Friday, January 6, 2012

Oh, the Publisher and the Library Should Be Friends






When I got my library card, that's when my life began. ~Rita Mae Brown




As a kid, I looked forward to the arrival of the bookmobile. It was RV-sized and crammed with books. Every other week, I'd climb aboard, return the books I’d read and browse for more. Two librarians manned the vehicle—one drove, and the other kept the stock from falling. Both excelled at divining what a girl who'd loved Little Women might like to read next.

Throughout my high school years, I loved wandering the stacks of my town library, picking up books and scanning first pages and author bios. Back then, hardcovers were luxuries to average families, but the library put them in my hands week after week.

I wondered about the authors of the books I read, but did I think about the publishers? Doubtful, but I must have assumed they were happy to send their products to places where they'd be checked out by readers. I thought publishers and libraries were, excuse the pun, on the same page.

Either I was wrong or things have changed. Apparently, publishers don't like libraries' policy of lend-lend-lend. I wouldn't have known this if not for some publishers' refusal to make their e-books available to libraries.

As I wrote in a column for the women's fiction chapter of Romance Writers of America, we associate "friction" with politics and rubbing two sticks together to make fire, but Maja Thomas, a senior vice president of the Hachettte Book Group, uses the word to explain why Hachette, a "big six" publisher, won't make its ebooks available to libraries for lending. “Selling one copy that could be lent out an infinite number of times with no friction is not a sustainable business model for us,” she told Randall Stross of the New York Times.

Of the big-six publishers, only Random House, Penguin and HarperCollins make their e-books available to libraries. Penguin recently stopped making its new titles available and HarperCollins only allows an e-book to be borrowed 26 times before a library must purchase a new copy. When Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent.org compared the list of most downloaded e-books from libraries with the New York Times' best-seller lists, she found some notable differences. For example, forget about borrowing NYT bestseller 11/22/63 by Stephen King from the library as an e-book because its publisher, Simon & Schuster, won't allow it to be lent out.

Owens notes that publishers are not restricting downloadable audiobooks in libraries in the same way that they are restricting e-books. Alas, that, too, may change. Yesterday, Jane at Dear Author reported that Brilliance Audio, owned by Amazon, is pulling its e-book titles from the library market. (Scroll down to the fourth item Jane wrote.)

A song from the musical Oklahoma runs through my head. The first line's "Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends," and the chorus begins with "Territory folks should stick together." Publishers and libraries are mutually dependent. That may not be the best basis for friendship, but isn't it a reasonable foundation for alliance? Meanwhile, book lovers—authors, publishers, booksellers, libraries, and readers should stick together to foster reading in this generation and the next. Readers borrow books from libraries, swap them with friends, and grow up to buy them.

Towns and cities have slashed libraries' hours and cut librarians' book-buying budgets. That makes it doubly disappointing that some publishers won't allow library-lending of their e-books.

I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself. — I, Asimov. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Isaac ASIMOV

17 comments:

Julie Hedlund said...

This really is a serious issue. I hadn't realized so few publishers were allowing libraries to lend their e-book titles. It seems like they should be able to sit down and work something out.

It's a short-sighted view. Publishers will lose sales AND readers if they don't make their e-book titles available.

Coleen Patrick said...

Libraries have been a huge part of my life--wherever I've lived. I even worked in one for six years, and I am at my local one about once a week to pick up my holds. But at the same time I am also a book buyer. Sounds like the publisher's logic is flawed, skewed by greed, maybe?

Nancy Kay Bowden said...

My father-in-law's second career was librarian. He would say (loudly) that the publishers are making a mistake if they don't like libraries. He used to tell me that someday, when I was published, if I could get just one copy of my novel into every library, I'd have a bit hit. Of course, now with some libraries closing, this might not be so true. STILL. I agree, "Oh, the Publisher and Library should be friends,"and can totally hear it sung to the tune from Oklahoma.

Great post, Pat!

Lark Howard said...

Interesting topic, Pat. I love libraries and visit my local branch fairly frequently. I think I see both sides of this issue.

Libraries wish to lend in a form their patrons use, and trust, as they always have, that the book will be "returned." Publishers have been burnt by piracy and now have a control problem much like the music industry has suffered.

Sadly, too many people seem to feel anything electronic should be free to all and ignore copyrights and intellectual property ownership. Libraries are not the problem, obviously, but I'll admit I'm nostalgic for the days when books were paper. Borrowing meant the item would be returned, and stealing was clearly stealing.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I find this baffling too. Many if not most people who borrow books from the library would not buy them if they wern't available for checkout. This is one way readers find new authors. As a publisher(I am an LLC) I looove my local library! They bought 9 copies of my paper book! Unfortunately, getting ebooks into libraries isn't an option for most indie authors- Overdrive, the ebook lending system most libraries use, won't even talk to you unless you have a ton of titles available.

keciaadamsauthor said...

I used to want to live in the library when I was a kid. Like you I have read both sides of the argument and still don't see the publishers' point here. IMO they should want to encourage readers, perhaps not at all costs, but really what level of advertising to publishers do anyway? Compared to, say, insurance companies or drug companies...

Emma Burcart said...

I feel like I can kind of see both sides on this one. The library shouldn't just buy one ebook and lend it out over and over indefinitely when ebooks are so cheap. I don't think that's fair to the author. They should either pay the same price as a paper book or have some fee, like 25 cents per download. The author does need to be paid somehow. But, I am also someone who doesn't check out books. The whole due date thing is too much for me. I'm not good with time.

Kay Hudson said...

I read my way through several libraries when I was young and broke, but I have to admit I haven't borrowed a book in years--I'm a junkie.

I think part of the e-lending problem may be that unlike paper books, which eventually wear out and end up sold at the Friends of the Library sale, one ebook copy could possibly last a library forever. No replacement, and very little initial investment.

Ebooks are nifty--I have masses of them on my Kindle--but I don't think paper books are going to disappear any time soon. For one thing, they are always accessible--all you need is a light source.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Julie,
Like you, I hope publishers and libraries work resolve this issue. the stance taken by HarperCollins--a library may lend an e-book 26 times before being obliged to rebuy--seems artificial but is a compromise of sorts. Thanks for stopping by.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Coleen, I'm not convinced greed is the problem. Fear of the unknown--not knowing how many times an e-book will be borrowed, not knowing how e-book pricing will shake down over the next couple of years, not knowing whether piracy will prove a problem are factors. That said, some publishers appear slow to respond to the growing e-book market.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Sing it, Nancy!

Your f-i-l's comment tells us publishers and libraries wrestled before e-books came on the scene. Why didn't I know this? Do I spend too much time in the land of happy endings?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I hear you, Lark. I'm not tech-savvy enough to know how people would pirate e-books from libraries, but I don't doubt it can happen. I'm also not of the I-must-have-it-this-minute school but know a lot of people want movies, music, and games when they want them. Isn't it thrilling, though, that people now want books as much as they want a recently released movie?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
Yes, I'd heard it was impossible for indie e-book authors to make it into libraries. Meanwhile, I'm glad your local library bought so many copies of your print book. Dayton is quite the supportive community, isn't it? Like you, I find the wariness between libraries and some publishers baffling.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Kecia, now I'm imagining a big pharma-like commercial for a best-selling book. After all the smiles and power-walking past a field of flowers comes the warning: This book may cause sleeplessness and anxiety. Increased blood pressure has been experienced by some individuals. Not advised for . . . .

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Emma,
I agree that some kind of compromise can be worked out to assure fairness for both libraries and for publishers. Like you, I'm not great with time. The Houston Public Libary allows patrons to renew books online--one of my favorite advances. Yes, I'm the person renewing a book at 11:59 p.m.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Kay,
Yes, an e-book could last a library indefinitely, which is why HarperCollins limited the number of times its s-titles could be borrowed. I don't know that 26 is a reasonable number compared with the number of times a print book goes out on loan, but it's a start. I get what you mean about print no going away. You know, I regret buying Lee Child's latest: The Affair, for Kindle. If I'd bought the hardback, I could have shared it with my husband and at least two friends.

PatriciaKay.com said...

I love the library, have loved it since I first learned to read. Worked at my local library throughout highschool. Books introduced me to new worlds and I've continued that love affair throughout my life. I don't know what the answer is re: e-book lending. The publishers' stance is short-sighted, but I also think there has to be some way to pay authors something, even if it's only a few cents. Thanks for making us think about this issue.