How to Protest HarperCollins at Your Own Comfort Level

There has been a bunch of talk about boycotting HarperCollins; some of it in favor, some of it not so much. There is a certain dichotomy to the issue in which it is a matter of principle (to secure future rights for lending materials) versus a sense of duty to patrons (the show must go on and we must purchase what our communities want). I would leave it to the individual to make their own judgments as to that dynamic, but I thought that by giving people options they could express their protest in a number of different ways.

I’ll start with the most draconian and work roughly towards the passive-aggressive end.

  • Boycott HarperCollins entirely

The most drastic of the protest means is also the most inline with the call for a boycott. It’s the most bang-for-your-buck in terms of protesting. You are protesting by closing your wallet to them entirely.

  • Boycott HarperCollins eBooks

This action is slightly less drastic and more focused on the issue that is present. Since this is where the initial problem arose from, it is an excellent way to put pressure on the company. You still get the print editions but avoid the hassle and disruption of workflow around the limited circulations. It is a ‘thanks but no thanks’ while continuing to offer eBooks from other more reasonable publishers.

  • Stop reviewing HarperCollins books for trade publications/book blogs

Trade publishers like Library Journal rely on librarians to review books for inclusion in their publications. Simply put: don’t review HarperCollins books. This reduces their visibility for inclusion by people who use it for collection development. Same goes for the book bloggers who are either paid, compensated with advanced copies, or do it out of their love of reading. Don’t review books from HC. Given that the market for books is growing larger and more crowded every day, their exclusion from the review page means less sales.

  • Stop using HarperCollins books for storytimes, book clubs, and “One Book, One X” programs

In looking at storytimes through a marketing eye, you have a captive audience listening to someone read from a selected book. I wouldn’t say it is a commercial, but it does highlight the book out of thousands/millions of holdings. And if the child likes the book, they will want to borrow it and others (especially if it is a series or features one character). Parents can be impressed by the book as well and may borrow it of their own volition. So, don’t use HarperCollins books for storytime and deny them this showcase moment.

The same can be said for book clubs and One Book programs; it is a group of people focused on one book for a prolonged period of time. It is a different form of marketing from storytimes essentially, but it is still about showcasing book through advertising (“Join our book club!”) and discussion. Find an alternative non-HC title and use that.

  • Remove HarperCollins titles from book displays and recommended reading list or pamphlets 

The lesson of retail, especially in bookstores, is this: visibility is viability. Think about all the books that you see in a bookstore and whether they are in a stand. Think about whether the books you tend to pick up and examine and whether their covers or spines were facing you. Highlighting books through displays, positioning on shelves, or as part of recommended reads will increase their chances of circulating. It’s a simple truth and my napkin math supports the protest economics of removing them from these displays and lists.

A less visible book will circulate less. Thus it will be less likely to be replaced due to circulation wear and tear. Thus when it comes to ordering the same author the next time, the smaller number of circulations will mean ordering less copies. Less copies mean less profits for the publisher. It’s more in line with ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ (no pun intended), but it does create an economic detriment.

This list is far from exhaustive or perfect. But, in making this list, everyone can partake in protest against HarperCollins on the basis of how they feel in regards to principle versus duty. You don’t have to stop buying HarperCollins books, but you don’t have to help them out either through the free marketing and advertising they enjoy every day at libraries across the country. The important thing is to take action because the eBook lending and circulation really does depend on what we as librarians do now.

So, protest away!

What If Gutenburg Had Licensed The Bible?

I believe there are some similarities between the emergence of the eBook and the printing press. Both are transformative technologies whose ability to disseminate information to larger audiences marked a milestone in literacy and information access. While expensive and cumbersome in their own ways when they first came out, each innovation cycle has reduced the cost and has increased material availability through a variety of means. Gutenberg’s press would ultimately revolutionize the printed word by mechanizing the process; eBooks will revolutionize the publishing world by removing the remaining barriers to written content.

The difference that is emerging is how they are treated when it comes to rights of ownership. The first-sale doctrine does not apply to eBooks; one cannot re-sell or lend a title that they legally purchased. The limitations of eBook formats and ereaders themselves mean that some titles are not universally accessible. Furthermore, the prevalent winds of eBooks is leaning towards a licensing format in which control over one’s personal library has been ceded to another, be it corporation, author, or middle man content provider.

This is not an acceptable situation.

This is a correctable situation but it will require the combined efforts of all parties. It is an effort that is bigger than the librarian profession and the publishing field for it encompasses the entire spectrum of literature, from the author to the end user and all the people and institutions between. It will not be a sprint but a marathon where the ideal end result is a model that allows all to thrive. It will not be clean nor easy, but it is a process that has to happen. Not simply for ourselves, but for the future of literature and information access.

That is why the eBook User’s Bill of Rights is so important. And this is why we must act. For if you thought that the question in the title of this post was absurd, it could be a cruel reality in the new eBook world unless action is taken now. It is not something that librarians can pass up.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.
These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.  Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

Edit: If you are an author reading this, I suggest you read one of my follow-up posts to this, “How The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights Benefits Authors“.

Edit: I’ve turned off comments on this post since I’m getting personal attacks on my character rather than the ideas that are presented. These overwrought hyperbolic comments are full of incorrect information, ignorance of what copyright and fair use actually entail as a legal terms, and offered a completely inaccurate portrayal of what was written.

You are entitled to your own opinion on the matter. You are not entitled to your own set of facts.

And for the person who asked how I would feel about having this blog post plastered all over the internet, I should point out that this blog post carries a CC0 or Public Domain notice. It’s meant to be shared without attribution as a public domain document. My blog is otherwise is licensed under CreativeCommons-A-NC-ND, meaning you can also post it wherever you want so long as you provide attribution (A), it is not for commercial gain(NC), and there are no derivatives created(ND).

So, to answer your question, go on ahead.

SunSpec: Serious Conversations Are Serious Business

Where do all the serious conversations and discussions happen in librarianship? Because from what I have heard or read, I have been told where they are NOT happening.

They are not happening on Facebook or Twitter because not every librarian is on Facebook or Twitter. They are not happening at conferences because the state ones are generally once a year (with perhaps a small conference or two between) and the ALA ones are twice a year; the lack of frequency disqualifies them from being venues for serious discourse. They are not happening on the library blogosphere because of smaller readership (a nod to the ‘not everyone is online’ business) and furthermore run the risk of building an echo chamber for online librarians. And the list goes on for trade publications (not everyone reads them), professional organizations (not everyone belongs), and your own library (a microcosm).

So, where is the magical platform, venue, location, or event that grants enough quorum so that any discourse arising from it can be deemed meaningful?

I’m a bit tired of hearing or reading utterances as to why certain types of conversations or discussions are not “serious” ones because of some factual yet irrelevant observation as to the participants present or missing. This marginalization of any kind of dialogue because it’s not in the perfect setting is simply counterproductive and (for lack of a better term) pathetic. I don’t know what to say beyond that I’m exasperated by the mythical barriers that seem to magically appear wherever something serious and/or important is broached as a topic.

So, where do all the serious conversations and discussions happen in librarianship?

The Publisher of Tolkien Has Taken a Business Lesson from Sauron

If there is a crime here, it is that HarperCollins is guilty of attempted infanticide by their move to strangle ebook library lending in its cradle. Granted, it is the only publisher to ask for such restrictions but I’m certain the other ones are watching the outcome to this controversy very closely. Otherwise, this whole situation really turns into something out of The Godfather; it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

The “just business” aspect is the key here, the thing I believe that people are forgetting in their rush to lament a mere easily reversible announcement. HarperCollins is a publishing business where they have owners (News Corporation, in this case) to answer to for profitability. As much as one would like to romanticize publishing, at the end of the day the amount of money made has to be greater than the amount of money spent. In moving to limit ebook circulations in order to compel libraries to buy new licenses as well as check up on who is borrowing their books (something we do anyway, but whatever), they are carving out their own path to the ebook library market and working towards what they consider to be in their best business interests. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

I don’t think I’m alone in this viewpoint, but I think librarians (and especially public librarians) forget that do have power in a situation like this. It’s easily overlooked but extraordinarily simple: if it’s not a good deal, don’t buy it. This absurd and juvenile notion that we have to provide everything our patrons could possibly ask for is folly and a recipe for making extremely bad business decisions of our own. In not buying products from a publisher, database provider, or other library vendor, we are voting with our money. Just don’t buy it!

We have a fiduciary duty to spend the money libraries are given in the best interests of the communities that we serve.  I think the only thing that pisses off a taxpayer more than being taxed is the idea that their money is being spent unwisely. As librarians, we pride ourselves on the Return of Investment (ROI) that libraries generate for their communities; we even go so far as to use it in our advocacy materials. Why ruin it with a bad deal that is not in our favor, not in our patrons favor, ruining a perfectly good ROI, and is, well, just plain stupid?

This goes beyond buying HarperCollins material through Overdrive. When will the fear of being caught spending money foolishly override the fear that we are not being ‘good’ librarians if we don’t provide every kind of service or material possible? Sometimes, there are deals that we just need to walk away from. This is one of those times. Because the last thing I want to hear is the people who go forward and eat this crap sandwich is lamenting how awful the taste is.

No thanks. I’m a crap free diet.

P.S. I’ve written about something like this before; it was happening in the UK.

More reading on this:

Publishing Industry Forces OverDrive and Other Library eBook Vendors to Take a Giant Step Back (Librarian by Day)

The Publisher That Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (theanalogdivide)

Friday Alert: HarperCollins in cagemathc with Macmillan to see who can alienate readers better (Dear Author)

HarperCollins Seeks to Limit Digital Lending, Access Patron Data, Generally Piss Off Readers (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Congratulations HarperCollins – you just guaranteed Amazon and Kindle will win the eBook & eReader war (Literary Sluts)

HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations (Library Journal)

On eating your corn seed (Courtney Milan)

And for good measure read this:

OverDrive and the Library eBook Convenience Paradox (Go to Hellman)

HarperCollins to Libraries: we will nuke your ebooks after 26 checkouts (BoingBoing)

Library eBook Revolution, Begin (Librarian in Black)

Let’s Play Rent-A-Book! (David Lee King)

Update update: Read this brilliant take.

HarperCollins and the Suspension of eBook Disbelief (Go To Hellman)


I, Reference Robot

Last week, the computer named Watson took on two of Jeopardy’s all time champions in a two day match. Developed by IBM, the computer was designed with the intent of attempting to respond the unique “answer first” trivia format of the show. It trounced the human opponents on both nights of the challenge and not by small margins either. And with its win, it raised the possibilities of what the computer could do in the next generation.

I was rather surprised at the muted reaction of the librarian blogosphere. With the exception of a post at Henderson Valley Eggs, there wasn’t any sort of commentary. Given the glimpse of capability that the computer like Watson represents, I would have hoped that there would be a bit more excitement about the possible library applications. While Watson is probably not ready for prime time at the reference desk (due to how the program was deconstructing the clues), I could not help but marvel at the potential.

My excitement in getting a computer like Watson in the library is having a tool that can handle known requests (as in “I want Cross Fire by James Patterson” or “What books on biology do you have?”), some harder requests ("I want the movie that came out last year with Stallone in it” or “Can you tell me what order the Lillian Jackson Braun books came out in?”), or just requests that require deep scanning (“It’s a book with a red bicycle on the cover and it’s about an aunt’s suicide”). I’m not sure that the computer would be able to handle all types of requests, but I think on a long enough timeline it would be able to handle complex speech. (I’m trying to imagine if it had Google’s voice recognition data that it gathered from its Goog-4-1-1 information access number; now that would be pretty awesome.) But, in the meantime, I don’t believe there would be shortage of questions it could answer. Think IM, text, and chat questions; it runs a search, shows it to a human operator who approves or corrects, then the reply is sent. The turnaround for easy questions could be under a minute; corrections or harder answers could be not much more.

As I called it a tool, I don’t see it as a replacement for any library staff. As such, I can see it freeing up staff so as they can be able to offer more programs, services, or be able to have time for additional librarian work both at and away from the desk. It’s a great technology and I would hope that one of the future challenges that would Watson’s programmers would take up would be trying to handle reference style questions. For those who may balk at a computer with this kind of capability, I personally feel that it is an inevitable technology; as such, rather than shunning it, it should be embraced and integrated as soon as possible.

I’ve linked the library scene from The Time Machine below as an idea of future capability (even if the hologram needs some serious customer service training).