Friday, February 10, 2012

With Ebooks, Libraries Play Monkey In The Middle

Did anyone miss yesterday's announcement that Penguin has severed its contract with OverDrive? By now, I doubt it.

This means that we no longer have any Penguin titles available to purchase for library lending, ebook or audiobook. For now, what has been purchased is staying in the catalog, but that a "continuation contract" is under negotiation.

Worse was this news, from the OverDrive announcement (again, after the news hit the internet waves):
Starting tomorrow (February 10, 2012), Penguin will no longer offer additional copies of eBooks and download audiobooks for library purchase. Additionally, Penguin eBooks loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer then transferred to the device over USB. For library patrons, this means Penguin eBooks will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps. (Emphasis mine)
 So, not only can we not get any more copies of Penguin titles (The Help, you are stuck with a 7:1 holds ratio, now and forever), but anyone borrowing a Kindle ebook that happens to be a Penguin title is going to have to do the sideload process that is done with other dedicated ereaders, like the Nook.

This is going to be a major instructional issue. It has been difficult enough for us (more so for my colleagues in the libraries, since we train them) who have patrons coming in with their Kindle still in the box and asking how to use it. Now we will have to explain that some ebooks will work this way and others will work that way?

I believe that libraries are caught like the monkey in the middle. Patrons are lobbing balls of ebook demands we can hardly afford to keep up with these days; publishers are lobbing balls of access we cannot reach anymore. We are being thrown balls of different ereaders, different formats, different ways to get them. Issues of piracy and lost sales are thrown around, but no one is catching them and proving that they really exist.

So, while choking off library lending of ebooks may end up bringing sales that may not have happened (since it will be the only legal way to acquire them), publishers are also choking off a valuable resource of library lending: reader's advisory. I have heard more than once from libraries that patrons are giving up on ebooks from us because they "can't find anything". Half the time we may not know what to recommend if the availability is going to change from month to month. I hope that publishers understand that while yes, you are going to have people that will buy the book because they cannot get it from the library, you will also have people wondering what in the world is going on.

And we will have to tell them what we know.

That you are "looking for a suitable model", that you have "concerns" about piracy, about pricing, about making sure that you don't lose sales. We will explain that publishers think we just let anyone who visits our website have ebooks. With the amount of frantic emails I receive weekly about not being able to download from the digital catalog because their card is expired, I find this thought...uninformed, at best.

I just read Librarian By Day's post from Saturday, and I understand that it really is not the libraries that publishers are against; they are against a platform model that has placed the copies in the control of a commercial vendor, not the library one. I know that I was not happy to know that Amazon would be administering all of the borrowing for Kindle copies, and maybe OverDrive was not either. However, they were doing what they could to support their patrons (libraries) and their patrons' patrons. Our patrons want Kindle copies through the library, and all in all it was working okay. Or, maybe it wasn't, in Penguin's stance. However, it is still being left to us to explain to our patrons why we do not have the same titles that they can get from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and so many other ebook retailers.

Librarians are spreading the word that it is not our decision-making that is stripping away ebook access from patrons. Those who do collection development are looking at smaller publishers to provide digital content, and those numbers are growing. We are also looking at other options, other contracts, other platforms. Truthfully, we want to make everyone happy and work with everyone to do so, but our patrons come first.

It is time to get out of the middle and start throwing the ball ourselves.


The Digital Shift - Penguin Terminates Its Contract With OverDrive
Paid Content - Penguin Ends E-Book Library Lending And Relationship With OverDrive
Agnostic, Maybe - Penguin Unfriends Libraries
Librarian By Day: How to Talk to Your Patrons About Penguin and Other Publishers Not Loaning eBooks to Libraries
The Digital Reader - ALA Met With Major Publishers - Nothing Has Changed

1 comment:

  1. >I believe that libraries are
    >caught like the monkey in
    >the middle.

    That's because we allowed a middleman to develop in the first place, just like we did with ILSs. We have become passive followers, not innovators.