Monday, February 28, 2011

It Is Time To Negotiate Change

Photo by Maggie Smith

Companies are in business to make money. I get this. If the book publishers looked to the failing, or failed, music industry they could learn a lot. They probably won’t and the most recent HarperCollins news seems to provide some evidence to support that statement.

Well, I’m sure this has been mentioned already, but I wanted to state it again because it makes sense to me. Okay, if I am reading an eBook and I am on chapter 12, then technically there are many other chapters that are not being read at that point in time. Another reader could start reading chapter 1.  Another reader could have 3 pages left to read etc.  It is technically possible for more than one person to read an eBook at the same time, but the publishers keep thinking “one reader/one book” and that is 20th century thinking – maybe even 15th century thinking.

Maybe it is time to look more closely at a Netflix-esque, Rhapsody-esque, or some other subscription model for libraries so that authors/publishers get paid per download or per view. Libraries can help distribute content! Libraries are pretty good at this actually. Publishers could make more money if they were more flexible and allowed libraries to do what they do best, which is helping connect their users to valuable information. Of course, libraries do way more than this, but this connection is significant. If an eBook is popular and, let’s say, 26 people read it, then charge the library for those “reads” by adding code to the eBook that automatically pays the publisher out of the library budget. It seems to be working for musicians – although musicians make more money if they aren’t under contract with a music label and/or distributor.  Plus, an analytic reporting function could be incorporated into an eBook that lets the publisher know that a user, for example, was only browsing a particular title to determine if they wanted to read it or not and this would not count as a “full read.” I can browse books at Barnes and Noble and I am not charged for doing this.  It should be the same for eBooks.

Going further, it is now affordable and convenient to download/stream music. More and more people are doing this legally because it is so much easier to have instant access to everything you want and whenever you want it, instead of illegally searching for music on torrent and file sharing web sites and taking risks with malicious software and other repercussions. For me, paying a $10 to $20 a month subscription fee to gain access to unlimited music or movies is totally worth it and I would do the same exact thing for eBooks through my library if it was possible. The funny thing, this is possible! We need to move past the “one reader/one Book” model soon. OverDrive offers “max access” subscription models and this is a step in the right direction, but this needs to benefit everyone and I am not 100% certain this is the case. If it is, please let me know.

Libraries need to step up and negotiate with these publishers, and as many librarians have already mentioned in other posts and tweets, librarians need to become strong advocates for their readers! If having access to eBooks and other eContent was in everyone’s “best” interest, including library users, then what is the problem?  Why hasn’t this happened yet? Money? I would think publishers (and their authors) could get paid more money if they went this route and began to think like innovators and not like stubborn idiots. It is not my intention to insult anyone. I just want to know why we don’t have a decent model yet? I’d like to share a passage from Bob Lefsetz because it supports my initial thoughts above:

Eviscerate piracy.  Make it so it’s just not worth it to steal.  Hell, people may even forget how to steal… But, but, but…if we lower the price so everybody can get in, we’re going to lose that extra revenue from our best customers!  Cable providers don’t care how much you watch TV, it’s just about signing up.  And cell providers have unlimited plans.  And both have great anti-piracy measures so there’s no direct comparison, but the point is today’s paradigm is giving a lot for a little, not being pecked to death by ducks, micro-payments of  $1.29 for every track.  Who could survive on a system like this?  Not car companies, who sell accessories in packages.  The key is to come up with a bucket of tracks, for a reasonable price. (Source:

I agree! This is nothing new, but I do feel that it is time to rethink our library subscription models. Not just for eBooks, but we need to explore this for our databases and other eContent as well. Vendors are already figuring out ways (simple ways, in fact) to bypass libraries altogether and deal directly with their end users. This is unfortunate on so many levels. Should we simply watch this happen, or should we start negotiating, or should we boycott publishers who are not “library friendly?” These are tough questions that need answers. This recent HarperCollins announcement is ridiculous at best and libraries need to respond intelligently.  A couple of good places to start:

Search/use #hcod hashtag on Twitter.
There will be an “eBook Trends and Practices” track at the 2011 Computers in Libraries conference.


  1. I like the Netflix-esque/Rhapsody-esque idea very much. How/Where do we start making it happen?

  2. That is a good question. I wonder if the movement to help "pioneer electronic content delivery for libraries" would be a good resource to help negotiate a new lending model in the right direction so that everyone benefits? Or ALA? All I know, is this change needs to happen soon because other publishers will start bypassing or trying to limit library usage of eContent.

  3. Again, it is technically possible for more than one person to read an eBook at the same time, but the publishers keep thinking “one reader/one book” and that is 20th century thinking – maybe even 15th century thinking. If library users had unlimited access to eBooks and there was a tiny piece of code that automatically paid the publishers per “read” then publishers would make more money because, for one, there would be no waiting lines and more and more people would be reading the same popular book at the same time (“one book/many readers”). eBooks that aren’t “read” would disappear because, quite frankly, no one wants them anyway. My $.02.

  4. I'm beginning to think that eBooks as database might be a good idea. It could allow a one book/many readers platform or 'streaming books'...maybe? I hope Library Renewal or someone can negotioate with the publishers on behalf of libraries to help make something like this happen. My library has a 'big bag of money' and we are willing to experiment with this type of distribution system.

  5. ALA needs to help to and I would think that they have committees tasked with this very thing -- I hope. I really think that publishers would make more money with this type of 'one book/many readers' subscription model. Plus libraries could connect as many readers to as many eBooks as possible. Everyone wins! Library users don't have to wait in long lines to read an eBook and publishers make money per view. I am sure there are other issues involved, but if this type of subscription service works for music and movies, then it can certainly work for books. Hopefully, libraries are left out of the game.