How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher’s Tale)

Photo by Libraryman/Flickr (Great slide, Michael!) I found this article in my Google Reader this morning and, I will admit, it has been awhile since I have been so excited and flabbergasted at the same time. I was excited about the possibilities and flabbergasted at the implementation. Take a moment to click on the link and go read it so that you too can join me in such a mixture of emotions. Or, for those who want to get to the meat of the situation, carry on.

Page told conference delegates that "all the major trade publishers have agreed to work with aggregators to make it possible for libraries to offer e-book lending"…


…with the addition of certain "controls".

Uh oh.

He said the guidelines had been developed because of concerns over free e-book lending offered by some libraries to lenders "wherever you are" in breach of publisher contracts.

Ok, here it comes.

Under the new scheme, library users would have to come onto the library’s physical premises to download an e-book at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, rather than downloading the book remotely.

In a country (UK) that is cutting back on its staff (and hell, for that matter, any staff whatsoever), the idea of turning into a service station for ereader devices has to be a frightening one. I’m sure these publishers in their infinite wisdom have determined a trouble free way for people to download these books onto their iPads, Kindles, Nooks, Iliads, Sony Ereaders, Coolrs, and every sort of device potentially out there. Or at least given the library staff a written list of reasons why a patron’s device is not included so that they can hand them that list rather than explain it ad nauseam or troubleshooting directions. Isn’t the point of being online is that you can have remote access to something?

The scheme would also see the fee paid by a library to buy a book covering the right to loan one copy to one individual at any given time,

(Emphasis mine.) How 19th century of them to imagine up such a thing. I would hope that this would mean that the library could pay for multiple copies for lending to multiple people. Why not bundle those ebook lending rights with the actual book itself? Libraries are already paying jacked up prices for ‘library binding’ editions. You could put that fee on top of that. But I think my better question is whether the library would be buying the ebook itself (thus having ownership) or just the right to lend the ebook? My guess is the latter, but there is always hope for the former.

and would require "robust and secure geographical-based membership" in place at the library service doing the lending.

Do they even know what we DO at the library? Perhaps it is because I am ignorant to the UK system, but here in the states, we have a robust system called “Do you live in X area?” where X is the city, county, town, or other designated area that the library covers. If the answer is ‘yes’, you give them a card. If the answer is ‘no’, you give them the option to pay. It’s a robust and secure geographical-based membership system that has yet to be outdated by modern science.

* * *

While I am not privy to the plans of US based publishers regarding ebooks, I think it is a safe statement to say that they will be watching how this turns out in the UK. If there are any publishing people who visit this blog, here’s one librarian’s take on it.

We (the royal library ‘we’) would like to lend your ebooks. However, you have to get your act together. This variation in copyright and platform restrictions from publishing place to publishing place is not going to cut it moving as we both move forward into the future. I wasn’t kidding about bundling ebooks with the physical copy. It’s a win-win. I get to say, “Oh, we have this in print and ebook!” The patron gets to read it how they choose. And, like many stories go, if people really like it, they will buy it. Except in this version of the story, buying it on their ereader is faster, cheaper, and plays well into the whole “impulse purchase” aspect. We lend a book, you get a sale, the patron gets a book, everyone is happy. Or so the story should go.

Oh, a few more things to toss in at the end here. Remote access has to be a given. Availability on any ereader has to be a given. No remote access or no wide platform availability means ‘no thanks’. I’d rather explain to a patron that we don’t have any ebooks because we are spending their tax money wisely by not purchasing items and services that do not reflect our philosophies regarding access or lending options than explain the nuances of why they can have it on X device but not Y device (or no devices at all). And, in closing, it would be helpful to consult with libraries about what works best when it comes to lending. Because the proceeding statement by the Publishers Association based in the UK indicates that you really don’t have a clue.

It’s ok. We get questions all the time. We’re used to it.

(If you’d like to contact the Publishers Association and let them know what you think, here’s their contact page. Enjoy.)

35 thoughts on “How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher’s Tale)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher’s Tale) « Agnostic, Maybe --

  2. One part of the idea that I think you missed (and I will most likely elaborate on when I next post on my blog is this:

    Other government agencies are already discontinuing publication and/or distribution of their paper forms, assuming without asking that the public library will (once again) pick up the slack.

    Now we have money-making/for profit organizations making the assumption that we will take up all the distribution issues which you eloquently note above.

    You have it right with remote access. Right now we have issues with database producers who charge exorbitant fees, and then restrict use to inside the building — not even within the organization. [Reference USA, I am looking at you!]

    We all need to keep pushing!

    • Yes! Good point, Michael!

      New Jersey stopped mailing out instruction booklets for tax forms; this included booklets for the library as well. We had to quickly photocopy a couple hundred copies of the forms themselves (since they came in the book), offer instruction books for circulation, and get information where they could order them from the state. It wasn’t the worst experience in the world, but there were some angry patron moments.

      With the IRS not mailing forms, it’s back on that rollercoaster. I’m bracing to see which forms we will get from them, which ones we will need to replicate, and the crap storm we will endure. (To be fair, not everyone was unhappy with the change; when I told them of the monetary savings in not sending the forms, some people were pleased.)

      I really wish that libraries would start using their economic powers to say no to services and materials that do not make monetary sense to them. Negotiating over the price should not be the only point in contention when it comes to library-vendor interaction.

      • I’m in Woodbridge, NJ (an unemployed librarian) and I didn’t notice that the forms hadn’t come in. So many people expect libraries to have the forms, booklets, and those specialized forms for weird deductions.

        To me, it’s another example of the heavy hand of reducing taxes and services resulting in creating an even larger digital/information divide between groups of people.

        And this action from a governor who wanted to cut the state’s library budget by 74%! I don’t think he gets the fact that not everyone has a computer or even a printer.

  3. Not saying this is a good idea (because it is a very bad idea), but the UK system may make more sense to UK people because they do not have a first sale right. In other words, UK libraries (and most libraries around the world) already have to pay to lend. -Carrie Russell

    • US libraries are not getting the right of First Sale when it comes to ebooks, so we are pretty much on the same page (pardon the pun) when it comes to ebook lending.

  4. I am an ebook reader of long standing (Franklin ebook..). While I was thrilled with the idea of being able to download an ebook through the library, when I went to the site, it was run by a for-profit company and the instructions were daunting. I could not figure out how I could get access to the book, much less what books were available, what DRM meant to me. Policy making publishers should stand behind the checkout or reference desk of a busy public library and try to explain the sense of their policies. Then see how long those policies last.

    • I agree. It’s a bit much to see such a debate from such a removed level when it is library staff that has to deal with the requirements and limitations. Handing over the content to a third party vendor does not make for a better chance that the material will reach an end user because it is tied up in all the ‘protective software’ that makes it barely able to be lent out in the first place.

      I would love for a publisher to see what library staff go through.

  5. Pingback: I got your ebook manifesto right here « Collections 2.0

  6. As someone who has spent 5 of the last 24 months living in the USA, and the rest of the time (and most of the previous 40 years) living in the UK, this – wearily – does not surprise. It’s an endemic UK bureaucratic, socio-economic and political mindset. Most, very nearly all, people will shrug their shoulders here at the ebook thing. Or say (as many have done this summer) ‘Why do we need libraries anyway?’

    It’s also understandable why so many Americans, and American librarians, have found this utterly bizarre today. There are so many sector, businesses, services, in the US where there is an implicit “customer is king” ethos, running from management downwards. One example of many being American restaurants, in which I’ve had several hundred great service experiences and just three bad or indifferent ones. In the UK, it’s often – not always, but often – a psychological battle between the diner and a passive-aggressive member of stuff.

    Public libraries here are better (than our restaurants). Front line staff are often or usually helpful and accommodating. But they are constrained by funding, practice, regulations and a political and social mindset that the ebook madness exemplifies. When visiting the USA I am repeatedly utterly in awe of the public libraries, and the collections, facilities, services, space, room to work and demographic outreach they do. One example of many is the main library in Toledo, Ohio, which I wandered round with my jaw dropped; there’s nowhere comparable in Britain to it that I’ve found yet.

    This is turning into a rant, so I’ll stop now and do something more productive. Like, emigrate 🙂

    • Thanks for the UK perspective, John. I don’t really have a grasp on the full differences, so it is nice to get a sense of what is the same/different.

    • As someone else pointed out, libraries are not there to support an outdated publisher business model. They really should just reject this outright. It’s robbery of public funds.

  7. With regard to confirming your location, certainly in my local library system (in the UK), in order to get a first library card in your home location, you don’t just have to affirm that you live in that area, you have to show proof that you do, in the form of a bank statement, utility bill, tenancy agreement or similar.

    • In most New Jersey libraries, physical proof is need to get a free card for a town resident. Some libraries will give a card for a fee to people who work in the town. A town in NJ tried to close its library to save money, not realizing that they couldn’t just send their residents to neighboring towns. In NJ, local taxes pay for libraries (plus some money from the state). (The town officials were shamed by their citizens into withdrawing the proposal).

  8. I’m weighing in with the minority view point on this to advocated for inlibrary distribution. For now, short term solution, and a foot in the door with the publishers, creating “filling stations” in the library is a practical solution to the problem. It mimics out current practice of resource distribution, with the exception of downloadable audio books and those of us who offer library by mail service. For the slight inconveneince of coming to the library our customer saves the $9.99 they might have spent on purchasing the book for their e-reader. Sound familiar? For the slight inconvenience of coming to the library the customer borrows a book, movie, CD, audio book, etc and saves the cost of ordering on amazon or purchasing from a bookstore. But there is more to this — by driving people into the library we see them and more importantly they experience everything else we have to offer. If we push everything we have out via tghe web then we just become a middleman content distributor. i can here it now — why do we need library buildings when I can get everything I need from them on their web site. I’m not ready for that future yet.

    • Wow. I really don’t have a good counterargument to that.

      As I’m reading it, I’m thinking, “Once you get them in the doors, you can put anything you want around the ‘filling station’. Signs. Flyers. Advertisements for programs. Anything.” It’s a good trade for a slight inconvenience plus it helps to have people on site so as to troubleshoot issues with the download (rather than at home dealing with the issue remotely and calling the library). I can’t really argue with that. I’ll have to think on it now.

      Touche’, Leslie.

      • Andy and Leslie, surely the point is though that it shouldn’t be an either/or model. Yes, a filler station at the library would enable personal tech support, promotion of other library services, and so on, and it might be a good ‘stop gap’ until a better agreement can be reached. But for some people coming into the library is more than a ‘slight inconvenience’, whether that’s because of their working hours, age, disability, lack of transport, or anything else.

      • Their are multiple sides to this issue just as their are multiple ways that people interact with libraries.

        For me? Yes, I’m a librarian…but I don’t use my public library because of the inconvenience & what isn’t available, and won’t pay for my county library because I’m trying to put off that expense as long as possible, what with other bills that need to get paid.

        Radically speaking: I think we need to examine what is best provided on a national level for library service versus what is best provided on a local level. What area of expertise/ access to information, education, entertainment is needed across the board? What is best done locally?

        • I like your suggestion, Liz, since it addresses one of the fundamental issues that I think influences the overall library discourse: how local each library actually is and what that means for the services and materials offered. In my estimation when it comes to discussing library issues, people seem to confuse “what won’t work” with “what won’t work at my library”: these are not mutually exclusive concepts.

          That sounds like something I can steal for a post in the future. =D

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  10. This whole thing really confuses me. I’m in the US, but OverDrive tells us that our patrons may not use the library to download their items unless we buy their Download Station. Now, in the UK, patrons must be in the library to download the items? As other commenters have stated, it is difficult enough to explain the restrictions to patrons. If they keep changing the rules, it’s going to make it even more confusing. I hope this “development” doesn’t come to the US.

    • As for the download station, it sounds like they don’t want patrons to be using library computers to download items. I can understand they want people to buy a download station, but I’d love for them to explain it to patrons themselves. Because we are more diplomatic in refraining from saying, “That’s stupid”; our patrons won’t be.

  11. This actually reflects my library’s ebook policy here in the U.S. My mom has a Nook, and she was thrilled to find that the library was offering ebooks. However, she goes out of town every two weeks. She had to wait until the ebook became available but was out of town and couldn’t go to the library to get it. She tried three different ebooks but has since given up.

    • That’s a shame! It really defeats the purpose of having the materials if the restrictions are such that it thwarts lending! I certainly hope that your mother brings this up to the library staff so they can think about whether the service is worth it or not in the future.

  12. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • As per our twitter backchannel discussion, I’m going to spin this out into a post.

          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.

  13. From the article and wide response I have to agree with what is the UK thinking. One item though I wonder about and nobody has said, how does this apply to academic material? nonfiction reference materials used for research. Here in the US many of the aggregators have hosted solutions with multiple simultaneous users. As long as a patron can access the web, from anywhere pretty much, they can login to their bookshelf in some cases and access the content available, take notes and a variety of other tasks.

    This seems to heavily focus on the fiction market, if they try to apply to nonfiction reference material, hold tight, it won’t be pretty. I think everyone has to look at eBooks differently though when it comes to lending. We have to look at it in a different sense then print and think that is causing some of the issues. Nobody has the perfect answer, but what will be interesting is to see how this translates to the US market, specifically in the fiction world.

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