Publishers to librarians: Drop dead
August 5, 2019 6:35 AM   Subscribe

After Macmillan announced plans to severely restrict lending of new eBooks (at least partly based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how public libraries work), libraries are fighting to preserve your right to borrow them (Mefi's own Jessamyn). The CEO of Overdrive also weighed in, contradicting Macmillan's claims and data.
posted by adrianhon (72 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
So when we tell them, "Sorry, there is only one copy of that e-book, and a waitlist of over 200 people," they ask the completely reasonable question, "Why?" In Macmillan's ideal world, that library patron would get frustrated with the library and go purchase the e-book instead.

What. Come on. Does the publishing industry really have no grasp of economics or reality or their own industry?

I've been traveling for a few years, but since i still have an address in Portland I'm able to borrow ebooks whenever I need them (and I read a lot). I don't know how I would've survived traveling without the kindle + library card combination.

I didn't know this was a problem, but now that I do I'm pretty damn angry about it.
posted by hopeless romantique at 7:12 AM on August 5 [22 favorites]


Autoplay video alert on the third link.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:18 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


The CEO's piece has an interesting point that I hadn't considered affecting libraries: "Mr. Sargent’s letter claimed that “45% of the ebook reads in the US are now being borrowed for free from libraries.” No definition of an “ebook read” was offered, nor any details or data sharing on how this conclusion was reached. This claim, offered without any support, is ridiculous."

It reminds me a little of the problems self-publishers have had with Amazon's evolving definition of what counts as an "ebook read" over the years. First it was a simple matter of a book being borrowed/downloaded (which brought on the gold-rush of self-publishing, since you were going to get paid even if someone didn't finish your book), then redefinitions of what counted as reading where it became clear Amazon didn't have a way of seeing how many pages a reader had read (which brought forth a lot of scamminess as people took advantage of that), to today, where we have some kinda definition of pages being read that doesn't really match up to page- or character-counts, so that it's kind of a mystery.

Which isn't to get into a derail on Amazon, but just to suggest big businesses really enjoy creating problematic measurements of how much of an ebook someone has read, so Macmillan making stuff up doesn't surprise me at all.
posted by mittens at 7:21 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]


I've been following this with interest, because I think I'm exactly the library patron they're trying to target. I frequently check out e-books from the library, occasionally put holds on new books, and am not so impoverished that I can't buy the occasional book. (I do buy books, but not every book that I read.) But I actually don't think this would make any difference at all in my book-buying behavior. When I check out an e-book, it's typically because I want something to read right now, and I'm not necessarily invested in a particular book. I usually search until I find something that's available, and I can't remember the last time I put a hold on an e-book. When I put a hold on a new book, I usually pick the physical book. If I'm going to have to wait anyway, I might as well go pick it up. So I don't think I'd be any more inclined to buy a book because of this policy.

Having said that, I really hate it, and I'm kicking around the idea of creating a website that will let you check and see if a new book is currently embargoed, so you can wait to buy it until it isn't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:32 AM on August 5 [23 favorites]


The library doesn't have that ebook? It doesn't get read. Period. It doesn't get bought, or loaded, or kindle'd or whatever. There are lots of other books out there to read, not to mention all the tones of user-generated content that can keep you occupied for weeks on end.
Macmillan needs to look to ways to bring people into their content, not locking them out. Otherwise they are going to find themselves loosing even more market share than they already have.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:41 AM on August 5 [27 favorites]


The CEO's piece has an interesting point that I hadn't considered affecting libraries: "Mr. Sargent’s letter claimed that “45% of the ebook reads in the US are now being borrowed for free from libraries.” No definition of an “ebook read” was offered, nor any details or data sharing on how this conclusion was reached. This claim, offered without any support, is ridiculous."

Now I know that Mr. Sargent hasn't used a library, otherwise he'd definitely be familiar with the 'put a hold on a book, forget about it until it's your turn, and then procrastinate on even starting the book during the three week time loan, put the book on hold again' situation. My guess is that they'd count that as 'read'.

Macmillan started this with Tor books a while ago, which is part of the reason why my current library ebook hold list is twelve books spread out over twenty weeks. I've been more deliberate with my book purchases over the last year or so - not necessarily fewer books, but trying to actually only buy books if I'm going to read them in the near future rather than just buying a bunch of questionable stuff on sale. The long tail of holds actually helps me out a little bit, because I can add something when I think of it, but they're currently spread out enough that I'm not overwhelmed with choice. I'd still rather the library be able to purchase more books, though.

Author twitter is also pretty pissed about this, too. They seem to have a better idea of how book purchases work than their publishers. Also, seem to be more aware that a lot of people who get frustrated at not being able to get their books legally from the library are more likely to go the piracy route than the purchasing route, which helps no one.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:42 AM on August 5 [22 favorites]


I'll be honest, I don't really understand the various mechanisms / licensing models for libraries and ebooks. But it definitely sounds like the tact they're taking is punitive and not geared to working with libraries to ensure revenues.

I feel ripped off when I see a mass market ebook at a $10 or higher price, I know that much. I know much of the costs of production (paying the author, editors, marketing) are not decreased by moving from print to epublishing, but taking print runs and storage / warehousing of books out of the equation for ebooks should certainly reduce prices more greatly.

What would be the right model to ensure that authors and publishers get paid while not disrupting libraries and their patrons?
posted by jzb at 7:44 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


I guess another thought is that I wonder if what they're really doing is gearing up to restrict library access to ebooks in general. I'm not totally convinced that libraries are cutting into their revenues on new books, but I do buy that libraries might be cutting into their revenues on ebooks in general. It's super easy to check out an ebook from the library, and the experience is not demonstrably different (or if it is, then it's better) than buying an ebook from Amazon. My library has the Libby app, which is basically just a pretty, user-friendly version of Overdrive, and it's dead easy to use. For people who read a lot, there really isn't any good reason to buy ebooks most of the time if you have decent library access. I know people who don't like to go to the library, have some sort of neurosis about library books being dirty, or have concerns about forgetting to return books and racking up fines. The Libby app takes care of all of those concerns, and I wouldn't be surprised if people were choosing it over buying ebooks from Amazon.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:51 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]


As someone who reads a lot, is a library super-user (I made that up but I think it's accurate), is a published author, reads mostly e-books, and isn't actually a corpse, I'd love to know what the idea solution is. I want writers to be paid. I want patrons to get the books they want with reasonable waiting times. I want libraries to have the funding they need. What should I be advocating for?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:59 AM on August 5 [22 favorites]


Just as a point of fact - not directed to anyone in particular - authors do get paid when someone borrows their ebooks. The rate can vary quite a bit but I know many authors who get a very tidy sum every year.
posted by adrianhon at 8:04 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I'm probably one of these library users they hate. I put umpteen books on hold, and just read them whenever they come available. Not having them instantly available doesn't push me to go buy the book. It pushes me to go find another book on my Goodreads "to-read" shelf that's 300 some odd books deep right now.

Fun fact: if you put your Kindle in airplane mode and load books onto it via USB, they never expire when the library lending period is over. The library will check them out to you and you can download/transfer it to your offline Kindle via tether, and then instantly return them to the library for someone else to read. They live on your Kindle so long as it remains isolated from the outside world.
posted by msbutah at 8:05 AM on August 5 [45 favorites]


What would be the right model to ensure that authors and publishers get paid while not disrupting libraries and their patrons?

This doesn't help publishers as much, but when I do purchase a book these days, I prioritize preordering books from first time/newer authors - apparently all that time being told by comics writers how to have a pull list had an effect on me. With slightly more established authors that I love and I know I want to read their next thing no matter what, I donate to their patreon (they almost always have a patreon). Most of the time I'll get the book from the library.

Also - the licensing fee model seems like it would make the most sense for both libraries (who would be able to clean out their digital bookshelves) and publishers.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:10 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


> It's super easy to check out an ebook from the library, and the experience is not demonstrably different (or if it is, then it's better) than buying an ebook from Amazon.

This reminds me of an eight-year-old post by Eric Hellman, OverDrive and the Library eBook Convenience Paradox, where he argued that the at-the-time fairly awful usability of library ebook lending platforms provided enough friction that the publishers were willing to tolerate lending.

Of course, interfaces often get better over time.
posted by metaquarry at 8:13 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


> authors do get paid when someone borrows their ebooks.

I think that depends where you live, and that that isn't true in the US. I should have specified that I'm wondering about the US system.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:20 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. I've never actually set up the ebook service for my library (I like visiting and pick up hard copies).

After just now getting Libby hooked up with my library account, a couple queries for some books I'm currently interested in shows at the least a 5 week wait. For an ebook. Am I crazy for finding that insane?
posted by snwod at 8:23 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


It's true that Overdrive and memberships in a bunch of local libraries does make finding a book usually easy. There's another ebook management system who name I forget, where the only way to get books is a terrible app-in-webpage, which I quickly gave up using.
posted by tavella at 8:30 AM on August 5


I am a trustee of my town library, so I see the monthly spend on physical as well as electronic media. That said:

Why can Hulu let you watch videos over and over for one monthly fee, but the library gets a cap on the number of simultaneous -- or total-over-time -- uses of an e-book? In this analogy, I consider a fraction of my town taxes comparable to the Hulu subscription cost.

Is it because Hulu has advertising? It would be AWESOME if publishers could suggest other titles or authors to me after I finish a book! Hell, I pay for the privilege as a Library Thing lifetime member already, and it's attractive enough to big corporations that Amazon has invested in LT and in Goodreads.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:40 AM on August 5 [11 favorites]


at the least a 5 week wait. For an ebook

It certainly depends on your library system, but for popular new releases in a large market, that's a standard-to-low wait time in my experience. When Becoming first came out last year the wait time was 30 weeks at my library, and that was with something like 50 copies of the ebook available.
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:41 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]


I'm currently interested in shows at the least a 5 week wait. For an ebook. Am I crazy for finding that insane?

It's unfortunately pretty normal. Ebook loans have been deliberately modeled to be like physical loans (so if a library has 10 copies/licenses of a book, and 10 people have checked those out, nobody else can get a copy out).

But there are a couple of things that I think contribute to very long wait times as well: With Overdrive, the process of putting a book on hold is pretty effort- and frictionless. I know that placing a hold for a physical book online is also pretty frictionless, but at least for me the fact that I know I eventually have to go get it does put a damper on which books I put on hold. With ebooks, I basically never hesitate to put something on hold if I'm interested, because the amount of physical effort required to borrow and return the book is basically nothing.

In addition, unlike physical loans, people have a tendency to take ebooks out for the maximum loan period (often 3 weeks), which of course lengthens hold times overall. Unlike with physical loans where you probably wouldn't wait to return it until the very last day because of the risk of fines or because you know that you can't make it to the library that day or it's not open, with ebook loans you know that the book will just vanish off your device the day it comes due and there's no risk of overdue fines whatsoever.

And returning the ebook early is less intuitive than you think -- for Amazon books you need to do this via the website, so the default behavior sort of just becomes keeping the ebook on your device for as long as the loan is yours. As you can imagine, if everyone keeps their loans out for the maximum period, then the wait time quickly lengthens.
posted by andrewesque at 8:41 AM on August 5 [15 favorites]


In addition, unlike physical loans, people have a tendency to take ebooks out for the maximum loan period (often 3 weeks), which of course lengthens hold times overall.

I'm actually curious about the stats on this, because for me, the experience is the opposite. It might take me a week to get back to a library and return a physical book, but I'll return the ebook the moment I'm done with it, which is sometimes the same day I checked it out and rarely anywhere near 3 weeks later.

My experience has been that the ebook hold queues move considerably faster than the physical book hold queues at the Toronto Public Library, but I'm not sure if that's because of patron returning behaviour or because an ebook can be automatically turned around, without physical processing and movement from one branch to another.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:49 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]


I'm a voracious reader. After the tornado a couple years ago, when a small local library lost most of their stack, I was able to donate an entire 6 foot tractor trailer of books. I still ended up keeping close to a thousand books. I may have an addition to print.

I will absolutely buy *some* new releases each year. In some cases, like NK Jemison, I ended up buying the ebook after I bought the physical book, because the physical book was too ginourmous to carry around. But, the whole process of trying to borrow ebooks was such a pain in the ass, and there was never anything I wanted to read when I wanted to read it, that I don't bother with it, but every kid around me borrows stuff from the elibrary all the time. (Admittedly it was 4-5 years ago that I tried to use the e-borrowing thingy. It's probably better now.)

But, new book prices have gotten insane. Example, I love me some R. Eric Thomas. I really, really want to support him by buying his new book. But at $26.00 it's off my pre-order list. While it's unlikely to show up at my local library, unless I specifically ask for it, it is real likely to be at Half Price Books a few months after release.

Point being; McMillian can try to play 1999 RIAA and pretend the ebook system is Napster (Napster Bad), and that if they squash ebook lending, they'll somehow increase their profit payout to the leeches, (but still not compensate creators fairly), but used bookstores are a still a thing. I have no problem buying used books, and throwing a tip at the writer's patreon.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:51 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


jacquilynne, that's interesting! I suppose I should say that I'm speaking mostly from personal experience and with Kindle books borrowed via Overdrive on an Kindle e-ink device (I think if I recall correctly there's some differences between US and Canadian libraries on this subject? i.e. that maybe Kindle library books aren't available via Overdrive in Canada.)

If anyone has relevant stats though, I'd certainly be happy to be proved wrong. It is my subjective impression here in the NYC library system(s) that for any kind of new popular fiction that the ebook queues move much more slowly than the physical queues.
posted by andrewesque at 9:00 AM on August 5


Love the Overdrive CEO's opening lines:
Macmillan, a global publisher of science fiction and fantasy, offers a catalog of many great works of fiction. John Sargent’s recent letter to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and agents, regarding Macmillan’s changes to their library lending terms for ebooks, and the justification for the same, is another work of fiction.
posted by doctornemo at 9:18 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Also: go Jessamyn!
posted by doctornemo at 9:18 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


I can return Kindle books to my library from my Kindle. On the home screen I press the cover of the book, and it's one of the options that pops up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Am I misreading, or do libraries really have to pay 2-10$ every time an ebook is checked out?
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:26 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


> a couple queries for some books I'm currently interested in shows at the least a 5 week wait. For an ebook. Am I crazy for finding that insane?

I don't know about insane but it seems normal to me. My library (King County, in Washington State) is the leading library in the country for e-books and audiobooks. "...After months on KCLS’ Top 5 eBooks list, the bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens still has 1,848 holds on 372 copies. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover has 1,089 holds on 358 copies."
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:28 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


I have seen the wait times on ebooks go up overnight at my local library. I confirmed with other patrons to make sure it wasn't my imagination. I'm sure it's related to the ongoing struggle with publishers.

With Tor specifically, I've noticed that the library only has the first volume of newer series. I read The Traitor Baru Comorant from my local library. They have never gotten a copy, paper or digital, of the sequel. Same for Amberlough. Same for a few others that I just gave up on. I am honestly reluctant to start any new Tor series now.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:33 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


In terms of overall queue movement, the physical copies might get to you faster because there are fewer people in the queue per copy, while the ebook ones actually flip each individual copy faster.

If I look at Becoming on the Toronto library site, there are 1781 holds on 456 copies of the physical book. Even if everyone keeps their copy for 3 weeks and there's an extra week of handling time, the last person in the queue should get their book in about 4 months. The library doesn't provide estimates, though, for physical books.

If I look at the same book on the ebook site, there are 5766 holds on 210 copies, and Overdrive is estimating a 6 month wait. For 210 ebooks to be read 5766 times in 6 months, they'd have to be flipping more like once a week. On the other hand, another book I have on hold shows 13 weeks when there are 7 holds per copy which implies 2 weeks to flip, not one.

But there's a lot of potential errors in this -- is the 6 month estimate on Becoming even correct? It says "At least 6 months" -- maybe that's the maximum they project out to? Or maybe they get less precise in their estimates as the wait gets longer? I imagine libraries do have pretty detailed stats on this stuff, though, whereas I am just trying to extrapolate from the info available to me.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:46 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


A five week wait time for a new book would be very short for my library’s Overdrive service. Some of my holds are estimated at six months, though I do find they usually come in at closer to four months or so. I think people return ebooks more quickly once they’re finished with them (I do) because you can do it directly from most devices, rather than having to wait till you find time to physically get to the library.

My library also subscribes to Hoopla, where there’s no wait time; the books are always available. However, we are limited to five checkouts per month, which encompasses ebooks, audiobooks, music albums and movies (and we can only keep movies for 3 days). I’ve read that the library pays per checkout so that’s why it’s limited. Overdrive is not limited for us in any way.

I knew in Canada authors received royalties each time their book is checked out of a library. I had no idea that wasn’t the case for the US. How sad!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:50 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


If libraries were just invented today and hadn't existed for our entire history, the publishing industry would get laws passed to totally ban them.

We like our collective myth that businesses are guided by cold logic and number crunching, but it's not true. Businesses are guided by emotion, uninformed snap decisions made by cranky people who are mostly elderly men, and superstition. You can present all the data you want that libraries increase sales of books, but it won't get past the belief that if someone somewhere is reading without paying then the publisher is losing money.

The only publisher I know who hasn't gone that route basically arrived there by contrarianism not science. Baen Books decided to take the approach opposite of McMillian. Baen makes a huge portion of its collection available for free online. They sell ebooks without a trace of DRM. Sadly they also mostly publish only extreme far right wing military science fiction these days, but they're doing just fine financially.
posted by sotonohito at 10:13 AM on August 5 [14 favorites]


Since it all comes down to money, are they basically accusing libraries/readers of... stealing? profits because they should all be buying hardbacks at full price?

These same people likely aren't happy when I lend a physical book to a friend...

This is so absurd.
posted by dreamling at 10:21 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Oh my god I would buy so many more ebooks if I could easily lend them to my friends (without drm stripping).

That's the main reason I buy physical books these days - so I can lend them out if need be. But it's so much easier to read an ebook on the bus, so even if I do purchase a physical book and then give it to a friend of mine, they never get around to reading it.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:26 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


The last audio CD I bought was a gift to a friend, who then complained "it doesn't play on my Mac". Looking at it, it turned out to have a data volume on it as well as an audio volume. So, I ripped the CD to a normal audio CD, and left the artist a message on his website that I was displeased with how they treated paying customers. I then got accused by his webmaster for being a pirate, and I had to resort to quoting actual (local) copyright law to get him to shut up.

And, as I said, I never bought another audio CD. Any industry treating paying customers like thieves can go take a long walk off a short pier, as far as I am concerned.

A few weeks ago I bought an eBook as a gift, and only AFTER paying for it I found out that 1) it would only read on the e-Reader apps from a certain supplier, and 2) only if I would log on in the app with the account I used at the web store. The claimed "advantage" being that I would be able to read ALL my purchases without effort from then on.

That was the last ebook I bought. I don't think I have to explain to you folks why.

(and yes, calibre an all that, I know I can remove the drm. that's not the point)
posted by DreamerFi at 10:36 AM on August 5 [10 favorites]


I am also probably one of those library users publishers hate. I do not buy books I have not already read and liked enough to re-read, with two exceptions:

1) A few times a year I buy some books from our local LGBT bookstore, on the justification that if the book is terrible, I'll consider the cost a donation to The Mission.
2) My library has a used bookstore for books pulled out of circulation, with the pricing scheme of hardbacks for $1, paperbacks for 50¢, all YA books 50¢ (some bestsellers are excluded but this only makes up one bookshelf's worth of books and these still go for only $3-$7). So, yeah, about once a month I pop in there and spend $10 on a bunch of books, again on the justification that if I don't like the book it's a donation to the library, and also it's... 50¢.

Otherwise I get my books exclusively from the library. I have to, I read 50-60 books a year on a grad student salary, I can't afford that shit. But I pretty much never borrow ebooks, because the wait is almost always something like 20 weeks. And, pretty much invariably, every time I go and look in the physical catalog, there are multiple copies available with 0 holds. Just checked Becoming and it's a 21 week wait for the ebook, but there are multiple physical copies available on the shelves right now. I have a Kindle that I love, and ebooks are much easier for me, but it honestly gets more use as a mousepad for this reason.
posted by brook horse at 10:49 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


I'm the person who oversees ebook and e-audiobook purchasing (er, licensing) for our regional US public library system, primarily with OverDrive. I think this Macmillan move is perhaps the most egregious so far in terms of limiting access, but, on the library supply side, it's yet another complication for building and maintaining electronic collections. As Jessamyn's CNN article notes, costs and licensing models are all over the place, and libraries have more-or-less rolled with it. Popular ebooks and particularly e-audiobooks are usually significantly more expensive than either direct-to-consumer ebooks or their physical counterparts' list prices (and US public libraries are accustomed to paying less than full list price for many physical materials). And the array of licensing models cooked up over the last 10 years! "One copy, one user" works like lending a physical library book, but it's becoming a less common option (and by "option" I mean maybe some publishers have that option for some titles). "Metered access" is increasingly common: the library's license expires after 26 or 52 checkouts, or after 12 months or 24 months (or a combination of the two). And then there are the embargoes, or titles that are just never made available to libraries electronically. Physical collection development is already challenging; for electronic content, you need to keep up with new releases, decide whether or not to buy older titles again on these weird (maybe new!) terms after *some amount of time,* and keep up with the normal "de-selection"/weeding (an expired license by itself shouldn't do that job). It's time-consuming and complicated. It's also complicated to explain to patrons why our electronic collections are the way they are beyond "capitalism."

US public libraries definitely depend on a robust book-buying public, and I certainly want to see content creators well-compensated. This is a common mindset for public librarians, so it just sort of stings when publishers take this kind of adversarial approach.
posted by Leona at 11:02 AM on August 5 [17 favorites]


Just want to highlight this part of the Overdrive response
the average cost to the library to lend the title was $6.07 for every time a title is borrowed

Furthermore, this includes users who never opened the title or read it – so the cost for every “ebook read” is still higher.
The average library cost for a mass-market paperback was around $9 last year according to SLJ. ($16 for a trade paperback.) Macmillian was already getting away with highway robbery before this change.
posted by joeyh at 11:34 AM on August 5 [11 favorites]


I knew in Canada authors received royalties each time their book is checked out of a library. I had no idea that wasn’t the case for the US. How sad!

hurdy gurdy girl, Are you thinking of the CCA's Public Lending Right program? It's not royalties each time a book is checked out. The creators have to be Canadian citizens and register their title. Non Canadian citizens and people who don't register get nothing. PLR uses sampling to determine eligible titles, they only measure presence in sampled library collections, not circulation, certain types of books are ineligible (like cookbooks), and it maxes out at about $4000. It's a program to benefit the Canadian arts community.
posted by troutontitan at 11:46 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


This whole thing is enraging. Publishers should not punish avid readers who depend on libraries to discover new authors. Publishers shouldn't punish libraries that already spend a ridiculous amount of money to have ebooks at higher cost with fewer rights than print books. Publishers should not be run by people who don't bother to fact-check idiotic statements like claiming people can borrow ebooks from any library they want - you have to have a card and you can't borrow books from libraries where you don't reside (because the vast majority of library support comes from local taxes).

And as convenient as borrowing ebooks is (I do it), libraries should maybe trust that they won't instantly become irrelevant to their supporters if they refuse to pay ridiculous prices and accept terrible terms from publishers. Borrowing print books is still pretty danged popular, and spending so much more for a file that only one person can read at a time and which expires after a certain amount of time or loans - well, maybe you could take that money and ramp up services to the home bound and let folks like me who can visit the library take the less expensive route. I'll support the library even without the ebook convenience.
posted by zenzenobia at 11:52 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


.... oh, and as for public lending payment to authors model as practiced in Canada and the UK, if the money would have to come from libraries, that's just less money they would have to spend on new books. It's a wash. And publishers wouldn't care, the money doesn't flow to publishers. They'd still want to screw libraries.
posted by zenzenobia at 11:56 AM on August 5


I had been purchasing ebooks for years, but I switched to checking them out of the library because they curate the selection a bit better. Choosing them myself on Amazon or even Goodreads, I end up overwhelmed in crap. The library has a much smaller selection, but overall it is better, and I am not spending my money on so many duds. I still check out five or six books for every one that I actually read, but I get the serendipity of selecting books I know nothing about, and just sampling them until I find gems.

So I am now spending my ebook dollar on the back catalogs of authors I meet via the library. I suppose that people like me, set off an arms race for slushpile authors to push their oevre into the library. But the library has my back; someone there is curating this and holding back the flow of slush.

Publishers serve a similar role; curating the selection for the book buying public. I'm willing to pay them for this, just like I am willing to pay authors. But all this "disruption" is exhausting when I just want some good escapist lit.
posted by elizilla at 12:00 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


troutontitan, yes, that must be what I was thinking of, and I see I was wrong about the “each checkout.” I’m sorry to hear it’s actually not as good for authors as I had initially thought, and that there are so many limits on it!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:01 PM on August 5


the average cost to the library to lend the title was $6.07 for every time a title is borrowed
Ooof. That makes me fee slightly guilty. I had no idea it was that much money!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:13 PM on August 5


If my library is paying $6 every time I check out an ebook, then I feel guilty as hell. I virtually never check a book out and then not read it, though, so at least I'm getting their $6 worth, I guess?
posted by jacquilynne at 12:47 PM on August 5


Leona: I think this Macmillan move is ...yet another complication for building and maintaining electronic collections.

As both a patron and a trustee, here's what gets my goat about e-books: the publishers are charging for a license to lend out the book, which usually goes away at the end of the contract. So where the library can buy a physical book which lasts until it's deaccessioned, the e-book might last for one year, or might simply disappear like a burst bubble after a set number of loans. The library ends up with nothing at the end of the contract, so they haven't really built a collection in any lasting sense they way that they do with physical books.

(Leona, I am not angry at you, just using your quote as a jumping off point. Keep doing the good work!)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:59 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


> If my library is paying $6 every time I check out an ebook, then I feel guilty as hell.

Don't feel guilty about using your library as designed.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:03 PM on August 5 [9 favorites]


Your library isn't paying $6 each time the book is checked out. They're paying the total cost of the license for the ebook up front. Based on rough usage numbers, that license fee divides down to about $6 per reader. If more people checked out that book that number would go /down/, not up. It doesn't go up until the 52nd reader, when the library has to resubscribe.

wenestvedt:
Why can Hulu let you watch videos over and over for one monthly fee, but the library gets a cap on the number of simultaneous -- or total-over-time -- uses of an e-book? In this analogy, I consider a fraction of my town taxes comparable to the Hulu subscription cost.

Weirdly, Hulu seems like a good analog here. NBC and Macmillan have one notable, and weird, feature in common. They don't actually care if you consume their content. They only care if you /buy/ their content. The Macmillan "times read" statistic has nothing to do with content being read. It has to do with content being checked out. That's a use that they didn't get paid for, and it's /very upsetting/. Likewise, NBC doesn't care if you like their programming, just that you stay tuned in long enough for their advertisers to pay them. (Not picking on NBC in particular. The same is true of all of the Hulu participating companies.)

I think that a Hulu/Bookflix model would be great here. But Macmillan seems to think that if they're not making a specific unit price every time someone gets their book, they're being cheated. That seems like a short-sighted way to build revenues, but what do I know?

Honestly, if libraries are right and having your books in them boosts sales, then it seems like their best play right now is to not stock Macmillan ebooks. I get that this goes against their raison d'etre. But Macmillan thinks that their interests aren't aligned with libraries. Hurting their bottom line is probably the best way to prove them wrong. Kick 'em out and let them come crawling back.
posted by Zudz at 1:23 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


You know even when I did want to buy a book that I'd started as an e-book at the library Penguin Random House managed to manipulate and anger me. I started reading Amor Towles' 'A Gentleman in Moscow' in e-book format from the library. But it was taking a while and I knew it would take me longer than the three week cutoff. And I knew I would have to wait a long time to get it again from the library. So I thought - I'll buy it in print - then I can take my time with it. Yay for the publisher right? But it was still in hardcover. Which I didn't want to lug around of course. And Penguin Random House kept it in hardcover for two and a half years before they released it to the US market in paperback. At which point the price went from $29 to $17. What a bargain. Two and a half years! I mean fuck me right? Maybe delaying one title in paperback for that long to screw your consumer base out of $12 is an excellent business model? Who knows - their financials certainly aren't public.

You know when I buy vinyl (to support a musician) I get a free download with the record so that I can have a digital file as well. I've always wondered why the publishers can't do this? Why do they charge us twice for the same content in different formats? Because we put up with it maybe? My antipathy for book publishers knows no bounds.

It appears that Mr. Sargent's email address follows the firstname.lastname@macmillan.com format if anyone would care to email him directly with your thoughts.
posted by rdnnyc at 1:48 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


The major publishers are commercial enterprises (whose profitable serving of the reading market has allowed them to grow and acquire their way into being the major publishers). Oh, and authors receive a percentage of the revenue those publishers receive from readers. Telling any CEO "I want [product] to be cheaper" and "I want two versions of [product] for the price of one" and "I want a different version of [product] sooner and a lot cheaper" are unlikely to have much effect, I suspect.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:26 PM on August 5


Directly related to your idea of libraries boycotting Macmillan, Zudz, some libraries are considering doing exactly that in their dissatisfaction with new release plans by one of the major audiobook publishers: Libraries Plan Boycott of Blackstone Digital Audio.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:29 PM on August 5


US public libraries are accustomed to paying less than full list price for many physical materials

Interestingly not legal here in Quebec -- you need to buy at list price from a designated store, even if that store will sell for less to the public, without other hidden subsidies.
posted by jeather at 3:48 PM on August 5


'Dear' publishers:

For those of us who are readers, you have historically been merely the necessary conduit between us and our authors. As a result, we have traditionally been your best paying customers. But never doubt: we can enjoy 'your' books without caring about (or even knowing) your names. Today, we can get in touch with our authors ... with or without you.

We are also passionate about public libraries. Mess with them, you mess with us. Ozymandias (google it) is forgotten. We will never forget Alexandria. Be sure: libraries will forever select, collect and protect. So it is written.

Tred carefully, lest ye be trampled.

Dear libraries,

An open, spacious, airy library looks nice. But we don't visit you for atmo, we visit to mine for treasure - new and old. Sadly, Vandals have huffed, puffed and felled most of the used-bookstores. You are our castles. We are always ready to man the bulwarks.
posted by Twang at 5:56 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


I’m glad to know why an ebook I read a couple of years ago from the library is no longer available. It was so confusing—i knew they had it electronically, because I’d read the book!

I would totally be on board with the “buy the print version, get a download of the ebook” model...
posted by leahwrenn at 7:30 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I can't help but think that much of the way that e-books got integrated into libraries was based on a fundamental [deliberately-induced] misunderstanding of the historical and physical reasons behind a library's limitations.

You can't have multiple people check out the same physical copy of a book at the same time not because that's something that we collectively decided was a societal good, but because that's how physics works! Libraries are meant to be a public good, specifically one that benefits society by making knowledge available to all its patrons. I suspect the libraries of old absolutely would allow multiple concurrent readers per physical book if that were possible!

The fact that we've gone and implemented an artificial "one person at a time per 'copy'" restriction in the first medium that allows us to escape the physical limitations that previously required it seems a bit nuts when you think about it.
posted by -1 at 8:27 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


As both a patron and a trustee, here's what gets my goat about e-books: the publishers are charging for a license to lend out the book, which usually goes away at the end of the contract. So where the library can buy a physical book which lasts until it's deaccessioned, the e-book might last for one year, or might simply disappear like a burst bubble after a set number of loans. The library ends up with nothing at the end of the contract, so they haven't really built a collection in any lasting sense they way that they do with physical books.

this is less to you specifically - you probably know all this - and more to the thread in general

This really depends on what sort of books you're acquiring, but also - physical books get destroyed or misplaced or stolen all the time - in ways that are less likely to happen to an electronic copy (it's entirely possible for a digital file to get corrupted, but not as likely as coffee getting spilled on a book or acts of toddler).

In a just world, the licensing fees would probably be set so that the annual fee over the average lifespan of a book would equal the cost the library would pay for a hard copy of the book. Different types of books get replaced more often, so that could easily factor into the cost.

But what this also could do (in theory) is allow a library to be more flexible with its collections. Maybe the library system needs 500 copies of Becoming now, but will only need 100 in a year or so, when there's less of a demand. If the library system could pay a quarter of the price per book it would normally pay for a hard copy to license Becoming for only a year, it could afford to acquire a larger number of books for a shorter period of time. So, the opposite of what's happening with Macmillian now. The library could pay the publisher the same amount, but the library patrons would get their books faster, encouraging them to check out more ebooks, making it easier for the libraries to go to the legislature and ask for money with higher circulation numbers, resulting in them purchasing more books.

Another possibility is to have the cost not be determined by year but by transaction - with the cost of a hard copy for the library being equal to the cost per transaction multiplied by the average number of times a book is lent before it is destroyed. After all, more popular books are also more likely to be worn down. This, in theory, could allow a library to have a much larger collection at a lower cost - with the publishers still getting the same amount.

But the pricing structures we're talking about are assuming an equal bargaining system between libraries and publishers and everyone making rational choices to maintain the status quo, which doesn't seem to be the case here. It doesn't matter what pricing structure is implemented if they're restricting purchasing power and then overcharging.

(in a just world, the prices of consumer goods wouldn't have to be artificially low due to stagnant wages and they could probably afford to charge more per book)
posted by dinty_moore at 8:32 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Ebooks as we now know them at libraries are a bad deal, and libraries should not have accepted the terms in the first place. Kanopy and Hoopla are even worse. The single-user or metered-access digital access model is inherently preposterous and isn't leading forward. We've been getting fleeced since this whole mess began, and now we want them to keep doing it?

I work in public libraries, and I think a library is still a library without its 1000 most popular items. Public Libraries should not spend so much public money meeting the unmeetable demand for a popular item at the moment of peak interest. I'd rather see no digital access at public libraries at all for the first year in exchange for a (competitively-priced) permanent multiuser license to the work thereafter.

Print demand is still strong. Let the publishers make back their advances on frontlist ebooks while they still can, people who want to read it immediately from the library can check it out in print. They'd be waiting in line for their ebook anyway, and at least with print that makes sense.

Then, after the publisher has made most of the money they're going to make from most titles, we add it to our digital collection, for unlimited use by our cardholders, in perpetuity. That's a much wiser negotiating position to be in, especially when you're spending public money.

I can't think of a time when I've ever disagreed with Jessamyn about libraries.... but while Macmillan is certainly doing this for panicked, dubious, or greedy reasons, and some of the details are super dumb... I think it's progress for ebooks at public libraries to move away from release day mania and towards in-perpetuity negotiating. Despite the unanimous uproar from the profession, we can do so much more with that money than just buy more licenses to access a title that we already paid to access.

There's a lot of digital content being produced that we can't add to library collections at all. That bothers me a lot more than an 8-week delay to buy licenses that were already overpriced and extortionate.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:21 PM on August 5 [13 favorites]


I agree with ulotrichous' thoughtful comment. I love libraries for having archival access not mass access as well. I feel strongly that the value of a public library is the breadth and depth it has, not how fast you can get the bestsellers. Being able to go to a library and find all the local authors when they're already out of print in the bookshops because they sell in such small runs matters intensely. Ditto for niche interests.

I'm a heavy ebook user through Libby, and they have a nice feature on our version that tells you how many people are waiting for your copy and encourages early returning for that one. I've pushed a book up my read pile to finish and return early at that nudge.

eBooks have led to me buying 5 physical copies this year to keep or lend, and I bought 2 more books for my daughter after we returned library books she loved - last night she also requested that we get the Prince and the Dressmaker, borrowed about 4-5 months ago, because she wants a copy forever of her own. We read a lot so this is a conversion rate with my daughter's books of about 5% from actual lending books.

I find book reading and publishing so convoluted now - environment! personal poverty! author's rights! copyright freedom! that I read and then add the book to a buy-list so that when I do buy them, I can sit down and sort out what is the current ethical stance I feel comfortable with. I tried to buy a local author's book yesterday and after 25 minutes hunting through her website and three different bookstores with different shipping options and ethics, I gave up and added it to the list. Amazon is seductive as hell (pun intended).
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:16 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I wonder what would happen if libraries banded together en masse (sharing a legal team for this enterprise, for reasons which will quickly become obvious), purchased copies of ebooks, broke the DRM thereon, and began lending the unlocked copies out to their library patrons?
posted by Quackles at 11:24 PM on August 5


Oh my god I would buy so many more ebooks if I could easily lend them to my friends (without drm stripping).

Same here. The inability to pass a book to a friend then get it back later is most of the reason I buy hard copies these days (also to support my local bookstore which is excellent).
posted by harriet vane at 4:18 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


These same people likely aren't happy when I lend a physical book to a friend...

Actually, having friends is socialism.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:18 AM on August 6 [7 favorites]


> I'd rather see no digital access at public libraries at all for the first year in exchange for a (competitively-priced) permanent multiuser license to the work thereafter

Please keep in mind that many of us read on e-readers because it's the only way we can read.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:21 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Of course, but it's an accident that the market meets that need. The NLS is an increasingly modern and robust way to distribute new books to people who can't read print, and it already has no waiting, one of the most amazing copyright (and postal service!) exemptions ever, and it's already there, funded, and working. BARD distributing text should be the answer to access for people with print disabilities, not the whole nightmare of market first-run ebooks. I wish we could provide materials to all our patrons as easily as BARD offers to NLS users.
posted by ulotrichous at 7:46 AM on August 6


NLS is great for people seeking audio or braille (if they're able to jump through the hoops needed to provide eligibility) but as we know, there's no one-size-fits-all solution for accessibility.

As a different example, my grandma, who has the not-particularly-unusual combination of needing both large print (eyes) and lightweight books (arthritis), has benefitted tremendously from the library's ebook collection. She can read print books fine, and would prefer to, as long as they're on a device like that. I'm sure many folks on this thread can relate to that.

I also generally side-eye any solution that siloes the "accessible" option away from the "regular" option. Universal design is potent.
posted by mosst at 7:58 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


Except for the Library of Congress (and not even there), no library has every book and keeps it in perpetuity. Public libraries of all sizes regularly discard their least-borrowed books, along with the multiple copies they often buy of immediate bestsellers, for which demand has tapered off after a year or two.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:19 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]


> BARD distributing text should be the answer to access for people with print disabilities, not the whole nightmare of market first-run ebooks.

What if I like market first-run e-books?

I invite you to consider that I know for myself what works best for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:16 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]


.... oh, and as for public lending payment to authors model as practiced in Canada and the UK, if the money would have to come from libraries, that's just less money they would have to spend on new books. It's a wash.
posted by zenzenobia at 1:56 PM on August 5


I'm registered with the Canadian public lending rights folks, and my understanding was that there was a surcharge on photocopying that was paid from the library to the public lending rights org.

I'm very grateful to PLR. It literally prevented me from becoming homeless on two separate occasions.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:25 PM on August 6


Except for the Library of Congress (and not even there), no library has every book and keeps it in perpetuity. Public libraries of all sizes regularly discard their least-borrowed books, along with the multiple copies they often buy of immediate bestsellers, for which demand has tapered off after a year or two.

Isn't this mostly a matter of physical space though? Would librarians cull ebook stacks if drive space wasn't a problem (and cloud storage is very cheap). Not so much acquiring everything, quality control over stuff coming in is still important, but once the work has been done to add an ebook your a catalogue why would one ever delete it? (Normally I mean, not because of some bullshit licensing issue).
posted by Mitheral at 8:31 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Not so much acquiring everything, quality control over stuff coming in is still important, but once the work has been done to add an ebook your a catalogue why would one ever delete it?

Well, for instance, when I was purchasing a house in 2016, I took out a few books on homebuying from the library. One had been published in 2005 and the advice it gave regarding mortgages and housing prices over time was hilariously bad. It was interesting from a historical perspective, but probably should be removed from general circulation.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:41 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Like you said, still of historical interest. Such books could be moved to "cull" storage rather than just deleted out of hand or otherwise marked as out of date/wrong/problematic/whatever. And then when some metafilter member wants to know how people bought houses in 2005 for their book one has a ready reference.

Gizmodo did some rough and tumble math a couple years ago and got a figure of ~60TB to store every single book ever written.

This is kinda of personal interest to me as a couple of my most prized possession are some automotive maitenance manuals from the 1920s and a complete run of popular mechanics and mechanix illustrated from 1945 thru 1970 plus some outliers on either side. I love reading these old books to see how handy people used to do it. Even though all the projects seem to have as step one: Acquire some available everywhere at the time but now unobtainum piece of hardware from a Model T.
posted by Mitheral at 9:45 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Like you said, still of historical interest. Such books could be moved to "cull" storage rather than just deleted out of hand or otherwise marked as out of date/wrong/problematic/whatever. And then when some metafilter member wants to know how people bought houses in 2005 for their book one has a ready reference.

For one thing, people who are saving things for historical interest are saving them in physical form - it's unwise to expect that older file formats and digital storage will be easily accessible in just twenty to thirty years, much less longer. I can more easily read a newspaper for the 1890's than a floppy from the 1990's. Digital collections take a lot of time and effort (and money!) to update, more than book storage.

The other part of this is the publisher - not in a greedy 'why would they kill libraries' sense (few people are making money in writing or publishing). But why would a publisher price a superior product - doesn't age, easily copied - at the same price as the physical copy? I'm totally fine with publishers artificially restricting usage of ebooks to mimic regular books to keep the price down, the problem is that they've overdone it.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:10 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


once the work has been done to add an ebook your a catalogue why would one ever delete it?

Discoverablilty. The more items you have in the catalog, the harder it is for a researcher to find specific things in it. An academic library that supports a department of economics might well want to keep outdated books about homebuying in their catalog, as their users are more likely to be interested in books of historical interest. It is probably not something a public library would want to do, as their users are probably searching for current, useful advice. Good collection development considers the users of the library and their information-seeking needs.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:55 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]


I work in a library. I read lots of ebooks. If the wait is too long, I order a copy of the regular book and read that. Your local library probably has several different versions of inter library loan. In Denver we have prospector, which is mostly colorado libraries (expected wait 3-7 days), Mobius, which you folks slightly east of us in Kansas recognize (slightly longer wait) and regular old inter library loan which can come from almost anywhere so you could have a good wait if it's coming from overseas. Fuck the CEO of MacMillian, and other predatory publishers. If you can't find your item through your library, go to used bookstores or possibly search online for someone to have posted it. Not that I would ever suggest breaking the law...
posted by evilDoug at 9:54 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


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