The funny thing about the information age is that people always seem to think that everything can be found on the internet for free, and that the information is valid.
You might be able to find everything for free, but you probably would be stealing from someone.
Don’t get me wrong- I use the internet every day to access information, but I can’t find everything I need on it and the information is not always accurate.
Whether it is for school or recreation, books and eBooks contain a wealth of information that exceeds what you will find by using a search engine.
Public libraries traditionally operate on the copyright law doctrine of “first sale” meaning that once you buy a book or DVD you own it and you can share it or resell it to another person. First sale allows you to resell your purchased item, but it does not allow you to make copies and distribute them. This is how eBay or garage sales work.
Every year we use our collection development budget to purchase newspapers, print media, movies, and magazines that are then available for people to check out. We have waiting lists on items because we purchase a select number of titles and subjects to fit demand. Last year in Newark we circulated around 285,000 physical items this way.
Where can I find eBooks in the library?
One of the questions that I get pretty often is “Do you have eBooks available?”
The short answer is yes, we do have about 16,000 items for your iPad, Kindle, and Nook and an additional 10,000 items you can view directly on your computer. You can find them here: http://guides.aclibrary.org/ebooks/overdrive; but the answer to why we don’t have more is a bit more interesting.
So how does it work?
The short answer is that in Alameda County we use a service called OverDrive by Adobe that allows you to check out eBooks. By creating an account with Adobe, you can download the books without having to come into the library. eBooks check out for either a 2- or 3-week period and disappear automatically from your device at that time. Only one person can have a copy of the eBook checked out at one time.
Kindle books are checked out from the library, but are delivered through your Amazon digital account. What this means is that you have no late fees and a catalog available at your fingertips.
If you are familiar with using our eBook system you might see that there are more steps than purchasing wirelessly from an e-tailer. This is because the platforms create “friction” or extra steps to borrow rather than purchase an item.
So what about sharing eBooks?
Well, the interesting thing about digital material is that you are limited with sharing or reselling something you purchased.
Have you tried to sell an eBook on eBay yet? No? That’s because you can’t.
When you “buy” a book, you may be “leasing” it from the publisher or website. You can temporarily lend eBooks on Kindle and Nook devices, but that process may soon be changing as well. Amazon has filed a patent last week on sharing and re-selling digital content. The premise is that since an eBook is an exact copy that a consumer would buy a used eBook every time over a new one, and a new model of selling and sharing content is needed.
But what does this do to your collection?
Well, currently five of the six largest publishers refuse or limit selling their eBooks to public libraries.
- Macmillan Publishing
- Simon & Schuster
- Penguin Group
- Brilliance Audio
- Hachette Book Group
Others recently decided that libraries should pay more than a consumer for leasing an eBook. For example, when Fifty Shades of Grey was released it was listed as a hard copy at $27.87, eBook for $29.99, and eBook for libraries at $89.97. Other publishers are trying to devise a loan cap that allows a library to purchase a certain number of checkouts for an eBook, and then their ownership/lease expires. This is the argument that the free-market will choose what the correct price will be. However, libraries are just buying less or going elsewhere. This leads to a smaller collection for you and less income for the publishers.
Due to the uncertainty of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) libraries have actually been investing less in eBooks. Tom Galante, director of the Queens Public Library said he spends about $300,000 per year on eBooks but should be investing closer to $3,000,000. In this case, the free-market is seeing libraries spend less on eBooks than they plan due to uncertainty and price gouging.
For Alameda County Library to get more access to eBooks for you we have to go through different vendors. Right now we use OverDrive, One Click, Books 24x7, and will soon be adding a few more. 3M’s platform will allow us to get material not available from OverDrive. Califa’s platform will allow us to include self-published books. This is what we mean by “friction.”
I’m interested in finding out if this increase in profit trickles down to the author. I asked Jamie LaRue, director of the Douglas County Libraries about this. Jamie said that for a typical print book an author gets about 10-15% royalties,
however many recent contracts give the author 50% for licensing. This should mean that authors would receive more, however Jamie states: “Random House asserts that their books are sold to libraries; but I can only lease them.”
Why am I bringing this up?
I believe that we are living in the information age, and information is one of the most valuable commodities available. Public libraries want to level the playing field and use your tax dollars to give everyone equal access to information. We are okay with a litte bit of friction in the user experience, but we'd like to see a more streamlined experience at the same time.
I’d love to say that we have a civil society triangle- a balance between business, government, and citizens. Libraries need to support authors and businesses by purchasing material at market rates. We have to balance fiscal responsibility alongside the needs for a well-informed community and the financial needs of business. I’d like to see an open source format where local authors could self-publish their books.The smaller publishing houses are working with libraries to supply eBooks. Should the library transition to providing original and small market content?
Libraries have always been a location for people to find new authors and subjects that they are interested in. I check out a lot of books and DVDs, but I also have three bookcases full of books at home that I’ve purchased over time. I don’t usually buy books at Target or Wal-Mart because they carry mainly mass-market fiction and there is little opportunity to find a new author. I walked into Books Inc. in Alameda last Friday night and saw a line of people waiting to buy items as well as many people just browsing through. People were discovering new authors, new cookbooks, and primarily I saw parents buying stacks of books for their kids.
So my question for you to think about is: Should we wait for the dust to settle? Should we invest more in eBooks at a higher price than a physical book? What is equitable? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information read the following articles:
Vinjamuri, D. (12/11/2012) The Wrong War Over eBooks: Publishers vs. Libraries. Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2012/12/11/the-wrong-war-over-ebooks-publishers-vs-libraries/
Wohlsen, M. (2/08/2013) Amazon Wants to Get Into the Used E-Book Business –Or Bury It. Wired http://www.wired.com/business/2013/02/amazon-used-e-book-patent/all/#
Charman-Anderson, S. (10/23/2012) Amazonn eBooks are Borrowed, Not Bought. Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2012/10/23/amazon-ebooks-are-borrowed-not-bought/
American Association of Law Libraries. First Sale Doctrine http://www.aallnet.org/main-menu/Advocacy/copyright/firstsale.html