How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher's Tale)

Photo by Libraryman/Flickr (Great slide, Michael!) I found this article in my Google Reader this morning and, I will admit, it has been awhile since I have been so excited and flabbergasted at the same time. I was excited about the possibilities and flabbergasted at the implementation. Take a moment to click on the link and go read it so that you too can join me in such a mixture of emotions. Or, for those who want to get to the meat of the situation, carry on.

Page told conference delegates that "all the major trade publishers have agreed to work with aggregators to make it possible for libraries to offer e-book lending"…

Hooray!

…with the addition of certain "controls".

Uh oh.

He said the guidelines had been developed because of concerns over free e-book lending offered by some libraries to lenders "wherever you are" in breach of publisher contracts.

Ok, here it comes.

Under the new scheme, library users would have to come onto the library's physical premises to download an e-book at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, rather than downloading the book remotely.

In a country (UK) that is cutting back on its staff (and hell, for that matter, any staff whatsoever), the idea of turning into a service station for ereader devices has to be a frightening one. I’m sure these publishers in their infinite wisdom have determined a trouble free way for people to download these books onto their iPads, Kindles, Nooks, Iliads, Sony Ereaders, Coolrs, and every sort of device potentially out there. Or at least given the library staff a written list of reasons why a patron’s device is not included so that they can hand them that list rather than explain it ad nauseam or troubleshooting directions. Isn’t the point of being online is that you can have remote access to something?

The scheme would also see the fee paid by a library to buy a book covering the right to loan one copy to one individual at any given time,

(Emphasis mine.) How 19th century of them to imagine up such a thing. I would hope that this would mean that the library could pay for multiple copies for lending to multiple people. Why not bundle those ebook lending rights with the actual book itself? Libraries are already paying jacked up prices for ‘library binding’ editions. You could put that fee on top of that. But I think my better question is whether the library would be buying the ebook itself (thus having ownership) or just the right to lend the ebook? My guess is the latter, but there is always hope for the former.

and would require "robust and secure geographical-based membership" in place at the library service doing the lending.

Do they even know what we DO at the library? Perhaps it is because I am ignorant to the UK system, but here in the states, we have a robust system called “Do you live in X area?” where X is the city, county, town, or other designated area that the library covers. If the answer is ‘yes’, you give them a card. If the answer is ‘no’, you give them the option to pay. It’s a robust and secure geographical-based membership system that has yet to be outdated by modern science.

* * *

While I am not privy to the plans of US based publishers regarding ebooks, I think it is a safe statement to say that they will be watching how this turns out in the UK. If there are any publishing people who visit this blog, here’s one librarian’s take on it.

We (the royal library ‘we’) would like to lend your ebooks. However, you have to get your act together. This variation in copyright and platform restrictions from publishing place to publishing place is not going to cut it moving as we both move forward into the future. I wasn’t kidding about bundling ebooks with the physical copy. It’s a win-win. I get to say, “Oh, we have this in print and ebook!” The patron gets to read it how they choose. And, like many stories go, if people really like it, they will buy it. Except in this version of the story, buying it on their ereader is faster, cheaper, and plays well into the whole “impulse purchase” aspect. We lend a book, you get a sale, the patron gets a book, everyone is happy. Or so the story should go.

Oh, a few more things to toss in at the end here. Remote access has to be a given. Availability on any ereader has to be a given. No remote access or no wide platform availability means ‘no thanks’. I’d rather explain to a patron that we don’t have any ebooks because we are spending their tax money wisely by not purchasing items and services that do not reflect our philosophies regarding access or lending options than explain the nuances of why they can have it on X device but not Y device (or no devices at all). And, in closing, it would be helpful to consult with libraries about what works best when it comes to lending. Because the proceeding statement by the Publishers Association based in the UK indicates that you really don’t have a clue.

It’s ok. We get questions all the time. We’re used to it.

(If you’d like to contact the Publishers Association and let them know what you think, here’s their contact page. Enjoy.)
AndyW

Comments

I also think

that it's fairly obvious what these controls are for.

Unlike print books where there is a secondary market, and a physical product that can be counted and accounted for, there is no such things for ebooks. Why waste a market for your book when you can now actually totally control the market? They want you to buy the book not borrow it, just as they'd like you to buy their normal books or cd's or dvd's as they make more money out of it!
With technology they can finally control things the way they want to. Doesn't matter if you (library) or you (individuals) want to borrow them, no one said everything had to be free and available.
They don't have to give you what you'd consider a fair deal. They could simply ban you from lending them and bring in the lawyers if you don't do what they say.

Mind you with the spending review I can't see that there's much of a point in progressing too much with ideas of ereaders and ebooks. It's going to be hard to justify libraries in general in some areas of the UK.

Geographical-based membership

In the UK last year The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) issued a press release announcing universal membership for public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"From 28 September, more than 4000 public libraries across England, Wales and Northern Ireland* are open for borrowing by any member of the public regardless of where they live."

This came completely out of the blue, without any discussion at all of the implications for digital resource licensing agreements.

In practice I think a lot of authorities just ignored it. However a lot of authorities don't ask for proof you live in a certain area anyway, they sign up everybody, even tourists here for the day, just to get their numbers up. Other authorities are like fortresses governed by old-school harridans "oh no your shoes are not sensible enough to belong" sort of thing.

Really?

I'd not heard of that!

WTP

What's your point? Andy hit us with your insights on this article.

Just realized

Just realized that I was not seeing the full article. Click on title of article to get full blog post and see Andy's point. Sorry for confusion Andy.

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