An ALA Response to PRH and A Criticism from RF

The ReadersFirst Working group is made up of many passionate librarians, and, like many diverse groups, we gain strength from our debates. One such occurrence has happened over the ALA’s Alan Inouye’s response to recent e-book business model changes and ALA’s plans for the future.

Inouye rightly points out that Penguin Random House’s price reduction and change away from a “pretend-it’s-print” perpetual license offers some advantages. More copies might be obtained for the same price, while multiple copies bought for high initial demand can be “used up” and need not be weeded later.

His thought that “those relatively few school, public, and special libraries for which preservation is central to their mission” and which “may decide to shift to print books for some titles” is more problematic.

Let’s hear from some front line librarians who are more inclined to agree with Nate Hoffelder that “Penguin Random House is changing its license terms for library ebooks from ‘insanely expensive’ to ‘ridiculously expensive and short-lived’.”

Susan Caron of Toronto Public Library (which circulates more than 3 million e-books a year) says “ ‘We’ll be blowing our budget and brains out reordering John Grisham forever.’ We have such a big collection (over 100,000 titles) that the work of renewing or not is already overwhelming – this means it has to be done for 4 out of 5 publishers and the biggest. Also, pricing does not make up for it (and we haven’t seen the Canadian prices yet) but [they are likely] nowhere near [as low as Harper-Collins]. We’re very disappointed. Solid, deep collections, which we’ve been trying to build, will become more ephemeral. E-books will become the temporary bestseller collection rather than a comprehensive digital collection that complements and provides an alternative to print.”

Cathy Mason of Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Ohio Digital Downloads Consortium (over 2 million e-books per year circulated) concurs: “I’d much rather spend the extra $10 for access to a title we get to keep forever.  Metered access is best suited to titles that are more of a risk.  I’ve always hated that Stephen King is a 12 month author. I [have been investigating] books and series that go out of print that we still have in e.  Bluford High is super popular here but hasn’t been available for purchase in print for years.  Luckily we have over 20 of the titles available forever to customers through our digital collection.  I’m also thinking about the typical short print runs of large print volumes and how ebooks are so easily adjusted to suit the readers’ preferences or needs.  A 24 month meter will leave large print customers wanting. Ultimately I’d like to lobby for a hybrid model of forever copies for the depth of collection plus the ability to buy metered access (in either form) to fulfill initial and/or occasional resurgent interest.”

So, we may save on some titles, but at the cost of variety, collection depth, preservation (including titles not in print anymore, for which we can’t rely on print), access for those who need large print, and constant re-working of our collections. Cathy Mason speaks for RF when she advocates for multiple license models for every title.

Peguin Random House, we second Mr. Inouye’s thanks for listening and remaining committed to libraries (unlike Macmillan/Tor’s rude stiff-arming of us). But let’s make this step one of many. Give us multiple models per title and let us use e-books in a way that will make you money while building a collection worthy of the name.

Cathy, Susan, and Michael