by Nicole Usiondek, Head Editor, INALJ Michigan
Finding Common Ground: Publishers and the Libraries
eBooks, publishers, and the library were all much talked about topics in 2012. eBooks have become a staple in the lives of many and so it was only natural that more and more patrons began looking to their local libraries to satiate this need. I know many a library employee lamented having to explain to patrons why books were not available on demand or why every book was not available. Many librarians felt that the publishing industry was trying to fleece the library. And I admit it; I too held this belief for quite some time too. In my mind I could not understand why publishers were not embracing eBooks and the role they were playing in the library world. As I saw it, it was the same model, just a different platform. A physical book equals one license. If that book is checked out by a patron, anyone else who wishes to use it must wait until it is returned. Anyone who has checked an eBook out from the library knows that eBooks work on the same basis. I could not wrap my mind around why some publishers were shying away from allowing their books to be available as eBooks at libraries, and why other publishers seemed to be asking such high prices. The publishers made their concerns known: fear of hackers, fear of losing money, or just waiting to see how other publishers handled this new trend. I admit it; I thought this was all just a way to charge more money.
Then one day I realized that the publishers are not the enemy. They are not trying to fleece libraries out of more money. When I really looked at what was being said, the publishers were afraid. Their industry has seen very little change in the in the last two or so centuries. It’s not as though they are unwilling to change, they are changing. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an industry to be cautious during a time full of change and that is what publishers are doing. The library field went through a similar change a few decades ago. I think that we should all look to that time (and the fact that we still have to explain why we are still “relevant”) and remember how scary it was to the field. Maybe us librarians can reach out to the publishers and be supportive to the growing pains they are experiencing. Publishers have to explain why they are still relevant when self-publications are becoming more and more common (check out Amazon, there are over 40,000 titles on how to self-publish your book and over 30,000 self-published titles available when I wrote this entry). I have nothing against self-publications; however I do respect the role the publishers play in the literary world. They ensure proper vetting, copyright issues, and editing (I have such a hard time when I’m reading a book and the grammatical errors or spelling take away from the story). So how can publishers and libraries find a way to work together?
On December 27, 2012, NPR tackled this topic in Libraries And E-Lending: The ‘Wild West’ Of Digital Licensing? I recommended reading this story, because it is full of a lot of interesting facts and information. What I found most interesting was the approach HarperCollins was taking with eLending at the library. They essential charge $25-$35 for what equates to 26 checkouts. HarperCollins may be on to something here. What if publishers were to charge libraries per use on eBook checkouts? This is the age of Big Data and so it is possible to report monthly or quarterly on the number of times an eBook title was checked out. If publishers were to charge $2 a checkout this would ensure that they were being fairly compensated and libraries would only be charged on the titles that are circulating. To me this seems to ensure that publisher can survive in this new world. Yes, on the one hand it may be more costly to libraries than the current physical book model, but on the other hand, we would only be charged for books that circulate. In any event, I think it is time for publishers and librarians to put our heads together and find a way for both fields to achieve success.