Monday, March 26, 2012

The War Wages On...

I will admit, I have been avoiding this topic in the blog, but I suddenly feel compelled to address it here.  The issue of publishing houses and how they are threatening the livelihood of the borrowed ebook is an important topic.  It has come to the point where I feel a certain responsibility as a Librarian to inform my faithful public of the situation (as it will directly affect you in the long-run). 
I realize that most of you reading this may be completely unaware of this situation, altogether.  If you are current on what’s going on, please indulge me as I take a trip into our recent past for those who are not up to speed  ;0)  The basics are these:
A) Books are now being offered in a format that a person can read on their computer, phone, ipad, or dedicated reading device (such as a Kindle or NOOK).  These are called ebooks.
B) Libraries would like to offer books in this format to their patrons for all the obvious reasons (to serve our patrons, provide access to as many as we can, provide our patrons with as much choice as possible, and promote reading).
C) Publishers are suddenly expressing various concerns about providing their titles in this format to libraries.
D) Due to this concern on their part, they have begun to incorporate some questionable practices into the selling and distributing of their titles.

There are several major publishing houses  in the United States:
Hachette Book Group, Brilliance Audio, MacMillan, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group, Random House, and HarperCollins.
There are a couple of large distribution companies who contract with publishers and libraries to provide borrowing privileges of this material to patrons.  The one we use is called Overdrive.

The Current Appalling Situation
As of now, all of the afore-mentioned publishers, except Random House, have completely stopped selling ebooks to libraries.  Random House has agreed to continue selling ebooks to libraries, but at a MAJOR price increase.  Penguin has even pulled books out of electronic collections that had been purchased prior to their decision to no longer sell to libraries.  The depths of this kind of activity could be plumbed for pages and pages.  I will spare you the sordid details.  The true reasons behind these decisions by the publishers are still unclear, although there are blogs-a-plenty taking guesses and hosting discussions (I will provide you with a list at the end of this post, should you want to investigate this atrocity further).  
I will summarize:  One publisher is still selling their ebooks to book sellers for the same price, but charging libraries up to 300% more for their copies.  Publishers who have stopped selling to libraries and various library-supporting institutions are trying to come up with new sales models to resolve this issue.  Most of the models developed by publishers seem to be dancing on the line of legality concerning anti-trust laws.  
Penguin expressed a MAJOR upset with the agreement that Overdrive struck with Amazon when they began library-lending operations for the Kindle devices.  Basically, when you check out a book in “Kindle format” from your library through Overdrive, you are immediately rerouted to to retrieve your library book.  You MUST have an account to borrow Kindle books from your library.  This concerns patron privacy and an assumed drumming up of business for Amazon. 
It has been suggested by the publishers that in the future OverDrive, and other companies like it, will need to be concerned with individual libraries’ policies for issuing library cards (eg. Making sure that they are considered under the “resident” category for lending).  This concern stems from the fact that if a person has somehow managed to maintain more than one active library card, they may use a card issued in one location to check out electronic material at another location (perhaps in an entirely different state, even). 
Some of the models presented by publishers are offering a “26 checkout” rule.  This means that the library pays for the rights to an electronic book.  It becomes available for check out to the public (one person at a time, just like a regular library book).  Once the copy has been checked out 26 times, the rights are retracted from the library.  In essence, the book is taken back by the publisher.  The library no longer owns that copy.  If the library wants to continue to own that copy, they must purchase it all over again.  You can see the sort of impact these policies will have on the already-strained budgets of libraries throughout the country. 
Some models require that you (the patron) come to the library, physically, to download and check out electronic copies of titles.  This means that even though you have a computer, internet access, and your ereader right there at home with you; you will have to drive to the library to logon, download and transfer the book to your device.  The publishers are concerned that it is too easy for you to check out electronic materials.  The natural “friction” that has been a part of the way the library has worked for centuries now, ensures a certain amount of initiative to purchase from the patrons. 
I know this all may sound like a foreign language.  I assure you, if you are interested in reading more on this, the blogs I refer you to at the end of this post will clarify  ;0)

How This Affects YOU

1.  No new titles available in ebook format.  This will create longer wait lists for patrons on new titles.
2.  A less diverse and less current selection of materials for you in electronic format.
3. Libraries that are trying to maintain a workable electronic collection under these circumstances will have to spend a SIGNIFICANTLY larger part of their book budget on electronic materials, not leaving as much for print books.  This means LESS BOOKS.
4.  Not being able to take advantage of the inherent convenience that your reading device naturally offers you.

As A Librarian…
As a Librarian, I am deeply disturbed by this unrest between the publishers and the libraries.  It saddens me greatly to feel the sting of the slap from an industry that should, so logically, be partnering with us; not fighting against us.  The foundation of our profession as Librarians is to fight for your rights, as patrons, to have free access to material that is relevant and/or interesting to you.  We believe that EVERYONE has the right to access information and further educate themselves in an effort for self-improvement. 

Blogs of Interest
In creating this post, I pulled information from some of my favorite and most-read blogs.  I hope you find them interesting, informative, and occasionally, entertaining.

A Spark?
If all of this has ignited a spark in you, and you feel compelled to express your disappointment, outrage, or other feeling about this situation, I have included here the contact information for the publishers who refuse to sell electronic materials to libraries. (Thank you, Sarah Houghton, aka The L.I.B.)

MacMillan Publishing
75 Varick St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-7521

Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 698-7000

Hachette Book Group
466 Lexington Avenue #131
New York, NY 10017
(212) 364-1100

Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 366-2000

Brilliance Audio
1704 Eaton Drive
Grand Haven, MI 49417
(616) 846-5256

Until Next Time,
Your Library Blog Maven,

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