Libraries & eBooks

So much of the conversation for the past week or two has been about HarperCollins implementing a limitation of 26 checkouts before an eBook is considered used up and you need to purchase a new one. Now many people have chimed in with some great thoughts, views and ideas and that’s awesome, that’s exactly what is needed. Check out Guy Gonzalez or any of the others or heck, just jump on twitter and follow the #hcod hashtag to follow along.  Now I’m someone who has worked in the library world for many years, well over a decade now and that’s not counting all the other publishing gigs I have held. So I know libraries, I understand them, I’ve worked with them in sales roles, consulting roles and as advocates for them, understanding workflows, especially when it comes to digital offerings. I believe strongly in libraries and librarians and I also understand the business side of things. Now before you get crazy on me, here what I have to say. Publishers,  trade publishers are scared of eBooks. They feel they cannibalize sales, take away from print sales and drive down profits. All understandable items, no profits means no new material means no publisher means the library has no new content or support for content they have acquired or subscribe to.  This all makes sense from a business standpoint and I know authors that are just as worried as well.  What this comes from is a lack of knowledge and understanding of both sides. Libraries want it to work a certain way and they want it to be the same as others or at least as manageable as other content, I get it, I agree, the reality is that it won’t be so, especially for the trade market. Now if we are talking academic or reference/research content as eBooks, well, that’s a different story and that is figured out, but that content is unique and we cannot, cannot put a square peg into a round hole, just won’t work for trade content.

I know, it sounds like I am defending the publisher, I’m not, I just get where they are coming from and how scared they are. Now for the publisher… seriously, are you kidding me? What a lot of this comes down to is fear, fear of lost profits and also fear because publishers don’t get how to work with libraries and honestly, they aren’t having conversations with them. Now as Guy states and I agree, a full out boycott is not the way to go, all it will do is hurt your patrons and those are the ones the library serves and needs to keep in mind. Publishers and libraries need to sit down and talk, don’t have a group do it for you, but at ALA or somewhere meet with HC, talk to them, tell them your worries and talk it out, knee jerk reactions are nice and all, but hurt others you don’t realize later… that’s for both of you pubs and libs.  Hell, call me, maybe we can facilitate something or get LJ involved in it, but talk, were not kids here, were all adults and need to have this conversation.

Now on to the 26 limit, let’s really look at this, because honestly, I’m not sure where you got that number from. If we think about this, 26 checkouts and it’s done. Ok, overdrive and most using Adobe digital editions which powers overdrive and most other eBook backends that aren’t using ePub or are, the general setting is you get the eBook for 14 days. Now if you keep the eBook for the full time and I think many will, that’s only 2 checkouts a month, 24 in a year. Now I think you’ll have close to triple or more of that amount of check outs, if you had more copies at a library.  Here’s the deal, I would bet a lot of money that patrons will finish an eBook in 5-7 days, but they won’t return that eBook, you know why, because the tech does it for you when it expires, you can’t access it anymore and it goes back on the virtualshelf. In all honesty, I don’t, I just let it run out, there is no motivating factor for me to return it, no late fee, nothing. It just deletes when I login to the overdrive app and I choose a new title(s). The reason for this isn’t laziness, it’s convenience, I have many things going on, I read an eBook and why should I have to worry about clicking return (eBooks don’t really fit into this check in check out model anyways), the license terms take care of this. The problem with the 26 is that you are telling libraries that you are not buying eBooks in a perpetual model, basically you buy it you own, you are saying that you you are buying access or a license to it, which is fine, but your pricing is all wrong then publishers. You can’t mix a license model with perpetual pricing, just doesn’t work, especially for trade content, novels are consumed in a different way.

Now I believe in the publishing industry as a whole and libraries as well, but the problem here is and has always been, communication. Everybody, on both sides, wants wants wants, but nobody is willing to compromise or sit down and figure it out. Bring authors, publishers and librarians and other industry professionals together to discuss it. The driving factors here need to be those that are affected by the decisions, as much as it is nice overdrive is involved, they need to just be the channel for getting the content out, not driving this because honestly they have a financial stake in it, they need to be able to respond to what the pubs and others decide and implement accordingly, if they don’t want to, fine, they’ll lose marketshare and business, that’s the way things go. I’m not against overdrive at all, I just believe you truly need to understand this from different angles.

I believe a solution is out there, but it’s going to take some truly honest retrospective views to realize it.  We can’t, on either side of the fence here, just expect it to be this way or that way, it’s not reality and it will cause more issues. I understand the anger, frustration and uprising, I do, but let’s put it this way, we all need each other, or neither will survive. In the current state of things, libraries closing, retail stores closing, sales for print down at pubs, we need solutions, not just quick and dirty fixes but true solutions. I know it takes time and patience are slim, but if you rush it, if you push it too hard, more damage will and can be done.  I want to see a solution developed, I truly do, because until it is, patrons will find other means of getting an eBook, if I have to wait a month or longer for a novel, how much is that worth to me for time, I might as well buy it from amazon, apple or someone, why wait, pricing is enticing to many to purchase the title, plus the library apps for reading eBooks in my opinion, need a lot of work.

Any other ideas or suggestions, let’s hear them, everyone needs as many as possible to choose from, who knows, you might have the idea that helps direct this new course.






About eBookNoir

eBook design, Publishing, Consulting, Marketing, metadata, TOC, everything digital, books, books and more books. If it involves publishing, i want in... View all posts by eBookNoir

2 responses to “Libraries & eBooks

  • Peter Atkinson

    A well thought-out summation of the situation. I’ve been saying all along that a boycott would be a mistake; the publisher has created this 26 loan limit because they’re concerned that we cost them sales. Being boycotted by libraries would be the icing on that cake.

    The public will only boycott what they have an alternative for and a favourite author cannot really be substituted.

    I was thinking an alternative might be to try to engage authors and get them to have this clause excluded from their contracts but of course, the real solution is to work together to find a solution that doesn’t cripple either libraries or publishers.

    As I teach in my e-book sessions, libraries and publishers are both struggling to figure out where the e-book phenomenon is heading. This 26 loan limit is a first try from a publisher trying to figure out how to survive and thrive in this new e-world. Positive discussion, not hurt or angry rhetoric, to help us work our way through to a mutually beneficial outcome. Now, is it too much to hope our state/provincial/national organizations will start it?

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