All Carrot, No Stick, Ctd.

In response to my previous post, I was asked as to what kind of consequences could be meted out for publishers that don’t respond to librarian demands or wishes regarding eBooks. While I don’t believe that stopping book purchases is a viable option, there are other ways to express our discontent.

One possible action is to decline their money and materials for author promotion, book publicity, and award and event sponsorship. The first two items address something vital to the reading and sale of books and that is material visibility. There’s no good reason to promote an author or a book when the publisher treats libraries with contempt when it comes to the eBook version of their work.[1] Return or refuse their promotional goods along with a note about the bad deal libraries are getting when it comes to eBook content.

The second set of items are generally on the state and national level. Companies that won’t allow library eBook lending or provide for onerous restrictions should not be permitted to sponsor library or librarian events and awards. If they aren’t working with libraries to provide the next generation of eContent, then we shouldn’t take their money so they can smear it all over event or award publicity and public relation materials. As they are not acting with our interests in mind or towards viable compromises, then they should be denied involvement in our gatherings and professional recognition.

In the same vein, another possible action would be to refuse them as a vendor or exhibitor at a conference. Given the public relations power of being able to present and sell to attendees (upwards of over twenty thousand librarians at ALA Annual), I feel this is a potent consequence.[2] Let Simon & Schuster and MacMillan (aka the two publishers that do not allow for library eBook lending) sit out in the cold while the other Big Four publishers get the conference attendees to themselves. Deny them the conference visibility, the chance to hand out advanced reading copies or other promotional materials, a booth to showcase their current and future releases, and a place for their reps to meet with their clients. Why should those publishers be allowed to sell their wares when part of their business approach marks libraries as eBook content villains? It’s not in our best interests (now or in the future) to allow for such philosophies to remain unchallenged and consequence free.

Finally, I would suggest a consequence of discontinuing unpaid reviews of new books from uncooperative publishers and refusing advanced reading copies. I make the distinction of unpaid reviews because I believe that publishers take advantage of the uncompensated book review arena in order to promote their materials. As busy librarians rely on reviewers for future collection suggestions, this is a potent consequence that librarians can perform as it denies them the word of mouth marketing tool to sell their content. Why should librarians take their own time to review books that will not be licensed on an eBook platform or done so under conditions not conducive to our collection principles? It is truly unwise to continue this kind of pro bono support to these companies when they refuse to consider our needs and position.

I’ll be the first to admit that none of these consequences is perfect. But I feel a failure to mete out any kind of consequence would be far worse and leave libraries in an increasingly vulnerable position in regards to the future availability and access of eBook content. A consensus must come together or librarians will be subject to the whims of publishers when it comes to eBook content.

Now is the time to create and implement consequences.


[1] Some might think that this is unfair to the author and that we would be punishing them for the actions of their publisher. I would argue that the author is also in a position to pressure the publisher to come to better terms with libraries so that their works can flourish.

[2] I know that there is revenue lost in not allowing bigger companies to have vendor space at conferences. I believe this is a case of sticking with our principles over the chance to make a buck for the library organizations.

8 thoughts on “All Carrot, No Stick, Ctd.

  1. These are some concrete ideas. I think we also need to think about the other side–what could the consequences of enforcing these consequences. There is also the fact that we would need to band together as a profession and a unified library front across the nation, if not internationally for this to work.

    As to the first, what if those we boycotted on the conference and review front decided not to sell to us at all? I admit that I have no numbers in front of me, so I don’t know if they could afford to do that.

    For the second, ALA could be a good tool to help with a unified front, but I haven’t seen them come together to do this in the past. They seem passive to me, much as my own system does about things like this. They wait for things to change on their own and don’t make any concrete inroads themselves.

  2. During 2011, I attended the ACRL national conference, ALA in New Orleans, and PaLA. I complained to many people that the exhibits are my least favorite part of the conference, and I usually avoid the exhibit hall except for a quick pass-through. In fact, since I’m relatively new at this, I asked a more seasoned conference goer why we even bother with the exhibits. Of course I was told that the vendors help to pay for the conference and keep attendance fees, etc., down. I wouldn’t miss them, that’s for sure. I’m just not certain how feasible it would be to keep them out. But I admire your attempt to come up with something concrete. It’s better than just making noise.

    • I suspect your job does not involve much purchasing — the exhibit hall, and the chance to speak face-to-face with vendor reps, get demos of new products, and have questions answered one-on-one is the most important part of the conference for some of us. To each their own, I guess.

  3. I would like to see one library take a risk – buy generic e-readers and work with independent publishers. Push it for all it’s worth and see how it goes with the readers. Report back to everyone. Make the whole thing really public so the mainstream publishers know they are on notice.

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