Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kindle News:: Ebooks: Libraries vs Publishers. Random House charging ~300% more to libraries.

Kindle News I missed while away in the unwired environment of Yosemite

Actually, there was not that much happening in the Kindle world this last week, but I'll add a separate post that has more about aspects of The New iPad's retina display feature and what it means for buyers, as this seemed to dominate the news this last week.

  One thing I had not seen were earlier articles on March 2 (DigitalShift's more detailed story) and 5 (a simpler summary from DailyTech) reporting on Random House's raising of e-book prices for libraries, by up to (and often) 300%.
' On Wednesday, Oberhausen bought Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith for $40 via OverDrive. On Thursday, the price was $120. The print version of the book, with the library’s discount, is a little over $20 (it retails at $40). For Blessings by Anna Quindlen the ebook price went from $15 to $45. '

  Libraries are already struggling so the gist is that they will need to buy fewer copies and, worst of all, plan on filling orders (slowly) for most in-demand books but are planning to not buy, then, books which aren't mass-market types, which used to have a chance, at regular cost.

  Of the Big6, four now do not offer e-books at all for public libraries: Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin Group (no new e-books), and Hachette.

  Harper Collins does allow their e-books in public libraries but wants the libraries to buy new copies after 26 loans.

  Until this month, Random House was the lone Big 6 publisher willing to allow its ebooks in libraries without restriction.

  Author/blogger Scott Marlowe keeps a listing of Publishing's Big 6: Who are they?
  This includes information about their humongous number of imprints - "trade names a publisher uses when publishing in a narrower field."

To illustrate just how bad the situation is for libraries:
' “They’ve tripled their prices on every title. A book that a week ago we purchased for $28.00 now costs $84.00,” said Scarlett Fisher-Herreman, the technical services & collection development supervisor, at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas, whose director, Gina Millsap, is seeking the presidency of the American Library Association. “I looked back at Random House titles we’ve purchased since December and looked up a number of titles, both new and titles they’ve had for years on Overdrive. Everything has tripled in price: kids, YA, adult, fiction, and nonfiction,” she said.

Fisher-Herreman, who had been bracing for an increase in the 50 percent range, said she found the tripling of price frustrating and surprising. For example, The 10 Easter Egg Hunters, a children’s title by Janet Schulman, was affordable at $8.99, but it now costs $26.97. '

And anyone trying to get a current, popular e-book will have seen how long the holds on those e-books are. I've seen them at 20 weeks out.

There's much more detail in the web story, and there are 78 comments, most of them (unlike most technews boards) with serious points to make, on either side.

Safeguarding libraries
Today's San Francisco Chronicle with Bloomberg, written by James Temple, has a Business Report and Commentary on the conflict between publishing and libraries on basic issues of copyright and ownership and what we should do to safeguard libraries.  Penguin Group's concern over the "lack of friction" in the loaning of e-books comes up again and basically it means that publishers don't like borrowing being so easy, with no effort needed to even physically get to a library.
' The nature of digital books, however, gives publishers a new opportunity to assert greater control through technology, terms of service and pricing power. Libraries can't simply buy the virtual books and hand them out in the way they can with physical ones.

The Association of American Publishers and several of the companies in question didn't respond to inquires from The Chronicle.  But they've argued in the past that lending e-books is a graver threat than physical ones, demanding a different set of restrictions, because of the lack of "friction."

In other words, to borrow and return a physical book, a person has to get themselves to an actual library at least twice.  With digital, they can just as easily download a free book from the library, as they can a full-priced version from Amazon. '

The business report points out that libraries encourage lifelong reading habits, and publishers seem to ignore this reality.

Library law consultant Mary Minow argues, Temple says, that "to clear up any legal uncertainty and protect the privacy of library users...legislators need to amend federal copyright law to assert that libraries can own and lend digital books.  Temple adds that "Others watching this space also think new legal protections are necessary to protect the role of libraries."

See the rest of the article at The San Francisco Chronicle.

Thanks to the Kindle Forum's Q for alerting us to this article.

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  1. Most public libraries are branches of local government and, indirectly, therefore, of state governments.

    Many states have rules (modeled on Federal guidelines) requiring companies seeking government contracts to guarantee that they offer the govt the best price for which they provide that same product/service to anyone. Failure to do so can result in fines and/or ineligibility for subsequent contracts.

    I would love to see some states suggest to the Big 6 that, if they really want to continue selling school textbooks in that state, that they should guarantee best pricing to all govt agencies, including public libraries.

    Wishful thinking, I know.

  2. sjz,
    Yes, probably. I think that if they had their druthers, some of the Big 6 publishers would choose not to sell e-books at all except at higher cost than PBooks.

  3. SJZ's argument makes some sense, but I suspect that Random House could respond that is offering the same price to everyone, that same price being a loanable copy as opposed to a personal copy.

    The problem is actually easy to deal with. If the price is too high, don't buy. Public libraries should inform patrons who make ebook requests that it's a library policy not to pay 3X retail for books. Supply them with contact information for Random House's CEO, so they can complain.

    I wouldn't fret this trouble over the long term. Smaller publishers and independent authors will see an opportunity here, and fill in the market gap being left by Random House and its colleagues. A library that doesn't buy a $100 book, can buy ten $10 books from independents. Over time, RH will see the light.

    As a writer, I'd love to see something more. Libraries should be able to offer their patrons the opportunity to buy an ebook for the library, with the first rental reserved for them. Publishers would get more sales. Libraries would get more copies of ebooks. Readers would get the ebook they want, promote an author they like, and benefit their community. They'd also be able to reread it any time they want.

    1. Mike,
      That's a great idea about library patrons offering to buy/contribut an e-book for the library.

      Of interest maybe -- in the Prime Lending Library, Amazon hasn't asked permission re the 'loaning' but what they do is BUY a copy outright from the publisher if someone wants to borrow a Big6 book. They do this purchasing with each request to borrow.

      But I've read that the large publishers are not happy with that solution.


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