Friday, February 17, 2012

Why Publishers Should Not Only Allow Libraries to Lend Ebooks But Pay Them

In the library lending vs. ebook publisher controversy, one thing that we keep forgetting to add into the equation is that we libraries have always provided the value added service of free marketing & reputation building. As we move ever further into the world of digital media, reputation becomes a key asset. We’ve never charged publishers for our free marketing and reputation-building services. Maybe we should.

If (or when?) public libraries shutdown due to an ebook revolution that cuts libraries out of the distribution loop, the big publishers will have no more ground force, nor will they continue getting reputation support for free. Without libraries, the publishers will end up paying more for social media/marketing services. Even so, their customers will know that these services are bought and paid for so they will have less impact than librarians currently do with their clear-eyed, unbought, but passionate advocacy for the publishers’ products.

Further, if the public -- who love their libraries -- learned that the publishers' unwillingness to sell ebooks to libraries for lending purposes had destroyed their libraries there would be no amount that those publishers could pay to erase the blot on their reputation (for at least a generation). If you think the idea of Microsoft as "an evil empire" held some sway and helped build a strong pro-Apple & open-source environment, imagine how strong the bias against the companies that "killed libraries" would be.

Though we librarians don't spend much money (since we don't have much in the first place) on marketing, polling, focus groups, and social media, we know that corporations do. Our services to them are an unpaid-for bargain that we haven't capitalized on yet. Since we've reached a crisis point, it's time that we cash in our chips.

Forbes magazine recently reported that the era of branding is over, that instead reputation is everything (see: So let's rethink our value in libraries and start demanding that publishers take better care of our future, just as we have always ensured theirs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I long for the good old days when libraries, authors and readers were all on the same side. The library is, in my opinion, as sacred as any church. I love libraries, and by extension, librarians.

However, the digital world is has turned old allies into enemies. I am an author. With paper books, the library has been my staunch ally. Readers who can't afford my latest hardback, and readers who've never heard my name can both borrow my work. You're right, the advertising and exposure are certainly worth any potential "lost sales".

However, with ebooks, the combination of a flagging economy and massive piracy is making it pretty hard to make a living. Of course I want people to enjoy my work, but I'd also like to eat.

Now there are thousands of sites offering my work for free. In any practical sense, I can't do anything to stop them, copyright laws are worse than toothless. Getting read is no longer the challenge, getting paid is.

This same combination of events is killing libraries. Both publishers and libraries have tried to offer a legal means to provide ebooks, and overdrive is bit of a complicated system. Of course, publishers still want a way to make money, and the bad guys keep finding ways to copy and replicate their borrowed books. It's surely understandable that the publishers are trying to protect their business model.

So, I hope we can find a way to work together. However, given that the pirates have taken over the marketing and reputation-building (as well as free distribution) don't be surprised if the publishers aren't willing to pay you for it. They're too busy trying to stay in business.