November 18, 2017

DBW Library-Publisher Panel Makes the Case for Ebook Lending

Picking up where Jane Friedman, publisher of Open Road Integrated Media, left off yesterday at Digital Book World, when she urged publishers to broaden the participation of libraries in the distribution of ebooks, LJ’s Josh Hadro moderated a panel today that helped publishers understand why, and how, that must be accomplished.

“Consumers and library patrons are two sides of the same coin,” Hadro said to a roomful of publishers, who included execs and others from the big five publishers, smaller houses, university presses, and distributors. The current one book, one loan ebook model somewhat “mirrors the print” buying and lending (though the analogy to print is also increasingly strained, he noted); “DRM [digital rights management] software [protects publishers] caus[ing] the lend to expire at the end of the loan period,” explained Hadro.

Yet many publishers still don’t sell their latest ebooks to libraries. “Current content is king,” New York Public Library’s Chris Platt said, pointing out his frustration that, “We can’t get Freedom (FSG) as a download for our library. And even though Keith Richards made a public appearance at NYPL, “We couldn’t put his epub [Life (Little, Brown)] in our collection,” said Platt.

Librarians are left trying to explain to their users both that the publisher has not made the book available through the library and that many ebooks won’t work on their users’ ereaders.

Platt further made the case that “We teach people literacy…we point [them] to your new books….Libraries are connected to many of the people you want to reach, on Twitter, Facebook.” As the price of smartphones drop, he said, libraries will be able “to serve all parts of the community.”

Ruth Liebmann, Random House VP, reinforced Platt’s remarks. “A sale is a sale,” she said, noting that libraries are a revenue stream that publishers like Random want to “protect, even grow.”

Baker & Taylor’s VP for libraries and education, George Coe, told attendees that the “acquisition model will change drastically” with the ebook. “Library budgets can’t change,” he said, but users can become buyers with “buy buttons” on library online catalogs. He cautioned, however, that by using different formats, publishers are “confusing our patrons.”

OverDrive’s CEO Steve Potash also said that the idea of a library purchase “cannibalizing sales couldn’t be farther from the truth…we’re converting library borrowers into point of sale users” in the digital world. As for the one book, one user model, Potash said that OverDrive recently made Liquid Comics ebook graphic novels available via a multiple user subscription model.

A comment from Twitter summed up the panel: “Lovely to see a friendly back-and-forth about eBooks between publishers and libraries that feels authentic.”

Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@gmail.com) spent 35 years with LJ, and 15 years at its helm as Editor and Editor-in-Chief. For more, see her Farewell Editorial.

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