There was a moment today when I looked at the facts in front of me and became genuinely concerned – for the first time ever – for the continued existence of libraries.
HarperCollins, book publisher, has told Overdrive, an eBook distributor that is a major supplier of digital content to libraries, that they are only going to let libraries circulate HarperCollins eBooks 26 times. After 26 check outs, presumably the eBook version of Logan’s Run will occur and libraries will have to purchase a new digital copy to circulate.
Librarians are mad. Again. You can follow the public discussion on twitter by searching for the hashtag #HCOD
Besides a lot of angry rhetoric, two interesting things have resulted from this latest vendor/publisher clash. One, an attempt at a boycott of Harper Collins is being organized. Two, Sarah Houghton-Jan (aka The Librarian in Black) has drafted an eBook Users Bill of Rights. (Full text appear at the bottom of this post)
As you may remember, Gentle Reader, I recently wrote about why I think a boycott probably won’t work in law libraries. Law, as a discipline, is constantly being updated and large amounts of money are dependent on law libraries providing correct and up to date information to their patrons. But what about the public libraries? Can they really put enough pressure on publishers to bring them to heel?
WARNING. MATH AND STATISTICS AND NUMBERS AHEAD.
I decided to check out some stats. I really wanted just a basic number…how much of of publishers annual revenue comes from public libraries? It wasn’t immediately obvious or easy to find…so I decided to try and figure it out myself. I have two main sources of information: The American Association of Publishers annual sales report and a Public Libraries survey from the Institute of Museum and Libraries Services (IMLS). Two caveats before we dive in: (1) I am not a trained statistician. Nor am I a public librarian. Nor do I even balance my checkbook. And as my students will tell you, I have problems with basic addition and subtraction. Which is all just a long way of saying, I could be totally wrong and these numbers don’t mean what I think they do. (2) The most recent numbers I could get was from 2008. Given the rise in digital content since then, I’m sure some things have changed even though it’s only 2 year old data.
Okay, deep breath…I’ll put some summaries in along the way for resting points for the math adverse.
According to the AAP, the industry had the following net sales in 2008:
Religion 723, 872,000
Net sales by AAP $ 9,136,927,000
Net sales minus eBooks $9,023,707,000
SUMMARY: The American Publishing Industry nets about 9 Billion dollars a year for print publications. And now for the library numbers…
Total Budgetary Expenditures – 10,724,925,000
Budgetary Expenditures dedicated for Collections- 12.8 % of total or 1,372,790,400
Print Collection Expenditures – 69.3 % of Collections expenditures or 951,343,474
Print and electronic expenditures – 80.6 % of total or $1,106,469,062
Percentage of AAP Net Print Sales Attributable to Libraries – 10.5%
Percentage of AAP electronic and print sales attributable to public libraries – 12.1%
SUMMARY: Public libraries in the U.S. spend a little under a billion dollars a year on print materials. This amounts to about 10 percent of the Publishing Industry’s net print sales.
Total U.S. circulation of materials – 2,277,549,000
Registered borrowers – 166,892,000
Checkouts per borrower – 13.6
Average price of book – $20
Value of library circulation $45,550,980,000
Value of circulation to each borrower: $272.00
SUMMARY: U.S. Libraries circulate about 2 billion items per year. This means each person that has a library card averages about 13 checkouts a year. Given that the average price of a book is about $20 (low estimate), that means the value of materials circulated by libraries is 45 Billion dollars or $270 to each borrower.
If each borrower changed one checkout to purchase – $3,750,063,240
If each borrower bought one eBook at $6.00 – Publishers would get $1,001,352,000.
SUMMARY: If current library users become direct buyers and changed just one check out to a purchase, it would amount to 3.7 Billion dollars in revenue for publishers, or about 4 times what they currently get from libraries in total. If patrons transform one checkout to a digital purchase, that amounts to $1 billion, or roughly pretty close to what libraries spend now.
OKAY, THE MATH IS OVER. YOU CAN LOOK NOW.
Here’s where I got scared this morning. I realized that an economic boycott probably won’t work for libraries. Yes, libraries make up a decent amount of publishers’ customer base, but it’s pretty clear that libraries are a middle man that can easily get cut out of the publishing distribution scheme. Then I had a moment of paranoid delusion where I thought that the publishing industry is deliberately trying to force libraries out distribution chain and the complexity of eBooks and DRM is all part of that plan.
That’s crazy, right? The publishing industry gaslighting libraries? Crazy.
But anyway, no matter what’s going on here, it appears that while libraries can put some economic pressure on publishers, the industry could survive – and may actually thrive – without libraries getting in the middle. Any negotiations we do will be coming from a position of weakness. Which brings me to the eBook User Bill of Rights…
I don’t like it.
I have a friend that, whenever someone mentions having a social media policy, flips their lid because they think that any general public activities policy/standards of behavior should cover social media activities. In other words, the old content vs. container debate. And I have to say, I’m a little disappointed that this Bill of Rights was limited to just eBooks. I think if you’re going to do it and make a bill of rights, expand it out to all information consumers and types of information.
I also think, that given the weak negotiating position that libraries are in, it’s too confrontational. I think a better way would be to include the Rights and Responsibilities of all participants in the information consumption chain. I’ll be thinking about this more and trying to fill in the pieces myself, but here’s a rough idea:
I see four principle players: Information Consumers (patrons), Information Creators (Authors), Information Distributors (publishers, other vendors) and Information Guardians (I had a hard time coming up with a term for this…Information Maintainers, Information Collectors, Information Preservers, Information Farmers…nothing seemed to adequately cover all that libraries do. The parallels between farmers and librarians is another post for another day, but trust me it’s there.) Information Consumers have the right to expect much of what was said in the eBook User Bill of Rights. But they also have a responsibility to respect the Intellectual property of creators and distributors. Information Creators and Distributors have a right to make money from the Information business. But they also have a responsibility to engage in fair business practices. Information Guardians have a right to preserve, protect and reuse information (within the bounds of the other rules.) It’s going to have to be a balancing act and everyone involved will have to give and take a little. Libraries cannot simply demand to be heard anymore.
ETA: Here’s an expansion of my thoughts.
Here’s the full text of the O.G. eBook User Bill of Rights. Think about them. Build your own.
The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.
The eBook User’s Bill of Rights
Every eBook user should have the following rights:
* the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
* the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
* the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
* the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks
I believe in the free market of information and ideas.
I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.
Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.
I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.
I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.
These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.