Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Publishers and Libraries



In a time where we're supposed to be sympathetic to publishers' plights in dealing with competition from Amazon, let's remember how they continue to treat libraries.

I originally started this article with the focus on how digital media is treated the same as physical media in libraries, a rule set by publishers. The past year or so I've gone to the library and the books I wanted to read were checked out for one reason or another, so I thought, "Let me see if they carry an ebook copy of it" as that should solve the problem. One doesn't have to worry about scarcity when it concerns kilobytes. It turns out, the library had a single ebook, and someone had already checked it out.

What? I'm sorry, they checked out the copy and it wouldn't be available to download until they returned? Amazon doesn't tell consumers interested in buying my book, "Whoops! We're fresh out of Chris Weston's The Dragon's Tears. An intern is furiously copy and pasting the file as we speak. The new batch should be ready in two days time."

No, because that is stupid. All the file is is a timer embedded in the code to disappear after three weeks from my device, nothing more. 

My first stop was to search for some citations and make sure other people were experiencing the same thing. And sure enough, here is the reason why ebooks are moronically treated the same as physical books.

Let's get into the heart of the matter of how publishers are behaving badly with libraries. How about HarperCollins wants to set a limit in how many times an ebook can be loaned out before the library has to repurchase a new ebook? Does that wet your whistle? How about when publishers wanted to lockout all libraries over a single incident? It's cool, I can keep going. How about the cost of a $12.99 ebook costs a library $74.85 per purchase, meaning they have to stock an ebook as if it were a physical book? What does that add up to? If you're E.L James and your library stocks your ebook, about $23,400 for 300 copies.

You thought I was done? Don't be ridiculous, here's some more for you to chew on. "In 2011 alone, two major publishers have scaled back their policy on library ebooks; [and] the Authors Guild is suing university libraries over its plan to digitize out-of-print and orphan works for use in an educational setting." And thankfully for us, this battle was won, just last year in the year of our Lord 2014. Don't worry, the Authors Guild finally decided the drop the case themselves, this month. That is so nice of them.

When authors like J.A. Konrath call publishers a "Paper cartel" I can't disagree with him. When publishers say they resemble, "main curators of life of letters...cultural heroes" I can only shake my head and wonder what reality they are living in.

None of the practices listed in all those articles is sustainable for a library, and they're not meant to be. Charging for a new book after 26 reads or selling ebooks for over $100 a purchase is meant to deter libraries from stocking ebooks. Those practices have more in common with extortion than they do any kind of literary upholding.

As much as publishers, want people to think they're good-natured dolts who try the best they can with what they have, they're a business strong-arming libraries for not giving them more money and for cutting into their paperback money making scheme.

A physical book limits itself to be read by one person at any particular time. I'm sure publishers pay someone money to calculate how many people over a certain period of time will read that book, and then draw conclusions that relate to overpricing it. An ebook is different, it can be read by many people with one source, because it is downloaded to whatever device the reader uses. I'm sure sure this "financial consultant" of sorts was sweating profusely as his eyes bulged out at the math. In three months time, everyone will have read the book for free. The same kind of mental gymnastics that have allowed pirated movies to completely wipe away movie theaters from the face of the Earth. 

I know, I know, I should be nice, but I can't be, especially when it involves not-nice things happening to our local libraries. Would it be so difficult for a flat one-time fee six months after a book's release? 12 months? Two years?

Things are not right and we should be talking about it. In a world where tablets are widespread and ebook reading is the norm, we're being held back on a cost-saving measure for no reason. Well, that's not true. There is a reason, it's just not a good one.