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November 22, 2011 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Why Might A Publisher Pull Its eBooks From Libraries? PaidContent takes a look at Penguin's recent move to pull all of its titles from Overdrive's public library ebook program, a program that even some librarians are upset about.
posted by Toekneesan (33 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Too bad, they dealt with my initial reaction in the first paragraph of the first link. Here are some possible reasons, none of which are “Penguin is stupid and is trying to make itself obsolete” Now I'm going to have to find a position outside my usual kneejerk response.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:07 AM on November 22, 2011


The fact that LibrarianInBlack (the Youtube link above) volgs and podcasts, but doesn't write about her opinions is so ironic that it hurts.

On further inspection, her website does have a number of flash-embedded PowerPoint Decks, and articles seemingly devoid of paragraphs, so I guess there's that.
posted by schmod at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2011


If librarians getting upset at ebook shenanigans gets them to push for an open book/reader format that everyone can use without censorship/freedom problems, I'd be very happy.
posted by DU at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I missed a step there. "Push for an open book/reader format that levels the playing field so no publisher is afraid to use it"
posted by DU at 10:14 AM on November 22, 2011


So the libraries bought the Penguin ebooks from Overdrive, then Penguin says something and suddenly those titles are no longer available? Regardless of Penguin's concerns (which may be quite legitimate) this underscores yet again the nebulous nature of ebooks. You're buying the right to read them, but not the actual 0s and 1s. It just doesn't seem right to me.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


I'm not a librarian, but the points made in the last link are entirely valid and understandable by all; definitely worth nine minutes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You're buying the right to read them, but not the actual 0s and 1s.

That's sort of true. Buying a paper book gives you the right to read it and lend it and resell it, but it doesn't give you the right to copy it. The only difference is that now, with ebooks, it's become technologically possible to disable abilities we never had in the first place.
posted by incessant at 10:33 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


In addition, Harper Collins enacted a policy earlier this year whereby their eBooks can only be lent out 26 times before they magically expire (see also their response to criticism). See, to the publishers, it turned out that one of the best features of paper books was the fact that they got worn out, chewed by dogs, tossed into the oceans, scribbled on by younger siblings, or lost under a pile of junk never to be returned. Harper Collins sat down and said to themselves "what if we could recreate that experience on eBooks" and used Science to determine that a given book should only be useful 26 times. If you're the 27th patron in line to "borrow" the title, your librarian has to decide to fork over the cash again to "buy" another copy.
posted by zachlipton at 10:37 AM on November 22, 2011


with ebooks, it's become technologically possible to disable abilities we never had in the first place.

I think the problem is that it's become technologically possible for publishers to do things that would clearly be impossible or at least really illegal in the paper world -- like breaking into a library and taking back all of their books, or breaking into your house and taking them back. To do the former would at the very least require court orders; the latter would almost certainly be impractical.

It seems that publishers would like consumers to continue to behave as though electronic books are the same as paper books, in the sense that they can't be copied, etc. But at the same time, they don't want to put themselves under the same restrictions; they want to take advantage of these new creepy abilities that they've found themselves with.

And I think that's a load of horseshit. Any publisher that takes advantage of the nature of ebooks to do stuff like magically removing its content from libraries (to say nothing of Amazon's creepy cat-burglar-like device removal) should have no expectation that consumers will extend to them the collective hallucination that books aren't trivially copyable, which their business models are apparently premised on. What's good for the goose...
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


These kind of shenanigans have put me off ebooks and ereaders altogether. I know it might be rough for authors, but I'm kind of hoping an unlocked / unrestrained format analogous to MP3 comes in and just steamrolls all of this proprietary, locked garbage. It didn't ruin music sales and it won't ruin ebooks either.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Penguin's announcement talks about security concerns, so maybe they're worried that it's too easy to crack the DRM on library ebooks. But they also asked Overdrive to disable the “Get for Kindle” function. So hmmm...
posted by Kevin Street at 10:40 AM on November 22, 2011


Buying a paper book gives you the right to read it and lend it and resell it, but it doesn't give you the right to copy it.

Yes it does. What it doesn't give you the right to do is distribute the copies.
posted by DU at 10:45 AM on November 22, 2011


Mitrovarr: “I know it might be rough for authors, but I'm kind of hoping an unlocked / unrestrained format analogous to MP3 comes in...”

That's already happened, by the way. The best format for ebooks – better than EPUB or PDF – has been in widespread use for twenty years. In fact, you're using it right now.

The only reason commercial ebooks don't use it is precisely because of what happened to MP3; they're clinging to proprietary versions of EPUB because they still have illusions about DRM being possible.
posted by koeselitz at 10:50 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only reason commercial ebooks don't use it is precisely because of what happened to MP3; they're clinging to proprietary versions of EPUB because they still have illusions about DRM being possible.

DRM aside, I'm a bit weirded out by Amazon and Overdrive owning my book-borrowing history, despite going through (and paying for) a public library system. I'm not a fan of piracy, but it sure seems like the publishing industry needs a good dose of it to get some changes made, since it seems unlikely that state and federal laws will protect citizens any time soon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:58 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Buying a paper book gives you the right to read it and lend it and resell it, but it doesn't give you the right to copy it.

"Yes it does. What it doesn't give you the right to do is distribute the copies."


Ah, no. Copying and distribution of copies are separate exclusive rights of the copyright owner. 17 U.S.C. § 106: "the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords; ...
(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;"

Now, this is all subject to various fair use exceptions for things like time-shifting, format-shifting, making personal backups, etc, but the general rule is that the copyright owner has the exclusive right to make and distribute copies.
posted by jedicus at 10:59 AM on November 22, 2011


"DRM aside, I'm a bit weirded out by Amazon and Overdrive owning my book-borrowing history, despite going through (and paying for) a public library system."

That's a really good point. Overdrive is a private corporation that's functioning as an appendage of the public library, but as (I assume) a limited liability company they have no obligation to serve the needs of the people who read their books. The libraries have some pull with them as customers, but individual readers are just data points. And Amazon's ability to keep track of the ebooks people have loaded on their Kindles is just creepy.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:16 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Buying a paper book gives you the right to read it and lend it and resell it, but it doesn't give you the right to copy it. The only difference is that now, with ebooks, it's become technologically possible to disable abilities we never had in the first place.

The problem is that copying is technologically necessary to do pretty much anything with a digital product like an ebook. Downloading the book involves making a copy, transferring the book between devices you own involves copying, lending it to someone else's device involves copying. If current lawmakers and judges had the same sorts of ideas about intellectual property now as they did back when the First Sale Doctrine was introduced in the first place, they would probably apply the same sorts of consumer protections to current technology. But as it is, changes to the technical details of what "buying a book" entails has given the copyright holders a backdoor method to prevent things like used book sales for exactly the same reasons they tried to do it 100 years ago.

These kind of shenanigans have put me off ebooks and ereaders altogether. I know it might be rough for authors, but I'm kind of hoping an unlocked / unrestrained format analogous to MP3 comes in and just steamrolls all of this proprietary, locked garbage. It didn't ruin music sales and it won't ruin ebooks either.

The main reason for this is that for music, MP3 was already entrenched as a mainstream format before DRM formats had a chance to catch on. Apple had a lot of success with iTunes, but for every other portable music player and to a certain extent for the iPod itself, a lot of the people buying them were doing it to load their device with MP3s either downloaded illegally or ripped from their existing CDs. With a device like the Kindle, the whole idea is that you just download books directly from Amazon without worrying about the format and what restrictions are being put on your use of them. Ripping doesn't exist, and since ebooks in general were not really popular before devices like the Kindle came out, piracy is not as widespread. Non-DRM open ebook formats certain exist, and existed before the DRM formats did, but with a locked down ereader device that is designed to connect to a single service for books, there is no reason for publishers to offer them.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:18 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm assuming that Amazon would happily comply with any FBI search order, much more so than a public library at any rate. E-Books seem like a trap for libraries, especially so long as we have to rely on for-profits like Overdrive to do the heavy lifting for us without giving much say in the matter (especially since there's essentially 0 competition to turn to if there's a policy we don't like).
posted by codacorolla at 11:35 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I understand correctly, Amazon can keep track of the books someone has on their Kindle, even if those books are in the public domain. So it wouldn't be too hard for the US government to set up some kind of literary Echelon program, monitoring the numbers and locations of certain titles that they find suspicious.

"Greetings, Amazon customer! We see that you've been reading The Anarchist Cookbook (200 page turns in the last week). Please take note that this title is on the Suspicious List, and in accordance with President Perry's God Bless Our Freedoms Act of 2013 we have forwarded your costumer information to the FBI."
posted by Kevin Street at 11:51 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It was incredibly stupid to think this could work.

Here's the basic problem with e-books. no right of first sale. The first sale doctrine says that a copyright holder has the right to the first sale of a work. They don't get to control the second, third, fourth or nth transfer. They can't stop you from lending it, or burning it, or whatever.

But with e-books and DRM, they're still in control.
These kind of shenanigans have put me off ebooks and ereaders altogether. I know it might be rough for authors, but I'm kind of hoping an unlocked / unrestrained format analogous to MP3 comes in and just steamrolls all of this proprietary, locked garbage. It didn't ruin music sales and it won't ruin ebooks either.
Those formats already exist. In fact if you're in the market for $100+ textbooks pirated copies are easy to find. I haven't spend a lot of time looking for fiction but it's out there too. Usually in TXT format.
posted by delmoi at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


But as it is, changes to the technical details of what "buying a book" entails has given the copyright holders a backdoor method to prevent things like used book sales for exactly the same reasons they tried to do it 100 years ago.

It's worth noting that 100 - 150 years ago, publishing was not a big money maker and questions of copyright in general were quite the sore point, e.g. British writers (Dickens, Trollope) who didn't get a dime from huge sales in America. Not sure when British libraries began to give authors a small commission every time a book was borrowed, but it is a practice America might consider. Indeed, in the age of the ebook, it would seem a no-brainer, a bridge perhaps for those who find the Harper Collins proposal too much. Perhaps the library could pay a smaller initial amount for a given book and the author/publisher get much of their end based on actual reads? Could possibly lower the initial library per-book outlay, allowing wider selection for a curious public. Win win!

(And if they could cut out Amazon and it's reader tracking from the equation entirely, well, better and better, no?)

Question - will publishers (assuming they still exist) lower prices on individual ebooks as a given title loses its pizzazz. Not quite remaindering, but discounting over time. Perhaps they do already? Lot of in copyright out of print books out there on the second hand market that cost way more than the original publisher's price, and more than I want to pay.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:11 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


If librarians getting upset at ebook shenanigans gets them to push for an open book/reader format that everyone can use without censorship/freedom problems, I'd be very happy.

A) epub exists

B) There has been some agitation for this, but frankly, without drm, libraries could not simply buy books, but would have to purchase non-exclusive licenses to distribute, which the publishers would be loath to do, and would cost considerably more than a single book.

And if the publisher wanted to get into the charity business of giving away free copies of their work (because without drm, there is no scarcity, and you really can't "lend" non-scare material, only copy) they could just give copies away themselves.
posted by zabuni at 12:58 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want to think that, in the long term, ebooks will cause libraries to think about the pitfalls of relying on for-profit companies rather than rolling their own solutions. Because I'm a pie-eyed goddamn optimist.
posted by box at 1:32 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Predictably, Cory Doctorow snivels and blames Amazon.
posted by Ratio at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2011


Non-DRM open ebook formats certain exist, and existed before the DRM formats did, but with a locked down ereader device that is designed to connect to a single service for books, there is no reason for publishers to offer them.

Except that Sony had a non-locked reader earlier, and Palms were reading their own unlocked formats. I know, because I put lots of non-drm'd books on my Palm, just as I continue to put unlocked epubs (like from Baen) on my Kobo.
posted by jb at 2:11 PM on November 22, 2011


Probably OT and ranty, but...I wrestled with Overdrive for an hour last night, trying to find a library book that didn't force me to scroll horizontally on my Droid 7 inch screen. It's worked beautifully for me in the past.

Of course if you have tech support questions, you have to contact your library, not Overdrive. I have a feeling that using library staff as a go-between for issues that are probably device-specific won't end well.

Guess what my next move was? You guessed it... right over to Kindle, where I found several public domain books for free, and they even rendered properly. (I have Laputa as well but I wanted to see what was in Amazon's much larger selection.)

I wonder how this ebook escapade will turn out for readers, particularly those like me who don't have a lot of dough. Maybe I should just stick with Laputa and gutenberg.org, especially if I don't want my reading history tracked.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2011


Maybe we should consider ways to make publishing (and other content creation) into public goods.

The issue is that it's a ton of work to create the first copy of a work, and trivial to create subsequent copies. Historically, we've charged people for individual subsequent copies in order to pay back the content creator for their work. Perhaps if we organized 'subscriber-based' publishing houses which chose content creators to fund for the act of creating that first copy (or for buying the first copy to publish) we could get around this mess. It necessarily wouldn't be as profitable as the old models, but the old models were based on market inefficiencies which are rapidly disappearing...
posted by kaibutsu at 4:26 PM on November 22, 2011


As an aside, there has been an interesting story about the American company PTFS/LibLime's scummy attempt to steal the Koha Library Software project's trademark.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:59 PM on November 22, 2011


On the other hand (and I skipped to the end of this, so I don't know if it already said), ebooks open the possibility of low cost piracy. Not that I would do this myself, but if you did want to just run your own library, you theoretically could.

Maybe someone could set up a drm stripper that runs on ec2, and have it automatically checkout books from overdrive, strip the drm on demand, and distribute. Amazon will eat itself.
posted by jonbro at 3:19 AM on November 23, 2011


There are publishers, like Baen, who understand e-books and who sell non-DRMed epubs at a reasonable price (and give away a lot of them). I use an e-reader on my 2+ hours on the train every day. I run library computer systems for a living. I'll be damned if I'll waste more time trying to get Overdrive to work.

Penguin publishes a lot of good stuff, but there is good stuff out there that isn't DRM-filled, overpriced rentals. Only non-DRMed epubs go on my e-reader. And, yeah, I pay for most of 'em.
posted by QIbHom at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Amazon Puts Your $1000 Kindle Library 'On Hold,' Apologizes, Shrugs"
Consumerist, November 22nd, 2011

posted by blueberry at 10:14 PM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Always back up anything you put on a portable device. Or anything you put on anything, really. Not sure if that would violate copyright, but it makes sense.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:26 PM on November 25, 2011


Justice Department investing e-book price fixing
posted by jeffburdges at 12:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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