[...] Really, HarperCollins? by Kate Sheehan (added 2.26.2011 6:45pm est) [...]
[...] author and reading communities, has been what about small public libraries? (Update: Kate Sheehan has a very eloquent post describing the impact of this decision on small public libraries and consortia). Their budgets can [...]
First, we should stop using the words “buy” and “sell,” and call it what it is, “leasing.” We are not buying ebooks, not the way we buy print books. If HarperCollins–and the other publishers who are sure to jump on the bandwagon–really want to force ebooks into the print book mold, they will have to let us (1) decide how many licenses we want to buy, (2) offer quantity discounts, (3) buy back unused licenses, (4) let patrons give us their unused licenses, and (5) let us place our unused licenses in the book sale where patrons can purchase them at a discount.
Having said all that, I fear that libraries are going to be on the losing end of this stick. Either HarperCollins and other publishers want to work with libraries, or they don’t. Right now they are the doorkeepers to the content that our communities want, and there’s no one in a position to force them to license their content to us, for 1 times or for 26 times. It’s going to take an act of Congress–literally, similar to the patent law’s compulsory licensing–to change that.
[...] 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 [...]
Regarding ” If they’re going to self-destruct, at least let multiple people read them simultaneously.” Seriously, not allowing simultaneous access of digital information is just plain ridiculous. No wonder the savviest of patrons think we don’t know what we are talking about!
And your sugar/cake metaphor (or is it simile) is fantastic. Will be stealing that for future use (fair warning). Giving credit where credit is due of course.
Very interesting points that have great value. Do the publishers forget what happened to the record companies. Print, Vinyl, it all ends up in 1s and 0s at some point. Very good story from ReadWriteWeb supporting your ideas.
A facebook event page has been created for the boycott:
HarperCollins Facebook Boycott Page
Oh, Sharon. You’re so right and it’s so depressing. I’d be on board with a model that lets us buy licenses that expire if we also had the option to buy the book in a more permanent way with a cheaper license package. I don’t actually have a problem with renting books, but only if it’s an *option* not our sole way of getting our hands on materials.
Lori, thank you and steal away! I’m big on baking and dog metaphors – I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, with the dog.
In defense of publishers, limiting access to one patron at a time is a reasonable restriction. If you expect high demand, you should buy a second e-book, just as you do now when you purchase multiple copies of certain best-sellers you know will circulate: you don’t balk at paying the full price for the second copy, even though the marginal cost to the publisher for printing that second copy may be as low as $1.00. Publishers have reason to fear sharing the fate of music publishers: the music industry is about one-half the size it was a decade ago. Who has benefited? Not record companies, not retailers, not artists—many people who once made honest livings making and selling recorded music can no longer do so. Just because the technology permits it, does not mean that simultaneous, unending, unbounded distribution of content is fair, sustainable, or even beneficial. It is not a “right”. We must all accept a framework for preserving “the commons”—in this case, a viable publishing industry that compensates authors and provides a living to publishers and booksellers. As for the 26-loan limit, this is a tempest in a teapot. Very, very few copies are ever loaned out 26 times. HarperCollins probably shouldn’t have floated the idea, since they’ll gain so little by it, but in the rare event an e-book gets circulated that many times, I’d think a librarian would be happy to pay to renew a license—you’ve certainly gotten your money’s worth out of the acquisition.
Mark, I don’t inherently have a problem with the one-at-a-time approach (though it is frustrating to explain to patrons why this particular kind of digital material doesn’t behave digitally) and we do buy multiples of high-demand titles. I have a problem with using the digital nature of ebooks only to restrict.
No one is arguing for “simultaneous, unending, unbounded distribution.” And the “nothing ever circs 26 times” argument is both untrue and irrelevant. Calling it an “acquisition” when it’s something we’re paying an annual maintenance fee on is disingenuous.
If there was a tiered pricing structure that included an option for ownership of a digital copy (maybe that we could loan out one-at-a-time) and rentals for high-demand stuff (maybe that we could loan out a few-at-a-time), I’d be more on board. We have to solve the issues of ownership and first sale, though.
Librarians aren’t against publishers. If anything, we’re pretty darn pro-publisher (we get nervous about self-published stuff and tend to like the publishing endorsement on the things we buy). We want to work with publishers and we want authors to make money. But we’re not willing to become content rental agencies to do it.
Right now, ebooks are an “extra” for libraries. We lease them in addition to our print collection and loan them to a small segment of our patrons. But what happens now will set the tone for our future. This is a tempest in a teapot only because it only impacts some patrons of some libraries. But in 5, 10, 15, 20 years, we could very well look back at these years as where it all went wrong.