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Ebooks & Libraries

For a long time I've been frustrated with the way ebook publishers have been approaching library lending, but my rage has been overruling my sense and I haven't been able to get many coherent thoughts into print.

Luckily Bobbi Newman pretty much hit the nail on the head with her "9 Reasons Why Publishers Should Stop Acting Like Libraries Are the Enemy and Start Thanking Them". I could go through each of her reasons and expound on why each one makes so much sense and explains a piece of where my frustration is coming from, but I'm going to focus on the points that have been bugging me the most.

First from the consumer side, I know I'm not alone in the group of people who don't like to buy books until they're pretty sure they're going to love them. I simply read too much for buying every book I read to make any sort of financial sense. Often that means borrowing the first book in a series or by a new author to see if I want to spend money on the rest. Libraries are great places to do this test driving. Several authors/series I now consider "must-buys" were introduced to me after giving something from the library a try. The same is true as I start to use e-readers more often. Offering an easy lending option I can use through my local library would fill a similar role.

And as Bobbi points out in several of her points, people go to libraries to get introduced to books, to talk about books, just generally to be around other people who read and can suggest good books. If my to-read pile wasn't so high, I wouldn't think twice about asking someone at my local library about recommendations for a good ebook to borrow. Then if I liked said ebook, we'd get into my previous point about how trying something and loving it leads to buying several more titles by that author/in that series.

So the idea that libraries don't lead potential book buyers to the titles/authors that they will eventually buy is ludicrous. Along with book stores and recommendations of friends and family, libraries play a crucial role in exposing consumers to new titles.

Now from the librarian side of things. Of course we want to buy publisher's ebooks. We are interested in giving our patrons what they want and, increasingly, they want ebooks. Considering that this country has more libraries than McDonald's, that's a lot of potential customers for your books, especially since the bigger ones almost always buy multiple copies of any reasonably popular title. So discounting the bump that selling to libraries can give to your sales, especially considering the exponential effect of introducing consumer to titles they will evenutally buy mentioned above, is another mistake.

I keep hearing whispers from publishers, booksellers, and digital content vendors that seem to imply that they think not only individual consumers are trying to pirate ebooks, but that libraries are trying to find ways around paying for ebooks. Or at least that's the way they treat us feels like sometimes. Or maybe that 's the justification they give for the ridiculous products or pricing structures they offer. Trust me, libraries want to provide digital content for their consumers, but the real barriers to providing our patrons with ebooks are high prices and strong limitations placed on the ebooks we are allowed to lend, forcing us to make hard decisions. Can we afford to pay X for digital content and neglect other portions of our collection? In offering e-content with such strong DRM software/difficult software to download before you can borrow your book/user data no longer being controlled and protected solely by the library, can we really offer this product to our patrons and call it "good"?

I once saw an interview with Mark Cuban in which he made the point that the way to fight digital piracy is not by putting tighter and tighter controls on the delivery method but by making it cheap and easy to legally buy content (as shown by iTunes and other digital music stores that popped up after it). He said that there will always be a few people trying to pirate digital content, but most will be willing to pay a small fee for legal content if access to it is quick and easy. I think the same will happen with ebooks (and already is to some extent) and then eventually lending will become easy, too (again looking at services like Pandora and Spotify for music). But unless we as librarians make the effort to point out to publishers why making ebook lending difficult for libraries only hurts their bottom line, that day won't be soon.

Maybe later I'll get into some of the specific shenanigans by ebook publishers and why they make this librarian angry, but for now, it's at least helped me to lay out some of the more general problems I've noticed in the attitudes of ebook distributors toward libraries.
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