Tag Archives: publishers

Public Libraries must take a Stand with the Big 5 on eBooks


Library Journal “ALA, Publishers Talk Ebook Lending Terms for Libraries

I saw the headline and thought “Excellent! I hope this means ALA has made real progress toward open access to ALL content regardless of format!” and then I read the article.

“ALA highlighted the valuable role of libraries in the publishing and reading ecosystems and thus why more flexible and favorable terms for library eBook lending are in everyone’s best interest.”

Publishing ecosystems? Huh? Where’s the mention of providing equal access to information regardless of format?

“This visit represents ALA’s ninth such delegation effort over the last several years.”

Ninth delegation!? Seriously? And yet here most of us sit with abysmal title selections and outrageously priced contracts. I don’t think the strategy is working…whatever it is.

“Libraries have a prominent role in the discovery of books and authors, whether in the physical or virtual worlds.”

True. We all love our reader’s advisory and putting those new books in people’s hands.

“Indeed, the opening of a brick-and-mortar store by Amazon is a major acknowledgment that physical place is important, even for an online-based service. “

True…Library as 3rd space. We have been saying this for a decade. Wait…is the delegation saying these publisher’s should think of the libraries as their “brick-and-mortar” presence for their eBook trade? Hmm..starting to feel a little uncomfortable… where is this headed?

“In our meetings, we came away with a few possibilities for strengthened collaboration with publishers to promote discoverability as well as reading and literacy.”

OK- even less comfortable. Let’s break down this sentence. So in addition to promoting reading and literacy which we all do and love…the delegation is suggesting we promote discoverability…of the publisher’s eBooks. Why is it that this sounds a bit more like promoting for revenue than simple reader’s advisory?

“One idea that received some traction is tying discoverability with a particular subject matter, such as health or workforce issues. Library services or programming in an area would be developed and highlighted on a national scale, and publishers’ titles on these subjects would be featured. Publishers would offer print or eBooks through a favorable promotion to stimulate participation by libraries and, in turn, by the public.”

I’m sorry…what? Let’s read that part again “publishers’ titles on these subjects would be featured”. And…“Publishers would offer print or eBooks through a favorable promotion to stimulate participation by libraries and, in turn, by the public.” Now I’m officially uncomfortable and we have turned into shady ethical territory. Consider this: It is one thing when we host a children’s program with a magician and then put out a display of books on magic. It is ENTIRELY another when a book seller comes to the children’s librarian and says “If you will pay to put on a program with a magician- I will SELL you these books on magic at a discount and then you agree to ‘feature’ those books at the program”. How many of us would pull back from that offer instinctively?

But now we read an article with ALA is actually presenting this as a serious idea. ARE YOU KIDDING!?? Libraries are not peddlers of the publisher’s product! Libraries are not about free advertising for authors! Taxpayers do not give Libraries their hard-earned tax dollars to have us craft services and programming to promote a for-profit venture.

“Most fundamental, however, for these meetings is to further develop the library–publisher relationship at the executive and national levels. Publishers and libraries have similar overall goals—to promote and advance reading and literacy—and are allies in many respects.”

And why is it that each time I read about Library/Publisher talks or pilot programs I always see the same New York area libraries represented? Why are the New York area Libraries driving the national agenda and conversation on eBooks? Why are they some of the ONLY libraries to have ‘deals’ with the publishers? Proximity? Hogwash!! We all know how to get on an airplane. I have as much or more respect for NYPL and its neighbors as anyone (I’ll admit it may nearly bordering on a bit of hero worship); but I would like to see a broader spectrum of folks invited to the table for these negotiations.  Perhaps this is a banner that the new Librarian of Congress or ALA’s new Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and Freedom to Read Foundation, Jamie LaRue. With his appointment, I have the first high hopes I’ve had for awhile when it comes to serious progress from ALA.

And lets not overlook the bit about similar goals.  Unless it’s a charitable tax write off or a form of promotion, do we really believe the Big 5 have any other goal at the end of the day other than to make money? What better way than to get one of the most trusted of public institutions to hawk their products?

Let’s stop kowtowing to the Big 5. Stop telling them how good we are for their product and begging for scraps. Please ALA, do not sell the soul of the Public Library – the public trust that Libraries are one of the only remaining ‘commercial-free zones’- for a better price on the latest best seller. We are not the pawn of the Publishers. We are not their salesmen. Instead stand up for EXACTLY the reason we Public Librarians are here! To ensure that all Americans, regardless of their means, have access to ALL content/information REGARDLESS of format.

THAT SHOULD BE OUR MESSAGE TO THE PUBLISHERS. We will NOT allow them to throw our ability to create open access to information back into the dark ages because the technology of this bright new century allows them to maintain a strangle hold on content. Access to information is a right of all. NOT just those who can pay. That is why the FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY was created. How DARE we let these publisher disregard this basic tenant of our democracy!

Perhaps in the 10th meeting Libraries will make a stand.

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Authors now join Public Libraries as targets of Publisher and Bookseller censorship and greed – But who is the real victim?


It appears that it is not just Libraries any longer that are at the whim of publishers and booksellers. Authors now find themselves pawns in the game of market share and bottom-line. And some are NOT taking it lying down. Rather they are banding together, passing petitions and now a full-page spread in the New York Times Sunday addition at a cost of $104,000!

From ArsTechnica.com Report on the Dispute:

“Authors affected by Amazon’s contract dispute with publisher Hachette have started to band together against the online retailer, reported The New York Times on Thursday. More than 900 authors have signed a letter condemning Amazon for “using writers as hostages in its negotiations,” referring to Amazon’s choices to keep low stock of certain Hachette titles and taking weeks to ship them as the two companies battle over e-book prices.”

The Guardian Reports Best selling Authors take out Full Page New York Times Ad against Amazon:

“As writers – most of us not published by Hachette – we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’,” write the authors, who include Stephen King, Donna Tartt, Paul Auster, Barbara Kingsolver and a host of other well-known names.

Read The Authors’ Letter

But Wait! What is this?? Amazon has not taken the attack in stride but has come out swinging!! They have written their own letter!! (Note it says it is a Letter to Readers – However, I first saw the exact text from an Amazon Author who forwarded an email he received from Amazon billed as a letter to its authors- Thanks Dr. Steve Matthews!)

Read The Amazon Letter to Readers
(OH! and they have they have a bibliography! Nicely played Amazon! Too bad so many facts were wrong- especially that Orwell reference. Pesky Details!)

But now the letters are flying! We did not have to wait long for Hachette’s Response!!
Read the Hachette Letter of Response

And what is to be made of all this back and forth? Well the New York Times made a little fun!
The New York Times Reports on Amazon’s Letter, Its Misquotes, and the Fall out!

At the end of the Times report it appears as if Amazon maybe pondering a go at the giant Disney!

“In a related development, it became widely known over the weekend that Amazon was in a dispute with yet another supplier, this time Disney. Amazon was doing the same thing with the movie studio that it did with Hachette: preventing customers from preordering physical copies of yet-to-be-released content.”

Wow…Disney may be about bringing joy to Children and Adults all over the world; but they are also notorious for aggressively protecting themselves successfully from just about any form of infringement. Amazon may find THEY are the Mouse…to a much larger Cat in that game!

So now, after reading all the press and the letters from the various players, What do we think? What side did you come down on? Who is fighting for what? Who is the Good/Bad guy? Do the details of the actual argument seem….muddled and confusing. I’m sure there are some pros and cons on all sides of the financial and philosophical argument (and a whole passel of lawyers); but to form a truly educated position might require a review of the actual contract in dispute. However, what cannot be disputed…is that in all this pointing and sharpening of the pen the only REAL victim is the CONSUMER. The person who simply wants access to the movie, book or eBook of their choice but is shut out. And when one of the worlds largest booksellers unapologetically employs tactics that covertly limit public access to material in a democratic society it should be a serious warning sign to us all!!

Booksellers and Publishers have been shutting America’s Public Libraries out of the eBook market for years. They have only recently opened the back door and ONLY if we are willing to buy our way in through ridiculous pricing or public-trust threatening “collaborations”. I wonder: Will these authors’ efforts have any greater impact on the covert stymieing of access by these booksellers and publishers than the nearly ineffectual attempts of America’s public libraries?

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