Good e-Reader is reporting a bill has been introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly that would require publishers to sell eBooks to public and academic libraries at the same rate of the general public. Proposed H.B. No 5614 states:
AN ACT CONCERNING "E-BOOKS" AND LIBRARIES.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:
That the general statutes be amended to require publishers of electronic books to offer such books for sale to public and academic libraries at the same rates as offered to the general public.
Statement of Purpose:
To require publishers of electronic books to offer e-books for sale to public and academic libraries at the same rates as offered to the general public.
At first glance, I was impressed. If libraries can’t get publishers to play fair by directly approaching them, then perhaps some legislative options are in order. But as I thought about it, some problems have emerged for me.
First, there is no mention of school libraries. I would hope this is a simple omission or perhaps an expansive definition of what ‘academic’ libraries means (a legal one, not our professional one). School libraries are in the eBook game so they have some skin in this particular venture. It would also be interesting to see how this affects colleges and universities of vastly different endowments (Capital Community College vs. Yale). As it is another tax payer funded institution in general, it should not be left off the list.
Second, there is no mention of terms and usage. Specifically, the practice of limited circulations before licenses expiration (such as Harper Collins 26 checkout limitation) is not addressed. If this bill was to pass, a publisher would be compelled to lower their prices but could tack on circulation expirations. A library may not pay 300% more for a Random House title, but they could be looking at limited circulation licensing arrangements. If there was some meaningful language about usage terms, then this legislation could have some teeth to it.
Third, and possibly most importantly, I am feeling hesitance towards this bill because I believe that the market still has the capability of providing corrections to the library eBook economy. I don’t feel that the pricing schemes are finalized in the slightest. While there is pressure on libraries to provide eBooks, there are also competing pressures to provide other new services to the public. The justification for a $40 to $150 eBooks melts away when that funding can be put into materials and services that will see higher benefit and usage. Combined with lack of ownership as well as incomplete author offerings along with a slowing eReader market, to me it feels like eBooks is settling in as just another thing we have to offer at the library for the people who have the interest and the technology to use it. There is a market correction coming here in the future and it won’t need a legislative act to foster it.
“Perfect is the enemy of good”, as they say, so I still think this bill has potential with some additional input from Connecticut librarians. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think that some of the New York publishing executives make their homes in the Nutmeg State so this is certainly on their radar. I’m guessing they’ll be some lobbyists and money dispatched to nip this bill in the bud before it gets out of committee. It’s my hope that Connecticut librarians will mobilize to provide their input on this bill as well as get some of their patrons (read: voting constituents) involved in the process. This is an opportunity that should not be lost.
After this bill was introduced by Representative Brian Sear (47th district), it was referred to the Joint Committee of General Law. Here’s the list of legislators on that committee:
- Senator Doyle (chair), 9th district.
- Senator Fonfara (vice chair), 1st.
- Senator Coleman, 2nd.
- Senator Witkos, (ranking member), 8th.
- Senator Kissel, 7th.
- Representative Baram (chair), 15th.
- Representative Kiner (vice chair), 59th.
- Representative Altobello, 82nd.
- Representative Arconti, 109th.
- Representative Nafis, 27th.
- Representative Nicastro, 79th.
- Representative Orange, 48th.
- Representative Rovero, 51st.
- Representative Carter (ranking member), 2nd.
- Representative Aman, 14th.
- Representative D’Amelio, 71st.
- Representative Rutigliano, 123rd.
Their clerk is Angel Morales. Room 3500, LOB (860)240-0470.
Interesting analysis, Andy. Overdrive itself is overdue for a market correction, but publishers are still controlling the message, as far as I can tell. Almost everywhere I see a discussion of the cost of ebooks, it quickly devolves into (a) ebooks versus print books and (b) those prissy librarians who’ll make a big deal out of nothing. Part of this is that (again) we are not telling our story. People think the library gets discounts, if anything. Or they think of how easy it is to afford a book, without recognizing that we may need to buy 10 or 20 of the same title at once. Or they don’t even know that we’re in the game (remember that 53% who don’t know we have ebooks?). Or they don’t want to help finance books for someone else anyway, so they aren’t worrying about it. Over and over, though, I see the prissy, repressed, know-it-all stereotype of librarians. The librarians who comment — and who protest that they aren’t that way and don’t know anyone who is — are simply ignored. Yes, we need a solution, whether legislative or market-driven. But we also need a solution to the stereotypes, and I don’t know how to tell that story any better. With that component solved, perhaps a LOT of things will improve in LibraryLand.
Unless there is a librarian in the pop culture, the only way to radically shift the image of librarians over the short term is time, in my opinion. You’re right in that the conversation tends to be slanted, but I don’t know if it really goes *that* far. I think it’s hard to talk about library eBooks because there are nuances that are lost in the conversation. It’s not simply tracking one difference down, it’s tracking a multitude (such as ownership, platform, and availability). It’s not a simple conversation to have in a society that really wants things broken down into tiny pieces.