I talked a bit yesterday about the response to HarperCollins’ new ebook policy, and I’m pleased to see just how many others are speaking out. There are even a few non-library inroads, including Galleycat, BoingBoing, and ReadWriteWeb.
But it’s the Librarian in Black that strikes a nerve with her post, Library eBook Revolution, Begin. Sarah’s posts spells out many of the ways concerned librarians, authors, and readers can take action right now.
As the #hcod uproar has shown, librarians across the country are spoiling for a fight. But what’s the best approach? I’ve seen calls for angry confrontations at ALA, removing offending titles from library shelves, and outright boycotts.
But I would argue that the picket line isn’t the place for this battle. Rather, I think we need to take this struggle to the boardroom. Like it or not, publishers have a vested business interest in keeping libraries happy. If they want us to continue purchasing and promoting their titles, we need to hear about new terms – before they’re set into stone.
Because 26 checkouts isn’t the only issue that needs addressing. Several other people have addressed the other change to Overdrive’s policies here, but it merits re-quoting:
Another area of publisher concern that OverDrive is responding to is the size and makeup of large consortia and shared collections. Publishers seek to ensure that sufficient copies of their content are being licensed to service demand of the library’s service area, while at the same time balance the interests of publisher’s retail partners who are focused on unit sales. Publishers are reviewing benchmarks figures from library sales of print books and CDs for audiobooks and do not want these unit sales and revenue to be dramatically reduced by the license of digital books to libraries.
My library is part of a consortium, so this graf hits me where I live. This is another case where the effort to save a buck in the short term is going to have terrible long-term consequences for our eBook collections. Group buying power enables library consortia to spend more money pursuing less well-known titles. This encourages broader discovery of new books, and provides a greater likelihood that patrons won’t walk away empty-Nook’d when they find the latest James Patterson is checked out. Break up the consortium, and each library can only spend money on bestsellers. Bye-bye, long tail. What really gets my goat here is that these changes come directly from the vendor, without a thought about how this will affect activity on the other side of the partnership.
To correct this, we need to explain why taking library priorities into account make better economic sense than the current “we say jump” model. It’s a conversation we should have been having with all of our vendors. If we have to terminate our existing vendor-customer partnership to do so, so be it.
I’ve spent a good part of the last year working on a project with the public elementary and middle school districts in my community. Our primary goal is to ensure that every student has a public library card. But we’re also working to provide greater access to our electronic resources. Our hope is to create strong digital literacy skills from an early age, with a goal of improved research abilities and net ethics in the long term. We’ve been working with faculty, parents and students alike, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Our pilot partnership with one school district is well entrenched at this point, and we’re enthusiastically moving forward with the remaining local schools.
But there was a snag with our of our database providers, whose terms of service stated:
If remote access is included it shall not be permitted from any public or private third-party educational facility or library institution other than those of the Licensee.
This is an understandable term on its surface. Libraries and schools make up this vendor’s bread and butter, so they need to make sure schools don’t say “why are we paying for this product, if we can just get it in the library,” and pulling the plug.
But here’s the thing: public school libraries in my community don’t even have a book budget. They don’t currently subscribe to this vendor, and they’re certainly not going to subscribe any time before their current financial situation gets better. (Raise your hand if you see that happening any time soon. Anyone? Anyone?)
On top of that, we designed a system that required every student to have a library card in order to access the database. If nothing else, it would help to reinforce the value of the library card as a gateway to valuable information. We took every effort to play by their rules. We even offered to pay a premium for schools to allow students to access what their taxes have already paid for.
The vendor’s response: Sure, you can pay a premium. Just pay the per-site fee we’d normally charge the schools. With over a dozen sites to deal with, this charge would have been more than ten times what were currently paying. Failing to bring the vendor to our point of view, we cancelled our subscriptions outright. What made business-sense to them didn’t make service-sense to us, so we walked away.
In this case, we were lucky. Plenty of other products exist to take the place of the inflexible vendor’s offerings. At this point, there isn’t really a viable replacement for Overdrive’s eBook selection. Maybe this an opportunity for someone else to step in.
One thing should stay clear: the vendors behind this digital content have a right to make money. They do so by selling access to libraries. But we’re not the endpoint for that access – our patrons are. If the vendor imposes restrictions that negatively affects that access, libraries need to advocate on behalf of their users. But in order to do that, we’re gonna need a better seat at the table. To get that place, we’re gonna need a revolution.