Why sell E-Books to Libraries? Libraries Can Help Fight E-Book Piracy

Katy Guest has published an article in The Guardian, “‘I can get any novel I want in 30 seconds’: can book piracy be stopped?” She reviews the unfortunate prevalence of downloading pirated copies. Stopping the practice is difficult: “whack a mole” sites spring up again elsewhere as soon as they are shut down, providing a constant supply of Grishams, Pattersons, Rowlings and many others without charging.

People who engage in the practice offer many justifications, but the root cause seems to be an ignorance of (or refusal to accept) the cost to authors and publishers: “Generally, pirates tend to be from better-off socioeconomic groups, and aged between 30 and 60. . . those who responded always justified it by claiming they were too poor to buy books – then tell me they read them on their e-readers, smartphones or computer screens - or that their areas lacked libraries, or they found it hard to locate books in the countries where they lived. . . Most regularly downloaded books illegally and while some felt guilty – more than one said they only pirated ‘big names’ and when ‘the author isn’t on the breadline, think Lee Child’ – the majority saw nothing wrong in the practice. ‘Reading an author’s work is a greater compliment than ignoring it,’ said one, while others claimed it was part of a greater ethos of equality, that ‘culture should be free to all’.”

ReadersFirst’s interest in the article is sparked by the mention of libraries. Librarians are not so naive as to think that making digital content available through our channels will stop illegal sharing. But could we play a part in reducing piracy? Perhaps instead of refusing comment on the practice, hoping not to spread word of the practice, as several publishers did for this article, publishers should try a different tack: “‘Education, not regulation, is key’, she [novelist Joanne Harris] told the Guardian: ‘If there is a solution to this, rather than keep trying to shut down these sites, it is to get the reading public to understand why using them is dishonest, wrong and is killing publishing and killing diversity in publishing. When you realise that [authors] are not really unlike you at all, you see that what it boils down to is you’re stealing the product of someone else’s work’.” Libraries can help, but we can be an even more effective partner if we have a broad and deep collection to rival what we offer in print. Current licensing models and pricing make building such collections difficult now, even for large libraries. Can we work together to fight piracy? Yes, and even more effectively if publishers help us have the collections that might make some people consider finding another “free” source for reading.

An Important Paper on Library E-Book Content is Available

A pre-print of an International Elending Study of e-book availability, pricing, and licensing is available from the journal Information Research.  Download it here.

 It is well-worth a look for those interested in the library digital experience.  Here’s a brief summary, but it does not do justice to research that is the first of its kind and that has important ramifications for how we should continue advocating with publishers (and aggregators) for improving e-book access.

"Availability of e-book titles is better than expected, with digital library availability approaching that of print. Just because titles are available, however, does not make them accessible. Licensing models, especially the growth of metered access, complicate access, often making only likely best-sellers seem viable. Our ability to create the deep collections we offer in print is circumscribed, especially in light of high cost and the lack of variable licensing terms.    

ReadersFirst encourages please consider spreading word of this important contribution to library literature.

Full Disclosure: the paper cites members of the ReadersFirst Working Group

Controlled Digital Lending Sees Further Challenges

Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly has published an article exploring how another group, The National Writers Union, has joined the outcry against Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). CDL is the process “by which a library (or a nonprofit, like the Internet Archive) scans a print copy of a book they have legally acquired, then makes the scan available to be borrowed in lieu of the print book, using a DRM-protected one user/one copy model, and, crucially, taking the corresponding print book out of circulation while the digital copy is on loan.”

At issue is whether the practice is fair. Authors and publishers are taking the stand that such scans replace existing digital licenses and cost them revenue. Advocates of CDL argue that owning a physical copy of a title, holding it from circulation, and restricting its scan to one user at a time merely replicates typical library lending.

ReadersFirst does not currently take a stand on CDL but advocates for sharing of resources as openly a possible within the limits of fair use. We will watch developments with interest. This one may get settled in the courts. Mr. Albanese’s article explores the topic in detail and is well worth a read.

Disclosure: a member of the ReadersFirst Working Group was interviewed for the article and is working on a pilot project (not yet public) with the Internet Archive’s Open Library, the primary exponent of CDL and the main target of publisher and author groups’ ire.

E-books Cost and Licensing in the News

The Philadelphia Inquirer has released a piece on the challenges libraries face with digital content, focused on RF member The Free Library of Philadelphia but exploring the issue in some depth. It is good to see the issues related to library digital content use get explored in the general media and not just library publication.

Read the article here.

Disclosure: members of RF were interviewed for the article.

Canadian Libraries Take the Lead

Canadians are often noted for politeness, but Canadian libraries, led by the Canadian Urban Library Council (CULC), are showing grit and determination in taking concerns about library digital content pricing and business models to the (virtual) streets.

They are following up their earlier “Fair Pricing for Libraries” initiative with https://econtentforlibraries.org, calling upon citizens to call out publishers on library pricing and availability. Canadian libraries will post links on their websites and use social media to engage readers to demand better access for themselves through libraries..

Here are some details:

“Hello and thanks for joining us and participating in the upcoming #eContentForLibraries campaign.

 A reminder that the campaign is starting Monday January 14th and will run until January 25th. A press release will be issued the morning of.

Please review the toolkit (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19_kXAo8M383Tp2U4NX6zv3bARAgvY2hi?usp=sharing) and help spread the word about on social media, with local media outlets and with other local stakeholders.

We also ask that you link to the campaign https://econtentforlibraries.org from your own site. The call to action is to share the page and contact multinational publishers directly on social media to demand change.

If you have any questions, please contact Jefferson Gilbert, Executive Director, CULC/CBUC, jgilbert@culc.ca. “

ReadersFirst regrets that this is not an international initiative.

In support, we have worked with a member of the ALA Division ASCGLA to see if the division will support a proclamation to be adopted by the ALA. See below. This process is still very much in the works, and it is too early to know if action will be taken. Perhaps ASCGLA and ALA will prefer other ways of making a statement. With the Tor/Macmillan change of last summer, however, and other possible rollbacks of library content by publishes looming, maybe it is time for us in the USA to get into the game.

For now, Go, CULC, Canadian libraries, and Canadian readers!


Resolution on eBook pricing for libraries

Whereas Canadian Public Libraries for Fair eBook Pricing has led efforts “to raise awareness of eBook pricing issues, with the goal of ensuring broad access to eBooks for Canadian readers” (http://www.fairpricingforlibraries.org/ and https://econtentforlibraries.org );

Whereas the Canadian Urban Library Council (CULC) has declared that the high cost of eBooks and audiobooks, content unavailable to libraries, and restrictive licensing models are not a sustainable model for Canadian Libraries;

Whereas libraries and their readers in the United States face the same barriers to access of titles that exist in Canada, preventing access by citizens to information; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA)

 1.     Urges the ALA Committee on Legislation to draft a statement supporting CULC and calling for fair eBook pricing in the United States that will balance the importance of compensating authors and publishers with greater access to information in support of democratic ideals;

2.     Urges the “Big 5” publishers to develop a variety of digital content license models that will allow libraries to provide content more effectively, allowing options to choose between one-at-a-time, metered, and other options to be made at point of sale;

3.     Urges the “Big 5” publishers to make all content available in print and for which digital variants have been created to make the digital content equally available to libraries without moratorium or embargo;

4.     Urges the creation of a joint working group of representatives from ALA, CULC, ULC, and other members to be determined to address library concerns with publishers and content providers;

5.     Urges the “Big 5” and other publishers to enter in to conversation with the library working group to explore all fair options for delivering content digitally in libraries;

6.     Urges Congress to explore digital content pricing and licensing models to ensure democratic access to information

The Museum and Library Services Act Has Passed!

From our Friends at ALA Washington Office, some good news:

“Congress has passed S. 3530, the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)! We are so proud and thrilled to see one of ALA's top priorities - reauthorizing the Institute of Museum and Library Services - cross the finish line tonight, capping two years of intensive efforts by ALA members and library advocates.

Please take a moment to thank your representative and senators for renewing their commitment to America's libraries by passing this important bill.

ALA advocates, we applaud your steadfast work to move MLSA forward and to send a strong message to Congress that libraries and the vital services they provide have longstanding value in every community across the country. Thank you for everything you do!”

SimplyE adds Audiobook Capability

SimplyE, the “one app to rule them all,” has added digital audiobook capability. Bibliotheca Cloud Library titles can now be enjoyed through the app. Baker & Taylor Axis 360 and RB Digital titles will follow soon, with OverDrive perhaps joining eventually. This format enhances the e-book availability from eight vendors. The goal is to have as many content sources as possible in one place, branded for the owning library, allowing library users an easier and less confusing experience, ensuring that they do not have to visit many different apps or websites to get all of a library’s digital content. Another milestone in the development of an an app that promises to revolutionize library digital use!

News Coverage of High E-book Prices

Our friends at the Canadian Urban Library Council (CULC) are again working to raise awareness of the high cost of e-books from the Big 5 in Canada and of the difficulty in accessing some audiobook content at all.

Although various e-book licensing models come in for appropriate criticism, cost remains a barrier to access: “the problem isn't necessarily the model but the price, she said. While a physical book might cost $22, it can cost the library $100 for a copy of the electronic version.

‘We face excessively high prices and restrictive models for these ebooks,’ she said.

The price continues to rise when libraries purchase multiple copies of an ebook -- and multiple forms of the same book, including hard and soft covers and audiobooks -- in an effort to shorten waitlists.

‘It's not a sustainable model. We're having trouble making sure we have all the content for our customers that they want to see,’ Day said.”

ReadersFirst happily draws attention to CULC’s concerns. These concerns are not new: RF has previously referred visitors to http://www.fairpricingforlibraries.org/. The failure of publishers to meet libraries continues to hinder readers from accessing valuable content.

Caveat Emptor--RBDigital

In October, RBDigital turned on a feature that allows patrons to choose to download new magazine issues automatically.  Sounds good, right?  They can decide they simply want to see their favorite.  There are, however, two concerns with the practice.

One: RBDigital apparently didn’t tell all their customers the feature was being turned on. If you’ve seen a sudden and unexplained uptick in check-outs, here’s a likely reason

Two: as one of our Canadian colleagues found out, it can cause libraries to run rapidly through some available downloads on some popular titles: “We are running out of circs for our most popular titles and customers are unable to download, e.g. we’re out of circs for the Economist for December, our most popular and expensive title. Very annoyed customers! They didn’t tell us that they had added this choice (we would have said no) and of course people check it. To meet demand, we have 38 subscriptions to the Economist, which cost us $22K a year!”

It is possible to turn off the feature. In the Admin settings, there is a feature called Auto-checkout control.  Admins find it under “Services Subscriptions, Magazines,”  towards the bottom of the screen. Change “Auto-checkout Magazines” to “Disabled.”

 Of course, taking away a feature once it is offered can be unpopular, but not so unpopular as customers expecting to get content and not being able to within a library’s budget.

If RBdigital did not tell you about this change, they should have.

RBDigital, I hope you made every effort to communicate this change beforehand. Several libraries, however, have said it is news to them. Implementing changes that might affect our materials budgets without telling us is seriously uncool!