The Friction Fiction


In this whole Penguin books quagmire, the aspect that has been furrowing my brow and aggravating my mind has been the use of the term, “friction”. This was from Molly Raphael’s report that I quoted in my blog post yesterday:

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 ebooks alters this friction calculation, and publishers are concerned that the ready download-ability of library ebooks could have an adverse effect on sales.

This is a quotation by Alison Lazarus, president of sales for Macmillan, from the Digital Shift’s article today:

“We want to insure that customers who have typically been book buyers do not migrate their purchasing into borrowing as accessibility to our books becomes frictionless,” as Alison Lazarus, the president of sales for Macmillan, previously told LJ. “This would imperil our retailers, wholesalers, authors and ourselves and would ultimately be detrimental to libraries,” she said.

Here’s the kicker from that same article:

Some publishers like the idea of in-library lending of ebooks as a way to recreate the “friction” of a print transaction: The patron has to physically go to the library.

So, for those playing the library eBook home game, let’s recap:

  • eBooks are treated the same way as physical books under the “1 copy, 1 person” rule, despite the fact that they are computer files;
  • eBooks are licensed, not owned (unless you’re lucky enough to be in Kansas), therefore First Sale Doctrine rights do not apply and content can be pulled at any time for any reason… just like it was in the last few months;
  • The idea of recreating the friction of print books for eBooks is a good idea.

Everyone up on the same page here now? Excellent.

When publishers talk about recreating friction, I just want to say ‘no thanks’. Libraries are moving towards a frictionless or seamless world of information and content access, not recreating the inconveniences of the past. Progress on this particular material does not move through clinging to the models of the past. I’m sorry if this makes our so-called publishing partners uncomfortable, but honestly, get over it. Or at least have the decency to produce a study or a survey or some sort of hard evidence as to why such friction is necessary aside from imaginative executive speculation. If we are going to tell our library members something that sounds stupid when we say it, give us something to justify your rationales.

(By the way, publisher hand wringing about the future ain’t got nothing on librarian hand wringing about the future. Your version of this fretting activity is our dinner theater.)

So I ask this most basic of questions: are these the people we really want to partner with as we move forward? To clarify what I mean by “moving forward”, I mean it in the plain sense of “the future”. Because, as I see it, this library future is going to be heavily based on digital platforms and outlets. It will be about information access from anywhere at anytime by any (authorized) user. How will this future mesh with a partner who wants their digital content to be treated as if it was print? While we move forward, we have a partner trying to drag us backwards.

I might add that these rules are the publishing companies attempt at having their cake and eating it: treating the digital as if it was print while usurping any First Sale Doctrine rights. They will have achieved the total control they have sought for years over their content. Keep in mind that these are the companies that have supported legislation like SOPA. They aren’t interested in our mission, they are interested in our budgets and what we can do for them. Don’t let their statements of support fool you; this is still a money game since love doesn’t pay the bills.

Perhaps when publishers join the 21st century and start acting like true partners, then we’ll be able to work out this eBook issue together. Until then, we are subject to their uninformed whims and unfounded speculations.

7 thoughts on “The Friction Fiction

  1. “They aren’t interested in our mission.”

    Yes. Exactly. Publishers are NOT interested in our mission. And too few others are, either. This is the crux of the problem for public libraries moving forward. If the future is in digital content, and publishers and vendors are unable or unwilling to work with us, then it is up to libraries to determine a future that is not dependent on our collections. And that is the biggest challenge facing us today.

  2. As someone who has helped library patrons use library ebooks on the kindle I can testify that the process is not frictionless. Even to use the wireless kindle option there are steps that are complicated (and create friction) for many patrons. While these steps may seems “frictionless” to the tech savvy among us they are is no way “frictionless” for patrons. I would ask how many of the spokesman for the publishing industry have actually gone through the proccess to check out a library ebook? If they had I think they would find that a great deal of “lubrication” is needed before the process is “frictionless”

  3. “Perhaps when publishers join the 21st century and start acting like true partners….”
    I think publishers have joined the 21st century. It’s put the hammer down on their business model, so they’re doing a power grab.
    It’s the kind of move the music industry likes to make. Widespread piracy forced them to come to the table. But then you can rip a CD in 6 minutes or a DVD in 40. A book takes a lot more work to digitize.
    This to say, I don’t think it will be piracy that gets publishers to the table. Maybe it will be libraries, leveraging their collective buying power. Whatever it is, I don’t think publishers (the big 6 at least) are our partners. Crossing our arms and huffing about them not playing fair isn’t going to change things. The Kansas system didn’t change out of luck or a benevolent publishing bargainer. It’s time for more libraries to say no.

  4. I’ve published an ebook that I would very much like to have available for library lending via OverDrive. Unfortunately, OD won’t carry my ebook because it’s self-published and I don’t have enough reviews yet.

    And who suffers? The public because it’s the first ebook ever to integrate audio into the narrative. ROOFMAN is a nonfiction spy thriller with embedded phone taps of spies and spy-catchers.

  5. I just saw a presentation for the Douglas County Library at OnlineNW where they explained the processes and advantages of buying their own Adobe Content Server. This effectively cuts out the middleman, Overdrive, and allows DCL to negotiate directly with publishers (for what that’s worth) and create and provide original content.
    The possibilities were startling and I feel this is the only way for libraries to go.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s