My philosophy on: ebooks

I promised Anna I wouldn't be so heavily ebooks focused. Never trust a lawyer, Anna.

Ebooks generally divide people into two camps:

Group A: Love them! Will do anything for them! I don't care what you charge me or what usage restrictions you place on me, just give me more more more.

Group B: No thank you. I'll stick with print. I know what I'm getting, I can do what I want want it. Straighten out the formats, stop the vendor wars and then we'll talk.

I'm actually not in either of these groups. I'm more of an A-/B+. I love ebooks, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I hate the angst surrounding them, but not so much that I'll refuse to buy them.

Over the weekend, news leaked out that there was going to be an ebook summit between ALA and the publishers who won't sell ebooks to libraries (Simon & Schuster and Macmillan--Penguin is invited along too). This is great news. Wouldn't you love to be a coffee cup on the table in that boardroom? So, everyone is talking. What are my concerns?

Concern #1: Libraries have been referred to as "places of free reading" for so long, people are starting to accept it as the truth. Yes, even those people who write tax checks to their government for library privileges. This is one of those things that is so often repeated that even librarians start to tout it. "We let people read books for free!" No. We don't. Tax payers have pre-paid for those reading privileges. That is money we, in turn, use to BUY library materials. Libraries need to push back against the scary specter of freeloading readers because it isn't true.

Concern #2: We're coming in to these "negotiations" late. Nothing to be done about that, but it does make things more difficult. Some things have already been done that will not be undone. For instance, price of ebooks. Consumers, raise your hand if you'd pay $25.99 for an ebook. Consumers? Hello? Librarians, raise your hand if that price even registers on your radar.

Exactly.

We are so used to paying regular hardcover price for ebooks that it doesn't even warrant a mention anymore. Even though I swore I'd never do it. Yep, I did. I swore it to the New York Times. That was silly. They never forget anything.

But we're not starting from a blank slate where we can negotiate a downward price on ebooks, even if we're buying multiple copies. The status quo is hardcover price (or 2x hardcover price. Or 5x hardcover price...) and a publisher who is already selling you 0 copies has absolutely no incentive to sell you any copies for less than their competitors, right? 

Concern #3: Show me the models. We started with a model of one book/one user. Libraries grumbled a little, but it made sense. That was the way the print world worked, so it was easy to explain to patrons. And, it made sense to us from a business perspective too. We get that publishers wouldn't want us to buy one copy and let 1,000 simultaneous users read. Forcing holds forces us to buy more copies. All things we are familiar with. The world turned in harmony.

But is that the model a publisher coming in to the library market would use as their beginning bargaining position? I don't think so. I wouldn't. If I were a publisher, I would start with the 26 use model because that is a better position for me. Why would I start bargaining from a position of unlimited circulations when you're already letting my competitor set limits? So we start at 26 and bargain from there. But wait, right now you get exactly 0 loans of my material, so 26 seems excessive. This is new for us, we're not sure how this lending thing will work out, so maybe we should make it 15 loans. Or, perhaps, 10. 10 is still better than none, right?

Is everything on the table? Re-licensing after every use? Copies sold in batches instead of single items? Licensing for time periods instead of uses? A model where we could stop licensing a title? Ownership? Is ownership of titles on the table?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

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