Library Ebooks Lending Progress

Random HouseLast week we posted that ALA would meet with major publishers to discuss making their ebooks available in libraries.  Was there any progress?  Actually, there was.

Random House, the largest of the big six publishing firms, announced that it would sell ebooks to libraries again.  They are going to use a new model of (higher) library pricing but the ebooks won’t ever expire.  What’s implied here is a lending model based on the physical model of one checkout of an ebook at a time.  A Random House Spokesman said:

“Our commitment to libraries, as imperative to our momentum, if not to our existence as publishers, is greater than ever. The leadership of Random House grew up in large part loving libraries and we believe libraries are indispensable in bringing readers and books buyers to our authors’ works. It’s an emotional as well as a practical commitment in our support and our enthusiasm for libraries.”

An article from American Libraries made no mention of the change in policy at Random House.  It seemed most of the talks involved ALA leaders educating the publishers on ebook lending practices and trying to alleviate their fears.

In meeting with publishers who currently do not sell ebooks to libraries, we shared our profession’s concerns regarding the impact of these practices on library users, many of whom rely solely on the public library for their reading choices. In some instances, we found that there were misconceptions about how libraries operate that, once clarified, mitigated some of these publishers’ concerns. For example, some publishers had the impression that libraries lend to whomever visited their respective websites, thus making collections available virtually worldwide without restriction.

Further reading:

Proposed Global Library Consortium for Academic Ebooks

In another big meeting of publishers and librarians recently took place at Harvard during which the idea of a Global Library Consortium (GLC) was presented.  Here’s how it would work according to the Publishers Weekly article:

The GLC proposal would operate on a similar basis [to SCOAP3], with libraries pooling together into a membership coalition that purchases the rights to titles offered by participating publishers. Those books would then be made available on an open access basis, perhaps with Creative Commons license terms. Libraries would place bids for each offered title into a pool, in a fashion similar to the way Groupon works; if there was sufficient interest to hit the price trigger point, the publisher would release the title into the open access pool with costs apportioned among participating institutions. Once made open access, titles would be publicly readable through a web browser interface, but downloadable PDFs or EPUBs would only be freely available to GLC members.

The GLC proposal offers a number of very significant advantages. Primarily, it would stabilize the scholarly monograph market by compensating publishers for their fixed costs in producing their first copy. It also retains a measure of competition by specifying that the more attractive book delivery formats (PDF, EPUB) are sold commercially outside of the GLC membership. It also reduces press overhead by partially releasing marketing and sales staff from the vagaries of having to sell to an unknown number of university library buyers.

But as with all propesed ebook distribution models, there are concerns by the publishers on profitability.  They must figure out how to price items across the board when popular and more obscure are offered in the same pool.  However, with tighter budgets, libraries may not want to buy in to an entire pool.  Other challenges covered in the article include technical ones including online access versus download and full-text versus metadata searching.

Read the Publishers Weekly article Academic E-Books: Innovation and Transition.