”

(Emphasis mine.)

That last sentence gave me the twitchy eye. Perhaps it could be explained as Molly’s interpretation, but there is something about that “could have” phrase. It suggests a line of thinking for which there is no supporting empirical evidence. Has there been any research, a study, or other inquiry that shows a correlation between an increase in library eBook lending and a drop in sales? There is raw data that exists showing how many eBook checkouts in a library region and there are sales figures showing the sales for that area. Has anyone analyzed these numbers? Who is doing the market research for these people?

Can their presumption be proven? Has it already been proven?

All I know is that limiting your market is not always the best way to expand it. If you want people to read, then you make it as widely available as you can. The placement of obstacles just stymies the average modern consumer, a person whose demand for instant gratification will just have them move on to the next thing.

This is just a nice reminder that publishers have shifted to selling a product, not a culture. I guess the latter is up to us to provide.

(h/t: Librarian in Black)

10 thoughts on “Penguin Unfriends Libraries

  1. Wow. Ok so maybe I’m way off here, but it seems prior to any publishers “pulling out” of the library-mode ebook market, libraries were providing the model example of how to legally partake of the goods (ebooks and audiobooks.) We were the good guys. Now a portion of the bold ones who are bent on having their ebooks and audiobooks will use tools and take measures to obtain, irregardless of legalities, just because there are many tools widely available and a network a plenty of help to be gotten to assist in getting the goods at any cost, even if its underhanded. Pulling out the content from libraries will NOT save their bottomline–dollars. May their quarterly earnings STINK.

  2. You ask if their assumption has been proven, but I think it is probably the other way around. They don’t have to supply us ebooks if they don’t want to. Perhaps it’s up to us (libraries) to use that data you mention to prove library lending helps their sales.

  3. Jonathan, we have already gotten the message on our viewpoint of the cost of publishing and lending ebooks. I really have no doubt that, no matter what terrific studies we fund, there will always be a reason to withdraw ebooks from the market, until we use whatever model the publishers have decided we will use. Honestly, it’s not really up to us to foot the bill to tell them how they can make money. I’m with clnelson. Welcome to BitTorrent and peer-to-peer, publishers. You spurned the people who were going to help you do things to preserve your rights.

  4. Pingback: Penguin pulls out, reveals the status of libraries « Yes, there is no printing today

  5. I totally agree with the piracy perspective.. you continue to deny access to your content to delivery systems that at least make an attempt to follow guidelines, respect authorship, and provide controls (even if that is DRM) and you will find the piracy market grow for the content.. People will not stop acquiring the devices, they will simply look for avenues to acquire the content for free in other ways and in larger numbers. In other words, you think your losing money now… just wait

  6. I find this idea of “friction” puzzling. I don’t see that physically going to borrow a book from the lib. has that much more “friction” than a physical trip to the bookstore. If publishers make it too hard for affluent, tech-savvy users, there is a frictionless transaction — Amazon. Is that what the Big 6 really want, to drive all business to Amazon, their arch-enemy?

    I am disgusted to see the same flailing around and bad faith from the publishing industry that we saw from the recording industry ten years ago. Doesn’t big business learn from its mistakes?

  7. Give me 5 minutes online and I could find most any ebook published. Give me another minute and bit torrent will take care of the rest. Guess how much this has to do with library lending of ebooks? Why the publishers see them as connected doesn’t make sense.

    There are people who can be won away from piracy by frictionless legal means (like iTunes and others have proved) but there will be no END to piracy. Why not win over as many people as possible? And as libraries/librarians we are an ally in doing so.

  8. Pingback: The Friction Fiction « Agnostic, Maybe

  9. I don’t understand this “friction” concern about ebooks either. All my life I’ve checked out books without buying them, and have only bought a miniscule percentage of the number of books I read. Why would it be any different with e-books?

  10. Pingback: Useful Links (Weekly) « Rhondda's Reflections – wandering around the Web

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