April 23, 2018

ALA Midwinter 2012: ALA To Meet With Top Executives of Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin on Ebook Lending

The leaders of the American Library Association (ALA) will meet at the end of this month with top executives from Macmillan, Simon & Schuster (S&S), and Penguin publishing houses, which all do not allow libraries to circulate their ebooks (in Penguin’s case the prohibition is on new releases only).

“We asked for it and we got both the CEOs of Macmillan and S&S to be at our meetings along with a number of senior staff of these companies,” said Molly Raphael, the president of ALA. “I think they are at least interested in having some kind of dialogue, but I don’t know what it means. We’ll find out more when we go,” she said.

The meetings will occur January 30, 31, and February 1 in New York City, according to Keith Fiels, ALA’s executive director who also will attend.

“I want to assure you that the dialog will begin with us saying ‘you need to deal with libraries and you need to do this as soon as possible,’ then we can have a dialog  starting from there,” Fiels said. “I think for the membership, this is what’s keeping people awake at night,” he said.

Alan Inouye, the director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, and Maureen Sullivan, ALA’s 2012-13 president, will also attend.

The news came at a meeting Saturday evening of ALA’s Working Group on Digital Content and Libraries at the Midwinter Meeting in Dallas. Raphael appointed the group in the fall 2011.

Fiel’s message about the importance of ebook lending to ALA’s membership was reinforced by Sari Feldman, the executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio and a co-chair of the working group.

“As a public librarian whose entire bread and butter is first-run, new, hot stuff, if we lose that we will have to completely reinvent ourselves,” Feldman said.

Fiels, Raphael, and Inouye had previously met in New York this past September with Tom Allen, the president of the Association of American Publishers as well as the library marketing people from many publishers, and the upcoming meetings are an extension of that effort.

“We feel we need to move some dialog with these publishers forward,” Raphael said. “We also want to understand a little bit more from the publishers’ point of view,” she said.

Raphael will also be part of a panel at AAP’s annual meeting in March, along with Jim Neal, the university librarian at Columbia University and Dr. Anthony Marx, the president and CEO of New York Public Library.

Gary Strong, the university librarian at the University of California Los Angeles and a member of the ALA working group, asked Raphael and Fiels about advocacy at ALA conferences, including the present one.

“What would ALA’s reaction be should membership want to initiate protests within the exhibit area against those publishers who are clamping limitations on the use of ebooks in public libraries?” he asked Fiels and Raphael.

Fiels said that he would not rule out a lawsuit or a public campaign in the press against certain publishers, but he said that though ALA controlled the trade show it could not legally organize a commercial boycott.

“There is a potential criminal liability there is what it boils down to,” he said.

Fiels said individual members were free to do what they wanted at the conference, and Andy Woodworth, an adult services librarian at Bordentown Library, NJ, and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker, assembled the “concerned librarian’s” guide to the exhibit hall before the conference began.

“I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for librarians to meet with company representatives to discuss their concerns about current contentious legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Research Works Act  as well as ongoing concerns (such as library eBook lending),” Woodworth wrote on his blog January 12.

A few of the 27 working group members at the meeting agreed that attendees should take advantage of the conference to send a message.

“We have many publishers represented here at the conference and we have many opportunities to engage with them,” said Robert Maier, the director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. “If 25 people did that it probably would have an impact,” he said, even if the discussion weren’t with a CEO.

Maier said this should be done “not in attack mode, but in how-do-we-work-together mode,” and Jamie LaRue, the director of the Douglas Country Libraries in Colorado, likened it to a reference interview. LaRue said ALA could turn the results of those interviews into a conference report to share with publishers.

“At least we are asking ‘tell me what your concerns are,’” LaRue said.

Appreciating the position of publishers was something librarians had to work on, according to Pat  Schuman, a past ALA president and a co-founder of Neal-Schuman Publishers which was acquired by ALA in December (reportedly for about $7 million).

“I don’t think the [library] field understands publishers. You have to realize you are dealing with a low margin industry and these people are terrified, they don’t know what to do,” Schuman said. “Articulating policies are great but I think we have to also understand where publishers are coming from and develop some models — not just policy, not just message — because just saying you’re bad guys is not going to do it,” she said.

Schuman and others encouraged ALA leadership to look beyond the Big Six publishers, for models and for allies.

“There are many kinds of publishers, like university presses, who are doing all kinds of things that might provide some models,” Schuman said. “It’s not always the large publishers that are out front. … There are many publishers who are already selling ebooks to libraries who might be useful allies,” she said.

There was sentiment among some conference attendees that ALA needed to assert itself more. A snap poll by LJ of 25 conference goers taken in the conference center’s main hall showed 17 respondents favored using the conference to send a message in some way, although many acknowledged it was a complex situation.

“It’s hard to say ‘we’re not going to support you as a publisher’ because then I feel you are taking away from the people you serve,” said Lindsey Levinsohn, who recently became a youth services librarian at  Sandusky Library in Ohio and who was formerly a lead library advocate at OverDrive.

The financial support publishers lend the conferences also complicates the issue, according to Kitti Canepi, director of library services at Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson, NV, and, therefore, the conference is probably not the best place to push back at publishers.

“What I try to do is tell vendors this is the ebook platform that works for me in my institution and if you don’t have that kind of a platform—which for me is multi-site and unrestricted number of simultaneous users–then I’m not interested so don’t talk to me,” Canepi said. It is more a question of informing publishers what models they need to offer if they want to market to libraries, she said.

Regardless of approach, there was a feeling among some working group members that the group’s two-year mandate may present issues of timeliness, since there are many librarians dealing with these questions on a daily basis who need to know what ALA considers a reasonable approach to the issue.

“This conversation has been going on in ALA now for years, and the thing we can’t afford to have happen is for this drag out and not get resolved,” said Charles Parker, executive director of the Tampa Bay Library Consortium. “We need to come up with an approach that will yield real results in a timely manner,” he said.

Visit LJ’s ALA Midwinter Meeting News channel for complete coverage of the conference, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Image By Maximilian Schönherr (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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  1. Librarians are having at least as much trouble as publishers coming up with a new business model in response to e-books. With the entry of e-books to the landscape a queer feature of printed books has taken on salience. Their intellectual property content has been being sold to libraries and loaned to patrons for it’s availability, not its use. The content creators get compensated even if the content is never accessed. Unread books. E-books don’t need to take on this unfortunate attribute. Patron’s having possession of e-books they aren’t reading? Why do we want that? They could be distributed through a public library server in a way that compensated authors whenever their work was actually being read. Why compensate availability when you can compensate actual use?

    How could such a system work? Make all works in the system available all the time, as many copies as necessary to meet demand. Put a by-the-minute simultaneous lease/lend transaction on the patron’s device that kicks in whenever the work is actually being read. (Amazon already knows exactly when their e-books are being read because they need the information to sync devices.) Patron’s free daily usage of a work could be limited, with an option to pay for extensions beyond the daily limit at a rate higher than the library pays, generating cash flow to the library’s leasing budget. The real demand for a work is known. Pricing, budgets and limits can be established. Free market. Free libraries.

    • Thanks you for reasoned consideration, Mr. Cady. Authors need to be compensated for their work, and this seems like a reasonable compromise.

      “…if you don’t have that kind of a platform—which for me is multi-site and unrestricted number of simultaneous users–then I’m not interested so don’t talk to me.”

      This attitude accomplishes little, in my opinion. I’m all for libraries and librarians. Love them, in fact. But compromise is necessary to make this a fair playing field for everyone.

    • Jeffrey Donlan says:

      Mr. Cady’s model takes advantage of appealing aspects of digital content. Lease vs. ownership bothers me, though. The role of libraries as cooperative purchasing collectives–shared ownership–goes away. Instead we have a pay-per-use setup that strains the justification for taxpayer support. It’s how I feel about the Freegal music service. Such services are just different enough to cross the threshold from sharing into wealth redistribution. The owned collections can also serve archival functions and ensure access just when it’s needed most–when leased access is removed (especially for political reasons). Maybe I’m short-sighted, but I’m not ready to concede that the importance of publicly owned library collections has passed. Of course, I think journalism remains vitally important to our country, but that’s not stopping it from disappearing.

      I think publishers and authors may come to see libraries as their friends again. Libraries have been a major market for most books published (and this can include e-books), they bring money to the table, they obey the law (something many consumers don’t do in this digital age), and they nurture the very culture of reading and inquiry upon which the livelihood of authors and publishers depends.

      I’m glad these former friends are starting to talk.

    • Mr Dolan says, “Lease vs. ownership bothers me, though.”

      What if once in the system, the right to lease was permanent?

      Price is a more interesting issue in a pay-to-read system. I’ve read that most books sold to the public are never read. And a library survey has never asked, “How much of the last book you returned did you actually read?” Such a system would need a trial run of this to see what the demand for books actually being read is. Has an economist ever studied pricing of library materials?

    • Jeffrey Donlan says:

      I admit at least part of my discomfort comes from looking at a brave new world. Mr. Cady’s model takes a look at wholesale change based on the characteristics of the medium. Right now, we replicate the print model for lending digital objects–one purchased copy, one simultaneous user. Controlling scarcity rather than controlling abundance. We signed on with Recorded Books downloadable audio when they first started because it seemed a promising model. Everything was available all the time; they had some way of keeping track of use to further compensate authors/publishers with heavily used books. That model didn’t take off. I’m sure there are many details to work out, but it’s a model that takes advantage of the nature of digital stuff. The change will take mutual agreement among authors/publishers/readers (or creators/providers/consumers). A digital world so constrained by rights that sharing and fair use are history will make a very different society. Not necessarily worse, but.

      Anyway, I think Mr. Cady is headed in the inevitable direction. The medium has its own gravity.

  2. I hope they also meet with Harper Collins. We’d really like to purchase from them but this 26 circulation limit is too low.

  3. I’ve been convinced for awhile that there’s no good deal for libraries if eBook business models resemble anything like pBook models. I truly hope John’s model gets further attention from all interested parties: authors, publishers, device makers, libraries and patrons. His suggestion to “pay-when-you-read” versus “pay-when-you-publish” could potentially get everyone on the same side to create, discover, promote and make available good content.

    1) Libraries could focus on becoming discovery zones and promoters of good work and not be saddled with the high cost of “just-in-case” collection models I referenced in the previous comment. Libraries have what no other entity in the value chain has: widespread public trust, intimate embodied connections with people in nearly every city, town and hamlet in America, and trained librarians who know how to find and associate content, do reader’s advisory, etc.
    2) Authors/publishers who create & distribute good material would be highly compensated. They’d have every reason to support libraries who were promoting their content.
    3) Retailers such as Amazon, Apple and Google could view libraries as competition – though if libraries played it right they could position themselves as “frienemies” and co-exist with the large retailers. This is because they’d be courting and reaching customers who would not otherwise purchase content from the larger retailers. And, if libraries were smart enough to stay out of the device business (a real rat hole for libraries) they could be seen as helping drive the device business for the large retailers. (To grow a content consumer is to grow a device consumer.)
    3) Patrons would have a variety of means to access good content. Big retailers could continue to offer it as part of a broad product offering (as Amazon, Walmart, etc do now). They’d promote content generally, as they do other commodities. Some people like the convenience of shopping for books and toothpaste in the same place, and would still have the option. Libraries would service those who seek subject specific content, or something good for a 4hr plane ride, etc. I’m talking research and reader’s advisory here — something no computer algorithm will ever do as well as a good librarian.

    Lots to work out here, for sure, though I think it’s a very promising idea — much better for libraries and patrons than what we’ve seen playing out over the past two years.