What we could be doing instead of breaking the “ebook blockade”

EDIT 11/14 8:04 p.m. Please forgive the the tone of the following post. I’ve rudely overstated my point, that libraries should accept that publishers are being unreasonable in terms of ebook licensing. This is unfortunate and I hope at some point public libraries and big publishers come to an understanding. But, in waiting for something like that to happen, I believe in alternatives.

Above all, I’d like a healthy dialogue on this topic.

Breathless report on the ebook crisis(!) from our library neighbors:

Managers will share about a confusing and frustrating dilemma: publishers are not allowing libraries, including Pierce County Library, to buy e-books. Publishers have not provided a clear answer to their blockade of libraries or holding them hostage to outrageously inflated prices or heavy restrictions. With the advent of e-books publishers have drawn an arbitrary line and they are either not selling to libraries or doing so at costs 100-300% higher than the list price of books or with heavy restrictions. Currently, only two of the six major publishers will sell to libraries at either an exorbitant cost or with substantial restrictions. Pierce County Library wants to participate in the e-book business and supply the demand its customers are calling for from e-book choices. This month the Library will work to inform the public about the blockade and further tell publishers it wants to offer e-books to Pierce County residents.

Dilemma! Blockade! Hostage! Arbitrary!

If you’re unfamiliar with the issue between major publishers and libraries on ebooks, here’s some background.

But, basically, publishers have either not been allowing libraries to lend ebooks or putting on some pretty strict controls. And, honestly, I’m giving up caring about it.

First, it isn’t arbitrary (though it may seem so) for a publisher to want to control the at no cost distribution of their product. As much as I’d like to wish for there be no difference between ebooks and real books in the library/publisher relationship, there is. And, publishers don’t want to play, which is absolutely within their right.

Second, I’m wondering if its good for libraries to be so wound up about caring. I know a lot of our patrons now own ereaders (and tablets and phones). And, since we buy or lease a lot of copies of popular titles, we assume they we need to make sure our patrons can get those in any format available. But, at a certain point, if publishers don’t want that to happen… well okay, let’s move.

One thing I’ve learned in the last few year is public agency budgets are a serious zero sum game. If you’re not doing one thing its because you’re doing something else. So, lets ask: if we’re supplying popular ebooks from the big five publishers, what aren’t we doing?

My top priority would be cultivating local content. Digitizing essentially public domain titles we own that no one else owns (local histories, for example). Or, maybe local music.

I know this isn’t apples to apples in terms of patron interest. You wouldn’t be able to say to someone looking for “Graced, Dream Realms Trilogy, #3 – Part 1” by Sophia Sharp and expect them to walk away with an ebook of “How the West Was Once.”

But, getting back to the basics of public budgeting, what is the most important use of a public dollar? A great local history available no where else in the world? Or (something less local and more popular):


Laura has been reunited with Logan, and together they must face the elders. But this time, they have the angels on their side. It is a precious advantage, but only if used properly…


Okay, I was a bit rude using that passage to describe what I thought. I still think my overall point is valid. Let’s spend money on important things first, popular ebooks second.


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Filed under budget, technology, What I'm reading

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