#hcod on the radio

I did an interview for the local news radio station here in Philadelphia. Local is a relative term here since the station (KYW) covers the Delaware Valley region and gets some of the highest listening shares (over a million people) out of the Philadelphia radio market. I hope it brings the issue to more people outside of the library world.

(I’ll confess that I haven’t listened to it because I really don’t like to hear myself; same thing goes for videos of myself.)

Beyond 26 Checkouts

On Monday, I got an email from Carol Scott at Change.org telling me that they were happy with how the HarperCollins petition was going and were going to send it out to a larger segment of the website’s membership. Ok, cool!, I thought, closing up my phone and putting it back into my pocket. At the time, I was setting up for the New Jersey Library Association conference and the signature count was around 3,000. Later that afternoon, I got a text message from a friend. 

“What’s going on with your petition?” “Why do you ask?” “It’s jumped from 3,000 to 4,200 in like an hour. I just refreshed it and it went up another couple hundred.”

Then I started checking it from my phone. Over the course of two days, it went from 3,000 to 50,000. Whoa. As of the time I am writing this, it has 63,525. Library Journal wrote an article about it the other day for which I was interviewed. There’s one quote I gave that I’d like to highlight.

"The long term goal is to have authors, publishers, and libraries come together and talk about ebook circulation and lending models that make sense in a digital age."

Which brings me to the purpose of this post.

While the outpouring of support for the petition is incredible and much appreciated, there is still a matter of finding better eBook lending models that work for both authors, publishers, and libraries. I’d rather not have this petition be completely perceived as a finger wagging at HarperCollins, but as a conversation starter for other eBook lending models. I would not want the dialogue to entirely consist of reactions to publisher trial-and-error introductions of new formulas, but a collaboration between a business industry and a public institution with mutual interests.

In earlier statements, HarperCollins has called the 26 eBook checkout limit an experiment. In that case, I would like to propose additional experiments in eBook lending models. This is not limited to just HarperCollins, but a call to every publisher who allows libraries to lend eBooks to try something new.

If I was to advocate for any kind of experimental lending model, it would be around the idea of multiple simultaneous borrowers. I’ll outline my reasoning and rationale as I see it below.

First, and it has been said in many places, eBooks are computer files. They embody the digital notion of abundance. The idea of expiration or artificial scarcity is an affront to the global information network that has been built around computer files. It is a quality of the medium that should be used to its advantage, not as something to be contained. The question should be not be “How can we limit the very thing that makes it extraordinarily flexible and unique?”, but “How can we use this to get it to as many people as possible while making money?”

Second, the ability for lending to multiple simultaneous borrowers should be considered in the light of immediate book release market share. In stealing a sentiment from Seth Godin, the book itself is not as important as the conversation around it. People talk about what the book makes them feel, how they relate to the content within, and the desire to share these aspects with others. With the rise of social networks and acquaintance relations on them, that kind of sharing goes beyond the immediate family and friends. It becomes a crowd experience, one in which people will seek out other find people who have read the same book. 

In other words, what I am suggesting is that by allowing multiple simultaneous borrowers, a book can potentially control social network conversations during those first crucial weeks when it hits the market. It could generate more reviews and buzz on sites like LibraryThing, GoodReads, Shelfari, and Amazon. There will be more check-ins on social sites like GetGlue which feed into bigger sites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s the power of numbers idea when a person sees that a large number of their personal network talking, blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, GetGlueing, and reviewing a book at the same time. Certainly some have purchased the book while others have borrowed it, but their combined social media output has marketing value. It’s an advertising campaign that money can’t buy when consumers are the ones talking about their product of their own accord. This word of mouth marketing could and should be nurtured through more permissive lending models.

Third, in making multiple simultaneous copies available to libraries, I would propose that it could have a curbing effect on piracy. By providing an easier alternate route to published content, it could bring people with certain types of pirating behaviors (e.g. lack of convenience, too high a price point) into a legitimate system. In bringing those people into the legal side of the equation, it strikes a blow against existing pirates at their revenue sources (from pirating works and advertising). Also, it could translate into less money being spent fighting piracy overall (which, as noted in this article, could prove to be a substantial and costly endeavor to the detriment of authors). Furthermore, there are better datasets to be gained from their inclusion in overall usage statistics. That translates into better planning practices for both the publisher and the library (in other words, more money saved through efficiencies).

While some may see this as a type of capitulation to piracy, I completely beg to differ. I think it’s a bargain to expend a little money subsidizing this kind of lending model at the front end rather than chasing down people downloading illegally on the back end. (As the RIAA can tell you, courts aren’t cheap.) There is a public goodwill value to be considered (I don’t know how it could be quantified or calculated), there are benefits to both publisher and library in engaging in this arrangement, and the fact of the matter is that brand new markets like eBooks need a new and radical approach in the new sharing culture. A little work on the front end here could save a lot of headaches later on.

Fourth, this is a very unoriginal thought, but the very nature of eBooks allows for tiered purchasing models. Whether it is ‘per use’ or ‘x simultaneous borrowers’, it’s just a matter of figuring out the right pricing. It can and should be more expensive than a physical book because it does more than a physical book. Tiered models embrace the flexibility and portability of the eBook as a computer file.

The largest and more persistent objection to simultaneous borrowers is the notion that it undermines the eBook market. I call shenanigans on that. The people who come to the library as it is now are the ones who are not purchasing first edition hardcover books. Even if it did attract eReader device owners who regularly purchased content, they’d have to register with their library to do so (not quite the same as click and buy, I assure you). And if there was still concern about the potential impact on sales, there is a relatively simple mechanism can be put into place: limit the number of times it can be borrowed in a calendar year. For example, if someone can borrow an eBook only twice in a calendar year, they get four weeks to read it (on the basis of a two week loan). After that, they either go without or buy it. This should assuage the fear of people permanently borrowing material while making it available to them in the short and immediate term. (Perhaps longer borrowing periods can be determined over time, especially in other settings like high school or college.) The eBook market will continue onwards and library lending does not pose a viable threat to it.

In essence, I believe there is a financial decision here: one could allow for a more permissive library lending system in which, yes, there will be lost sales but less piracy and greater market penetration OR a publisher can continue to limit lending, discourage digital collections that put their eBooks into the hands of readers and drive the social sharing marketplace, and spend money to track down and fight pirates both professional and casual. There is no perfect system for lending eBooks nor will there ever be one, but that fact should not stop experiments towards progress from occurring.

So, let the other experiments begin.

Houston, We Have A Problem

I’ve been thinking about the Overdrive/Amazon announcement that will bring the Kindle into the device fold for library eBook lending and I have to say it raises concerns for me. In addition to the questions raised by Bobbi Newman, Jason Griffey, and Sarah Houghton-Jan (all very sharp queries), I think libraries are poorly positioned for this kind of move. Here’s why:

Kindles has the largest eReader market share at roughly 41%. As the breakthrough device along with the pricing practices of Amazon, it’s hardly a surprise even with the addition of Nooks and iPads to the market. It’s still the touch-and-go no-fuss-no-muss dedicated eReader out there, perfect for any age and reading desire; the gadget that anyone can use without regard to computer skill. You pick a title, you hit a button, you get the book, it’s done. It builds an expectation as to how eBooks should work and it has been building it with the largest audience so far.

By the end of 2011, this large consumer base with its giant market share will meet the “Pretend Its Print” model of eBook circulation that has been developed.

What do you imagine the reaction will be?

If the “1 eBook to 1 patron at a time” model is that best we still have when the Kindles come to Overdrive, I think it will be a serious problem. It’s not simply a matter of sending eBook wait lists skyrocketing (which it will for new releases), but that it will fail to meet patron expectations as to how eBook content should be managed. I think it will leave libraries on the hook to explain a very limiting policy to our patrons, making us look like technological fools (or worse, incompetent).

Why? Because we are perceived as experts on books and literature and I believe this perception extends into the digital world. Patrons won’t see it as a file (even though it is) but as a book, and wonder why we can’t “fix” this so that it works more in line with what they have already experienced using their Kindles. And to throw in HarperCollins here, we’ll still have a publisher insisting on limited checkouts but now with the largest eReader device in the market in the mix.

Personally, I believe that if we really want to move ahead with Kindles and Overdrive, it’s going to take a much better lending model than what we have now. And libraries are now on the clock to find a better solution.

There is a silver lining to this in my estimation. Amazon is the first device manufacturer and retailer to make this library lending deal. That’s a departure from the previous Overdrive partners which consist entirely of publishers. Given Amazon’s 300 lbs. gorilla status in the eBook game, this could make 2012 a very interesting year for eBooks and libraries. Hopefully, it won’t be the gorilla deciding to club us to death.

About that EQUACC Interim Report…

The ALA’s Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) Task Force released its interim report today. The group is examining the challenges and potential solutions to “access, use, distribution and preservation” of digital content. The whole report is on the Library Renewal site. A couple of passages popped out at me.

5. Model Projects (Working Group: Linda Crowe, Mark Stoffan, Jamie LaRue)

The Task Force believes that librarians should be encouraged in testing new models for acquiring and providing access to e-content. These experiments will identify successful and do-able projects that will shape the e-content marketplace, reader interest, and carve out new roles for libraries such as publishing. (Emphasis mine.)

I was pleasantly surprised at that idea; why not get involved in content creation? I would be interested in hearing more of the pros and cons of such an endeavor.

EQUACC’s next steps are contingent, in part, on approval from Council as well as the need for additional funding. In that vein, the Washington Office submitted a proposal for 2015 funding on behalf of the Task Force.

Ok, I guess this is where my understanding of organizational bureaucracy, budgets, and funding gets hazy, so I’ll need someone to gently explain this to me. Because my gut reaction is to wonder what happens between now (2011) and then (2015). I’m sure it’s not as awful as my first impression felt, but a little education would be greatly appreciated on this one. 

Overall, I really liked the report. It was a good progress update on the Task Force as well as a succinct overview of all the issues that they are looking at. I wasn’t expecting any solutions to arise from it, but I did feel like the final report will be an excellent survey for current and future digital content issues.

At the same time this report was being posted, Cindy Orr posted an entry in her blog at Overdrive. As pleased as I was with the Task Force interim report, I cannot say the same for Mrs. Orr’s blog entry. The trouble for me starts halfway through. (Emphasis on the parts that really annoyed the hell out of me.)

On behalf of the Task Force, I would like to suggest that librarians study the issues, articulate what we would realistically like to see happen in this arena, and resist the urge to overreact. As Christopher Harris, one of my colleagues on the committee, says in a recent School Library Journal article, what we need is to discuss and talk through these issues, not lash out in rage. Librarians historically get their facts straight and check their sources carefully. We also uphold copyright law.

I would like to add that we need to educate ourselves and act within the arena that exists right now while we plan for, and try to influence the future. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work to revise copyright law, or try to negotiate new models, or change anything else, but it’s fruitless to argue that all works should be available to the public for free regardless of their copyright status.

It also means recognizing that, no matter what we’d like the facts to be, in most cases we don’t own electronic works, but license them. We also need to consider the reality that authors and publishers and wholesalers need to be paid or they will go out of business.

[…]

While venting anger at HarperColliins may feel good, we should try to remember that they were one of the very first large publishers to agree to take a chance on libraries. They have stated that they consider this 26 checkout model to be a “work in progress.”

I hope that we can remember that things in the digital world are still evolving quickly. Models will develop. New publishers will sign on. We’ll work it out if we stick to our principles of doing our homework, following the law, and advocating for a realistic solution in order to assure equitable access for readers now and in the future.

Wow. I think the most unfortunate part of that condescending passage is how it starts off, “On behalf of the Task Force…” So, is what I am reading in this blog entry what the Task Force really wanted to say to the librarian community? If I was to go all Freud on you, the interim report comes across as the superego and this blog post sounds like the id. Everybody calm down! We need to talk more! You don’t have all the facts! You’re lashing out! You’re not connected to reality!

After punching through all the straw man arguments (no one is arguing for free content, authors not getting paid, or circumvention of copyright), I’m wondering what the point of this blog entry was. It feels somewhere between a plea to give Overdrive (and by association, HarperCollins) a break and an admonishment for people moving forward and taking action on the situation.

As to the former, my perspective is that people seem very restrained; the majority of action taken is against HarperCollins eBook purchasing with only few going for a full boycott. The tone is rather civil, the explanations are clear and rational, and it is being carried out in a respectful manner. Overdrive seems to have a free pass on this one, a lucky break for a middleman company in this interchange.

As to the latter, there’s a pretty standard complaint about ALA not taking action quickly. If people take action in their own hands, then more power to them. To me, this call for doing more homework, more dialogue, and more study of the issue begs the question, “How much more time, talk, and information do you need?” For an direct assertion that people are missing important facts, there is no follow up as to what information they are specifically missing that would dramatically impact their decisions. A simple mention about a link to online resources does not make the case. (And for a group charged with examining digital content access issues for sensory and physically impaired, having resources only available online brings its own issues of the digital divide and online vs. offline librarians into the mix. Just sayin’.)

Overall, I’m interested to see the EQUAAC report when it’s done. I hope that it will be a good and comprehensive overview of the digital content issues. It should be the real “hot read” of the annual conference. Of course, who knows what the situation will look like when June rolls around?

#hcod and Change.org

HC-change

Recently, I was asked if I would be interested in writing a petition with Change.org regarding the HarperCollins limited eBook license. After a couple of different drafts, some research as to who to contact, and some advice from Sarah Houghton-Jan, Brett Bonfield, and Carol Scott, this is the finished product.

Read, sign, share, and join with others.

(The above graphic is my original idea for the photo for the petition, but I opted to embed the 26+ checkouts video instead.)

Publishers Having Their eBook Cake and Eating It

A reader sent me a link to this article last week. Money (literally) quote:

Among the ills of this radical pay cut [lower prices for e-books than for hardcovers] is the distorting effect it has on publishers’ incentives: publishers generally do significantly better on e-book sales than they do on hardcover sales. Authors, on the other hand, always do worse.

How much better for the publisher and how much worse for the author? Here are examples of author’s royalties compared to publisher’s gross profit (income per copy minus expenses per copy), calculated using industry-standard contract terms:

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Author’s Standard Royalty:
$3.75 hardcover; $2.28 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -39%

Publisher’s Margin:
$4.75 hardcover; $6.32 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +33%

Hell’s Corner, by David Baldacci

Author’s Standard Royalty:
$4.20 hardcover; $2.63 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -37%

Publisher’s Margin:
$5.80 hardcover; $7.37 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +27%

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

Author’s Standard Royalty:
$4.05 hardcover; $3.38 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -17%

Publisher’s Margin:
$5.45 hardcover; $9.62 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +77%

So, everything else being equal, publishers will naturally have a strong bias toward e-book sales. It certainly does wonders for cash flow: not only does the publisher net more, but the reduced royalty means that every time an e-book purchase displaces a hardcover purchase, the odds that the author’s advance will earn out — and the publisher will have to cut a check for royalties — diminishes.

Since people don’t own their digital book content (both in the sense of the First-Sale doctrine and the current content licensing agreements), then it’s a double win for publishers. They get a bigger slice of the eBook sale AND retain ultimate control and ownership over an eBook. What’s not to like when you carve out of a new revenue stream out of content creators (authors) and the end user (people and libraries) and retain control of the content?

Consider this in the light of the HarperCollins decision of limited checkouts. For each additional sale of an eBook (even at the lower price point) once it hits the magical 26th circulation, it generates the same revenue equation above. Yes, it does generate another author royalty payment that they would otherwise not get with perpetual access but authors are not the main beneficiaries of this re-buy system. The greater publisher margin gets the biggest boost out of the system. I believe it is an incentive that compels this idea of artificial scarcity in eBook lending.

From the library end of things, I find it rather disheartening for the future of collections. With a profit motive like that one, I’m wondering when the other publishers will follow suit. I respect the fact that they need to make money for this equation to work; editing and talent scouting is not without cost. My concern is for one hundred years from now when the question of the future generations will be about the literature and prose of the 21st century, not the yearly revenues of the publishers who existed then. It is a matter of the cultural record and what is collected or preserved versus what licensing can do for people now.

I may be bordering on hyperbolic so I’ll try to take a step back. There is nothing to say that this is the way it will be in the future, even six months from now. The eBook market (both content and devices) is still in transition as we move ahead with innovation cycles and consumer inclinations. But I still find the math above rather askew when looking at the HarperCollins oft quoted statement,

We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.

What are your thoughts?

HarperCollins and Big Tent Librarianship

Earlier today, I got some vague messages via both text and Twitter in regards to a posting by the Annoyed Librarian over on Library Journal. Generally, this is not a good sign since it can mean, well, anything from a blog whose tagline was “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” (On the day when the Movers and Shakers were formally announced, no less. Go figure.)

So, with a bit of apprehension, I went over and read the post.

After I was done, I have to admit that they made some good points. Not that I agree with all of them, but they were well reasoned and presented. It was a fair minded counterpoint argument to the Big Tent Librarianship idea within the frame of HarperCollins debate and the overall library community when it comes to what it means to talk about libraries (e.g.. saying “libraries” in most cases means “public libraries”).

Huh. That usually doesn’t happen.

My main point of contention with their post is over the illusion of separation between different types of librarians. The AL describes a roomful of representative librarians from different areas as only having a degree in common. I disagree. Give me that room of individuals and I’ll ask them the right questions. I’ll ask about budgets, user experience, customer service, the collection, and what trends are influencing their libraries. They may not have common solutions for all of these issues, but I believe that each of those issues will have commonalities that will lead to cross library type conversations. That’s the idea behind Big Tent Librarianship: that these conversations need to happen in order to find the common points between different librarians.

Within the context of HarperCollins, I cannot accept the position that academic libraries (or school or special libraries for that matter) are not going to be affected by a decision being made by one of the six largest publishers. The issue has drawn far too much attention within the publishing and library worlds to be set aside as passing conflict of limited consequences. While the books that the AL’s library are buying today are not from HarperCollins, the practices of one publishing giant can be duplicated by others within the industry. It may not be the same as limited circulation lifespan, but it could be something akin to  re-subscribing for the latest updated edition of a textbook. As licensed content, the “old” edition of the textbook disappears with only the “new” edition available for lease. I cannot imagine that this would not alter or disrupt collection development workflow or the integrity of an academic collection. The outcome of this boycott has ramifications for the future of the publisher/library eBook relationships across the board for libraries.

The most interesting point in their post concerns when people write or talk about libraries they actually mean public libraries and describing this as ‘public library privilege’. I have to say that I agree with that point. The public library tends to take center stage to the near exclusion (and sometimes detriment) of school, academic, and other kinds of libraries. I don’t really have an answer for this phenomena, only some questions/guesses. Is it the result of a ‘tyranny’ of the majority of the membership? Are public librarians the only ones who can get sufficient off-work time to do ALA activities? Is it because public libraries have a higher visibility and longer usage lifespan to individuals than other types of libraries? Are public libraries the linchpin in the overall library structure from which other libraries arise from? When are academic and school librarians going to rise up and make their own noise at this discrepancy?

In a tangent, this may turn into a defense of the term ‘libraryland’. I use the term because I see it as the overarching term that means ‘everyone’. Precisely because when I say ‘library’, I am usually talking about public libraries. Why? Because I’m a public librarian. I’m going to talk about what I know about because there are way smarter people who write about other library types. I try to inject those issues into my social media streams by sharing their posts with my followers and posting blurbs on my blog. For that reason, a term like ‘libraryland’ seems more inclusive and more encompassing to me. Perhaps it is the product of my own thought processes attempting to sort different areas of interest, but it works for me when I’m figuring out at what level an issue or topic ascends to discussion.

I will admit that I won’t pass up this chance to mention a gripe I have concerning the Annoyed Librarian blog. It can be summed up into a sentence: fix your damn RSS feed so that it shows more than a blurb in Google Reader. It’s not the only blog that does that out there, but I don’t have the same issue with other Library Journal blogs (like Roy Tennant’s). Unless the headline is something good, I’ll tend to skip over them. For the Annoyed Librarian blog, I always end up clicking that damn link since it is the library blog equivalent of disaster porn. I can’t help myself but look to find out what written train wreck awaits me when it scrolls up in my Google Reader. I wouldn’t consider this column’s content to rise to the level of car wreck (perhaps minor fender bender) but I know I can’t possibly be the only one who clicks on that link for that reason.

#hcod over at Publishers Weekly

If you haven’t read it yet, take a moment to read Kate Sheehan’s essay over on Publishers Weekly’s website regarding the HarperCollins boycott.

Salient quote:

The boycott of HarperCollins is not a knee-jerk reaction to feeling slighted. It is a demand to have our voices heard and to protect our already-squeezed budgets until a solution that benefits readers, libraries, and publishers can be found. I’m glad a publisher is willing to experiment with a new model for e-book circulation in libraries, though my hope is that HarperCollins will blaze a trail for collaboration with libraries, not undermine the doctrine that enables us to serve our communities. Publishers, it is not your responsibility to keep libraries afloat. But should it be your mission to close them down?

And it is here where a for-profit business conflicts with the cultural institution. If it was simply a money question, then the grumbling would be minor in comparison. But when there are core library values at risk such as literature access, the cultural record, or the overall integrity of the collection, that is where there is going to be a problem.

I’m with Kate and others that, while we appreciate publishers wanting to try something new in terms of pricing models, this isn’t going to cut it for some very core mission based reasons. It’s just not going to work with libraries as they step into an age of digital collections. Perhaps this new digital age does mean that book will never be out of print, but it shouldn’t mean that they are not worthy of collection in a publically accessible space. The collection still matters, even if it is stored on a server.

Sorry, HarperCollins, but the future of your pricing models is in another castle.

Weekend #hcod & #ebookrights

This article from the Wall Street Journal:

Some publishers, which are monitoring the sites closely, say they fear that making books available for loan may deter people from buying physical and digital books.

Despite an American Library Association study to the contrary, publishers believe that lending books represents a lost sale. But when you have quotes like these:

ebook sales in general are rapidly gaining on print sales. Forrester Research reports that ebook sales in the United States hit $966 million in 2010, up from $301 million the year before.

In Canada, HarperCollins says it’s seen a 500 per cent increase in ebook sales since 2009, while Random House Canada has seen a 400-percent jump. (The Province)

It’s not hard to see why they make statements like this:

We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.

Right. I have yet to see a study or statistic which proves their last point that lending (library or otherwise) leads to less buying. My understanding is that reading leads to more reading, especially when there is a favorite author involved. As evidence I offer my anecdotal experience in lending out Game of Thrones to people and seeing a number of them buy it for themselves or the sequels.

Eric Hellman has a theory about why HarperCollins put limitations on their eBook sales:

[..] HarperCollins has played a neat trick. By focusing our attention on the books that are lent many times, supposedly shortchanging the publisher and the author, HarperCollins has gotten us to overlook the 80% of books that don’t circulate much at all. Libraries pay full price for those, too, and it’s pretty clear that publishers make infinitely more money on books that don’t circulate in libraries than on books that don’t sell in bookstores!

On balance, the economic effect of libraries, in addition to those I’ve discussed before, is to shift money from very popular books to those that are less popular. It can be argued that libraries support a breadth of culture that would go away without their support. Guess who publishes those very popular books? The Big 6 publishers, of course. They pay the big advances to authors, the big coop advertising fees to bookstores, they get their authors on talk shows and their books reviewed in the Times. That takes a lot of money, but the expenditure is richly rewarded by a "vital few" or "smash hit" economy.

So here’s the cunning. By focusing on popularity-driven revenue mechanisms, HarperCollins is pushing money towards the smash hits and away from the long tail. Libraries may be adversely affected, but they’re collateral damage. It’s the long tail publishers that HarperCollins is trying to destroy.

Read his whole post. While the math makes my eyes cross (it’s not him, it’s me), I can understand the point that he is getting at. That when you have a limited budget and must consider re-buys of a popular license, you’re going to divert it away from the eBooks that do not circulate as well. That Janet Evanovich eBook will have a high enough demand to warrant a re-buy (at a lower price point: “If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point.”) while the midlist authors that don’t get the same demand may get squeezed out by collection development money headed towards Janet.

That makes sense to me. Personally I hope it’s not the real reason although my cynical side was doing a jig while I read it. We’ll just see how it plays out.

The Other Shoe of #hcod

Lest anyone forget that there was more than one outrageous aspect in the Overdrive dispatch to libraries over eBooks, Karen Schneider reminded me that there was another bombshell that went with the limited eBook checkouts. I’ll quote the blurb on Bobbi Newman’s post and keep the emphasis that she added:

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.

My gut answer is “Um, how about no?”

In the same paragraph in which Overdrive assures that they are not interested in being involved in library policies, they accede to the publisher’s concerns by making it is a requirement to cooperate with those terms. I can only presume this was in done in the absence of consultation with their library “partners”. I’m not super familiar with partnerships in which one party simply tells the other what the deal is going to be without recourse; perhaps I cling onto an antiquated definition of partnership which includes bilateral communication. But if there had been some form of consultation as to the viability of these publisher fears, I would imagine their shock when they found out that what publishers want already exists.

First, libraries can pretty damn good at identifying who gets borrowing privileges. Whether it is a school, town, county, college, or hospital, one of the things that is well established in policy is who gets a card and who doesn’t. Generally this is shaped around who pays taxes or membership fees, who has active employment or enrollment at the school, or who simply works there, but I will concede there are a few exceptions. However, since library privileges are built around the concept of “who is in and who is out”, the publisher’s concerns have already been addressed. It’s a policy that is enforced everyday in libraries across the United States. Case closed.

Second, libraries already enforce patron qualifications as to who can remotely access materials through the library website. Long before eBooks appeared on the scene, databases were the outreach resource that could be accessed from outside the library walls. As a subscription service, libraries were pretty keen to ensure that only qualified parties could use these materials (especially there were a limited number of logins permitted). In order to access this content, an individual needs a library card; the same would be true with eBooks. As the issuance of library cards was handled in the previous point, the publisher’s concern is moot.

It really makes me wonder if publishers who are expressing these concerns are out of touch with libraries. They could walk down to their own public library or their kid’s school library or call up a university library and ask the very basic question as to what it takes to get a library card. Library card issuance policies are as clear cut as they get in the library world.

As to Overdrive, a little more consideration might be in order. Seriously, before making the mistake of rolling over to some unwarranted hand wringing, a little research might be in order. The answers might surprise you or already be in place.

*sigh*

So, here are my remaining questions as it pertains to this other shoe that Overdrive dropped:

(1) Who are these publishers that have concerns? Names would be good.

(2) What are these concerns in detail? What are these nebulous terms and conditions? Some details would be illuminating.