|In this Article|
The reading ecosystem is evolving fast, even as you read this. Facing the rapid transition to ebooks together, rather than in isolated camps, librarians, publishers, authors, and readers can ensure that we meet our missions on all fronts. This series of conversations is a start, aspiring to illuminate the issues and opportunities by placing librarians and publishers at the same table. The personalities here range from Random House’s Madeline McIntosh, who stresses a commonality between publishers and librarians, to HarperCollins’s Josh Marwell, who strives to emphasize openness, to Melville House’s Dennis Johnson, who illuminates the indie perspective.
To his credit, Marwell has been highly visible at regional and national conferences in the wake of the 26-loan cap on ebooks announcement (he was also the only publisher to respond to Francine Fialkoff and Brian Kenney’s editorial last fall about ebooks in libraries). As a result, of course, he’s taken most of the heat. Here as he has elsewhere, Marwell maintains his cool as well as his position that the cap is not cemented and that communication lines remain open.
Many will complain that this is a pointless exercise; that the library mission clashes with publishers’ mandates to fatten bottom lines. I would argue that both parties need each other more than ever. We hope these conversations, first published in LJ’s BookSmack! e-newsletter, will be the seeds of the solution.—Heather McCormack, Editor, BookSmack!
Ebooks: The New Normal
These talks are also paving stones to Ebooks: The New Normal. Join us on October 12, 2011. Registration is open now at www.ebook-summit.com.
KS: Every librarian I know is asked regularly how libraries are going to survive now that “everything’s online” and “we’re all using Kindles.” Does that happen to you and your colleagues?
MM: Every day. Just last week, I was going through passport control at the airport, and the immigration official started quizzing me about the impact of digital books on publishers. I did manage to convince him that there’s a lot to be optimistic about. If no one cared about books and reading anymore, then that’s the time to worry. But as long as we stay true to our core contribution to the market—selecting great books and helping their authors to connect to as many readers as possible—then I truly believe publishers will be OK.
We do, of course, have to adapt to readers’ changing preferences and habits, and at Random House we’re actively embracing the very positive opportunities that are opened up by digital publishing and distribution. That said, we do have a fervent belief in the ongoing importance of the physical book and of the places where physical books are found: libraries, bookstores, schools, airports, supermarkets, etc. Without having books embedded in our physical environment, it would be so much harder to help readers connect with new books and authors.
I think librarians tend to assume that publishers have all kinds of power when it comes to the ebook world. But it seems like publishers are scrambling to find their footing with ebooks just as much as the rest of us. Are ebooks going to shut us all down?
No, ebooks aren’t going to shut us down, any more than paperbacks or audiobooks shut us down. Both of those formats increased the appetite and audience for books, just as ebooks are doing now.
As publishers, we have a vital role in maximizing the relationship between each of our two core constituencies: authors and readers. We want to find as many readers as possible for our authors, and, at the same time, we want to do what’s best for our authors, over the long term of their writing careers.
Instead of trying to figure out how to exert power or control in the market, I think it’s much more important for us as a publisher to focus continually on our positive impact on the author-reader relationship.
Publishers and libraries both bring a lot to the cultural table, but we are, perhaps, misunderstood and undervalued by much of the reading public. It seems like we’re all going to have to give something up and compromise in a mostly ebook world.
Maybe a better word for compromise is choice—everyone does need to make clear choices about how they’re investing time and energy. We have to focus on what we do best and make sure we maintain excellence in those core competencies. I know this is true for publishers, and I think it’s true for librarians and booksellers.
At Random, we’re clear that our core competency is content selection and development: our editors know how to pick great prospective books and work with the authors to make the finished books even better. Then there’s a surrounding ring of skills and activities—such as marketing, publicity, sales, distribution—that we also feel are key to fulfilling our mission to authors and readers. We can’t compromise on any of these, or we stop being effective and useful.
I hope librarians and publishers can help each other continue to focus on what we’re each great at. Libraries are both cultural institutions and businesses, in the best sense of both words. They buy a lot of books. They buy a lot of really wonderful books. And they help bang the drum for those books in their communities. That has tremendous value for us and for the readers we both share and value.
Librarians have been pretty vocal about their dislike of the self-destructing ebook model. But it seems like the eternal ebook doesn’t work for publishers. Many librarians (myself included) have expressed interest in a model that allows for a mix of self-destructing ebooks and a permanent copy.
This goes back to the question of balancing reader and author interests. Whatever the future looks like, we want a model that will ensure continued support for physical books, in physical libraries, in local communities. That’s crucial for us.
And, in turn, publishers can support a library’s desire to provide digital content for their patrons. We understand the pressure that librarians are under, and we want to work with you. We also want to be honest because, for us, the heart of what makes a library important is defined by physical books, in a physical space, connected to its community by face-to-face relationships and coming together in person over books. The value of a library to us—and our authors—is inextricably linked to a library having a physical space, where people can come and discover books.
Just as libraries are going to find that the key to future success may be very different, depending on our communities, will publishing move as an industry to new practices, or do you see each house making radically different choices?
The web has helped make the business world more transparent, so it’s pretty easy to see what competitors and partners are working on. If there’s a success, the details are quickly public, and everyone can learn from it.
But trade book publishing is far from a monolith. We’re like New York City—we might seem big and cohesive from the outside, but once you’re here, you see a collection of highly diverse neighborhoods and highly and healthily divergent opinions.
Finally, what do you wish librarians understood better about publishing?
We’re passionate believers in the future of libraries and their vital role in communities. We want them to thrive.
That means we have to find new ways of having more dialog about what our shared future can look like. We have a long history together—much has changed, and much will continue to change.
The difference now is the pace of the change: it means we need to accelerate the conversation. We have a lot in common: we both love books and New Orleans and shoes that are attractive and comfortable. If we keep the lines of communication open and humming with give and take, we can figure this out together.
|Kate Sheehan is Open Source Implementation Coordinator, Bibliomation. She blogs at loosecannonlibrarian.net. Madeline McIntosh is President of Sales, Operations, and Digital, Random House. Read on for the full interview as it appeared in BookSmack!|
KD: Which genres and/or subject areas are leading ebook sales, both retail and library, for HarperCollins?
JM: The irony of the early days of the ebook revolution is that older readers, often the most voracious, have led the way. (In this case it is your grandfather’s ereader!) It has also been about what some call “pleasurable” reading or “genre”—specifically romance and mystery. These devoted readers have taken to ebooks in a very big way. We’re now seeing the trend continue with general fiction, teen fiction, and on a case-by-case basis with nonfiction. The introduction of children’s early readers and picture books with audio synced to text has just started and is off to a promising start.
You refer to the 26-checkout limit as “a work in progress.” Are you able to comment on other types of business models you are exploring?
This is probably not the forum to get into too much detail about specific business models. There is nothing magical or set in stone about the 26-circulation cap. It’s really about finding a solution that answers some of our vexing concerns about selling in perpetuity and preserving a diverse marketplace for our books and authors that we think benefits all stakeholders involved. We want to sell ebooks to libraries, and to that end we are open to other business models as long as they speak to our stated concerns.
Prior to announcing our new terms, in our analysis we took into account budgetary constraints, catalog life cycles, and overall demand in the library channel. Our work led us to consider a number of models, including a term of sale based on time. Our conclusion was that the circulation cap provided the best value, since it is based on actual usage and not an arbitrarily set period of time. A HarperCollins ebook will remain on a library’s e-bookshelf until the maximum number of circulations is reached, and for many books 26 circulations could last several years.
We understand that the 26 cap is most challenging to libraries when it comes to best sellers and children’s books. We have also had several queries about what happens to the catalog record of a title after the cap is reached and how our books are showing up in catalogs. We’ve also heard concerns about the permanence of the collection. This kind of feedback has been very helpful in our ongoing examination of the issues involved. We are actively engaged in exploring responses to these questions. We also look forward to getting more data on how the profile of library patrons might be changing due to ebooks.
Would HarperCollins consider a direct relationship with libraries for digital content? What kind of distribution system would have to be in place on the library’s end
for this to be feasible?
The combination of publishers, libraries, and third-party wholesalers has always worked well to serve the library channel, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. Most publishers lack the resources to serve thousands of libraries adequately from a logistical point of view, and most libraries lack the infrastructure and capacity to house, protect, and distribute ebook files from myriad publishers.
We want to have as productive and beneficial a relationship as possible with every library that supports HarperCollins authors and titles, print or electronic.
A lot of readers complain about the intricacy of digital rights management (DRM). Is HarperCollins investigating alternatives?
Intellectual property is the core of our business. For our authors, it is their life’s work and their livelihood. Though far from perfect, DRM plays an important role in protecting the work of our authors. We are not considering changing this position at this time.
That said, we also want to make sure that the reading experience of our titles is easy and accessible to consumers. Our ultimate interest is to protect our titles from theft—certainly not to frustrate readers and librarians. As such, we welcome any technology developments that make the process easier. It is our hope, and belief, that the process will become simpler and more seamless as the market develops.
HarperCollins has a fabulous library marketing team led by Virginia Stanley, so I know input from libraries is being gathered on a regular basis. Have you considered setting up a more formal focus or advisory group to discuss collection management issues?
This is a good idea that we have used in the past and will consider. For the past several months, though, we have taken a wider approach and spoken to a variety of librarians serving different kinds of communities around the country as opportunities have arisen. We have spoken to at least half a dozen major consortia, two [American Library Association] committees, the Urban Libraries Council, and many librarians at ALA and Digipalooza, as well as held lots of ad hoc discussions along the way. This has been a valuable experience, and we think we have gained a lot of insight (if not a few more friends!) than if we had begun with a specific focus group. We plan to continue reaching out to these folks as we go along. As things settle down a bit, we will give the idea of forming an ongoing formal advisory group some serious consideration.
As libraries’ management of digital collections evolves, especially in smaller libraries with limited budgets, how would you view an entity such as the Digital Public Library of America including trade titles?
We understand that equal access to materials for all is at the heart of the library mission. The Digital Public Library of America is one of many new imaginative concepts that are launching right now. Since it is still very much in the planning stages, it is probably premature for us to comment, but we plan to follow developments closely.
|Katie Dunneback (@younglibrarian on Twitter) is a Librarian at the Bettendorf Public Library, IA. Josh Marwell is President of Sales, HarperCollins. Read on for the full interview as it appeared in BookSmack!|
JC: Publishers and authors these days are using a wide variety of approaches to marketing on Twitter and Facebook and other sites. What’s Melville House’s take on these platforms?
DJ: Look, the publishing business has always claimed—accurately, I think, but blindly—that books sell based ultimately on word of mouth. But you couldn’t really prove it. It was just, well, who knows what sold a book? Some good books didn’t sell, lots of bad ones did. Why? Beyond the obvious massive campaigns of the conglomerates, and in an age when there’s precious little discussion of books in the mainstream, no one really knew and chalked it up to word of mouth—aka magic.
But now you can prove it. Now you can actually see the word of mouth on a book and follow it on Facebook and Twitter and lots and lots and lots of blogs and webzines. What’s more, you can jump in! It’s fabulous, really fabulous. In short, I think they’re terrifically effective, because reading is after all a social act.
Many of your publishing activities may be easier because of your independence, but you must have a great list of worries, too. Your thoughts on being an indie publisher in the 21st century.
First, you raise a good point in that we are something of a rarity—I mean, most American publishing companies are not privately owned anymore. It means a unique set of challenges. In particular, unlike nonprofits and university presses, which live or die by fundraising, we live or die by sales. And this is not a very good retail environment right now, neither in the straightforward retail marketplace nor in the academic marketplace or library marketplace. They’ve all been whacked hard by the economic crisis, as well as by some major cultural upheaval and the country’s shift to the right.
My biggest fear used to be the media…. Now I worry mostly about the marketplace for books. Take the recent fall of Borders. It was widely reported as coming about because of ebooks and Amazon; this is a complete canard. For one thing, surveys are already showing that in indie stores located near where a Borders has closed, business has gone up significantly. So much for the notion that Amazon seemed more attractive than a brick-and-mortar store.
The notion that fewer people wanted to buy print books because they love ebooks was a much sexier trend story, and most media ran with it. But the fact is that Borders was a real estate story. It had a greedy but nincompoopish management team that took on too much overpriced real estate in the boom of the Nineties and had no money to deal with a changing marketplace. All of which was exacerbated by incredibly bad management decisions.
Witness further how the continent’s two other chains—Barnes & Noble here and Chapters Indigo in Canada—are reducing floor space devoted to books by as much as 50 percent and how most searches on Amazon.com now lead you not to a print book but the ebook version because ebooks and Godiva chocolates have higher profit margins. The lesson is not that fewer people want to buy print books but that fewer giant corporations want to sell them.
Thus, we have a marketplace that is really not about what people want or what’s best for the particular piece of art or politics you’re trying to sell, no matter the format. I worry that nobody gets it: this isn’t good for print books or ebooks.
Melville House has just announced its HybridBook initiative, which keeps the focus on the physical book but also gives value-added e-materials. Why this approach and not the more conventional approach that many mainstream publishers have taken?
Because the conventional approach many mainstream publishers have taken just strikes me as not being rooted in anything to do with making great literature or speaking truth to power. They’re not excited about the possibility—nay, probability—of ebooks leading to new art forms or more voices or a greater ability to reach a new or bigger audience, or because of anything particularly inherent to the form, let alone something more organically inventive such as our HybridBook project. They’re excited about ebooks mostly because they look like a more cost-effective way of continuing to do what they’ve been doing since the rise of conglomerate publishing 50 years ago. No more warehouses! Higher margins! No more printing or shipping bills! Yippee!
And so, perversely, they’re not really open to the possibilities inherent in digital media, and they’re wasting no time throwing out print technology while they’re at it—a technology that is 500 years old, yes, but still superior in many ways to much of what’s new. But when we should be talking about coexisting technologies and optimizing technologies, they’re not.
It is, in short, a vacant playground, and so we’ve been having a very good time indeed in it.
What role have libraries played in your publishing agenda in the past, and do you see any partnership roles and opportunities in the future?
For our very first book, Poetry After 9/11, [Melville House cofounder Valerie Merians] and I did a reading tour of libraries in Manhattan, culminating with the [New York Public Library] branch closest to the site of the [World Trade Center]. We just rereleased that book to mark the tenth anniversary of the event, and we’re doing another library tour for it.
Going back to the early days of my MobyLives blog, when some of my most interesting correspondents and guest columnists were librarians, it’s just always seemed to me that librarians were savvier about the changes book culture was going through. Librarians have always been on the cutting edge of technology, for example, whether for cataloging or storage or research. They always seemed to embrace it in a way that was heartening. And, of course, because of funding issues, they’re very hip politically, and who has a better feel for local communities than a librarian?
One reason behind the development of the HybridBook project was that we saw it as an opportunity for a deeper partnership with libraries, starting with seeing it as a whole new way to revive and champion some of the fundamental works of any collection—works by giants such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Flaubert, Joyce, and so on. And the very stuff of the illuminations is a reenactment of a wonderful hunt through the stacks of a library. Isn’t that where we all got our start as book lovers?
|Jim Carmin, who blogs at Solar Mirage, has been the John Wilson Special Collections Librarian at Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR, since 1998, where he also organizes and curates several exhibitions annually on literary and book arts. Dennis Johnson is Publisher at Melville House. Read on for the full interview as it appeared in BookSmack!|