What eBook reaction best serves our patrons?

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What’s going to be more fruitful of our time and efforts in a response to the Harper Collins 26 eBook circ policy change? What will plan of attack will impact our patrons the most and improve their current and future eBook reading for the best?

A boycott of Harper Collins? I’m not so sure. It’s idealistic, feels good, but will it get Simon & Schuster and Macmillan to start offering eBooks to libraries  (who currently don’t allow this at all)? Will it get a new model for all library eBooks created?

I’ve been following #hcod basically since its inception, before the hashtag was even created on Friday. But, I have seen few alternatives (realistic, not idealistic) suggested to the current eBook model other than “DRM is awful”, “eBooks in Overdrive don’t work great right now”, there’s no standard format, and the current model is broken. This is the only one I have seen. Please leave comments if you’ve seen others and I’ll update this post.

Then, there’s the fact that a lot of libraries, especially small public libraries (maybe except those in consortia), can’t afford many eBooks right now. Affording them in the new Harper Collins regime, I don’t think so! Plus, other publishers who will undoubtedly also change their policies to be similar to Harper Collins. So they’ll stop even offering this service at all, and libraries will stop being relevant in the digital age.

What about some of the points from Sarah Houghton-Jan’s AWESOME summary of the situation, Library eBook Revolution, Begin?

What we need is for digital copyright laws to change (libraries need an exemption for digital content, just as we have for physical content).  We also need legislation introduced that specifies that that libraries, as public lending institutions, are not required to comply with consumer-intended terms of service.

Consumer market eBook vendors like Barnes & Noble and Amazon don’t let publishers get away with the amount of nonsense that we get stuck with through library eBook vendors. I fault the publishers for not realizing what a huge mistake they are making by not realizing that new formats are opportunities–not threats to be quashed. I fault the library eBook vendors for not standing firm and saying “no” to asinine demands. And I fault the library profession for, to date, not standing up for the rights of our users. Our job is to fight for the user, and we have done a poor job of doing that during the digital content surge.

She does suggest boycotting Harper Collins, but after the above statements.

I call on as many libraries as possible to contact HarperCollins (email them at library.ebook@harpercollins.com) and express dissatisfaction.  Beyond that, if have decision-making power at your library I suggest you boycott their content completely–or at least boycott it in digital format.

I call on as many libraries as possible to seriously consider dropping digital content vendors with restrictions and move toward only providing open access titles and formats.  Yes, that means forgoing most popular titles.  But you know what? Unless we take a firm stand we will not be heard.

A boycott alone isn’t going to make a huge difference in this situation, I’m afraid. I could be proven wrong, but do boycotts have a high success rate? And even if Harper Collins backs down, we’ll still have the same model we currently live with, maybe without the 26 eBook circ policy. But what if the next publisher tries a similar policy? Will as many people outcry, or will they just slowly accept it as inevitable, because they don’t want to waste energy again on yet another hopeless protest?

What I want to know is where are the Lawrence Lessig types and other recent digital copyright reformers on this topic? Where are the innovative librarians and technologists, like those that developed lendle.me, on this topic? What do authors think about all of this? Do they want to try something different to get their work out to more people, easily? What about voracious eBook readers with the technical know-how for platforms? Do they have any crazy, alternative ideas to the status quo of library eBooks?

For the sake of our patrons and the future of digital eBook access, this situation needs to become much larger than just a simple boycott against Harper Collins. Only then can we even begin to overcome our previous disgruntlement with the status quo of library eBook access.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic here. I don’t support what Harper Collins is doing at all, and I’m going to doggedly be checking the publisher on every book I read for awhile. But I want long-term solutions that will allow eBook lending by our patrons to be easier than ever. Now is the opportunity to come up with a plan. There is a lot of attention on the situation; why can’t we harness the ideas, and try some solutions, so the authors (publishers?) make their money because their writing should receive monetary reward and our library patrons can get as easy access to eBooks as they can to physical books, or maybe even easier? It’s possible. We just have to do it. And we could start by taking this plan, examining it, and making it or something similar work.

Update: I’m seeing the eBook User’s Bill of Rights being passed around this morning. Read it. It’s a start.

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9 thoughts on “What eBook reaction best serves our patrons?

  1. Dale A

    I tend to share your skepticism about the efficacy of a boycott. Librarians love crusades, when what works when it comes to influencing the behavior of vendors is grindingly fastidious attention to the details of contracts and deals. Libraries are terrible at this historically, accepting restrictive conditions and contracts for any number of products from our ILS to the ebooks we present to users. We’d rather sign a bad contract than suffer the theoretical wrath of users who might (note the subjunctive, because we rarely move beyond it in these discussions) object if we don’t offer this or that book/journal/database.

    Boycott is a strong word, and boycotts never seem to have the desired effect (Last Temptation of Christ, anyone?). They make the boycotter look shrill and strident. We don’t like Harper Collins? Fine, don’t buy their product, but let’s not saddle up for a crusade.

    1. Heather Braum Post author

      Do you have any ideas? Crazy or not, that are alternatives to the hated DRM? To limited checkouts? To clunky interfaces that don’t serve our patrons? That also protect authors and their work?

      1. Dale A

        Well, any number of ideas, but they all run aground on the rights that are granted by copyright laws to publishers. It would be nice if the publishers/rightsholders fought so hard for their rights so that they could protect authors and encourage creativity, but at the end of the day, they’re just maximizing profits and stifling creativity.

        Libraries and their lending patterns just don’t fit the business models of ebooks. I used models plural on purpose. You can’t get two publishers to agree on anything related to ebooks (unless your name is Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, and then all agreements are subject to change when one of them calls you to complain about that the other got), so how we are supposed to offer a coherent and consistent ebook selection to our users is beyond me/us. It’s truly a mess, but somehow I’m not entirely sure that it’s anything to get too upset about. The market is still in its infancy in many ways, and over time consumer pressure will force publishers to reform their ways vis-a-vis libraries.

        Here’s one idea: rather than boycotting publishers (which probably turns users off, since we are perceived as rabble rousers), we should encourage our users with ebook readers to make their feelings known about not being able to borrow and use ebooks. That’s a strategy more likely to succeed, since in terms of ebooks, end users are far more interesting to publishers than are libraries.

  2. Carol Barta

    It seems that HC is proposing a rental system. We are merely renting their e-books for a period of approximately 2-3 years. If that is the case, then their prices should come down significantly–which we know they won’t. For the pulishers it’s a case of having their cake and eating it,too.

    As far as boycotts, have you read the Wilson Library Bulletin lately? Some years ago thet publisher got crossways with the library community and the journal was gone within a few months. Librarians pulled their subscriptions.

    Harper Collins is betting that the e-reader owners are going to buy books if the libraries can’t provide them. They may be right. I won’t be putting any Harper-Collins on my Nook for a while.

  3. Karen Syed

    I have posted this a few places now. Why not familiarize yourselves with publishers who don’t set these limitations. You know, the ones who aren’t money grubbing corporate slugs. Okay, I probably shouldn’t say that out loud, but…oh well.

    My company sells our eBooks for under $5.00. We are working on setting up with Follett to distribute our eBooks. Why don’t libraries buy from them? Or places like Lightning Source?

    As a publisher I have never gotten Overdrive to work for me, but there must be options. You guys know your patrons are missing some excellent reads from Indy publishers. Right?

    Karen Syed
    http://echelonpress.com

  4. Joe Atzberger

    I’m thinking from the technical side.

    If libraries are going to support DRM content and get all the flexibility they want (multi-format, multi-user, multi-device, single point of access, OPAC-integrated, etc.), then they need to man up and become DRM publishers. Otherwise we just get to sit and wait for salvation when some major player (Google, Amazon, whoever) want to toss us a bone. Libraries would need to negotiate for content rights (from publishers, authors or their agents), establish license terms and enforce them via DRM, get content in non-DRM form or crack existing content out of existing DRM, etc.

    Of course most libraries would hate to undertake this kind of effort. It basically requires them to move into a new industry and will still feel patchworky based on what content is negotiated into the pipe.

    For context, we should note how stupidly easy the technical side of hosting a file targeted by a MARC record is. The difficult part is supporting as many devices and systems as possible, in particular those designed to be closed ecosystems. We need to decide whether some devices (typically the sexiest) are unreasonable targets.

    In more practical terms, I think wizzyrea is right. What will help us most immediately is smarter middlemen and smarter behavior.

  5. A Librarian

    The only way I see a boycott having any impact is for all libraries to boycott ALL of HarperCollins products. Unfortunately, I cannot see my library agreeing to do that when not responding public demand for a book or books is the result. If I cannot convince my library I don’t see how I/we can convince all libraries to do so.

  6. Patti Poe

    It seems to me that if the library is basically “renting or leasing temporarily” a digital book from a publisher or vendor — which is really what Harper Collins is offering — then the price should be lower. You don’t get to KEEP the title in your collection; it expires after 26 checkouts. Pricing should reflect the new model, and not be based on the old print model related to purchasing of physical items.

    Let’s start from the bottom to build a brand new model, which incorporates ALL factors into pricing and access.

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