Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Libraries and Litigation

In the last post, I talked about librarians whining about ebook price increases for libraries. “Boo hoo, if we don’t get these ebooks we’ll die and Random House is being so mean! Wahhhhh!” It’s not a pretty sight.

But gosh darn it, some of these librarians aren’t going to sit idly by whining and complaining. They’re going to get the law on their side.

This story from Nashville is both inspiring and pathetic. It’s good that librarians are getting the news out to the public about ebooks and libraries. The librarian sounded tough: “if prices continue to remain high, the library will not be able to purchase eBooks.”

I’ve been questioning all along why libraries are spending public money on ebooks they don’t really own and can’t do much with, and it’s nice to see a librarian taking a stand in public and saying that at some point enough is enough.

However, the final paragraph, which I assume must have also come from the library spokesperson, was just sad.

“A non-profit has been created to go before legislators to do something about the price hikes. Right now they are just hoping publishers will make more titles available and be reasonable when negotiating with public libraries.”

The last sentence expresses the desperation librarians are feeling because they know that when all books are ebooks they’ll be out of a job…sorry, I mean because they are passionate about making sure the latest bestselling thriller makes it into the hands of as many people as possible. Because, as one ineffectual group fighting for better ebook access puts it, if people can’t get free bestsellers from the public library, democracy itself (!) will die.

I was most curious about the non-profit that supposedly has been created, but I couldn’t find any more information about that. (If anyone knows what the article is talking about, please let us know.)

There’s an ALA group that’s working on the ebook publishing issue, but creating yet another ALA task force isn’t the same thing as creating a non-profit.

Regardless, this non-profit will end up being as ineffective as any ALA task force if it expects any legislators to “do something about the price hikes.” What could this group, if it exists, possibly be thinking?

Though the story is from Tennessee, I’m assuming that whatever non-profit allegedly set up is something more national. Considering that Random House is a large international publisher, it would be absurd to expect the Tennessee legislature to pass laws compelling Random House to sell ebooks to libraries at a  price libraries like.

Wait a minute. You know what would be just as absurd? Asking the U.S. Congress to pass such laws or regulations. This is an example of librarians going off the deep end, for several reasons.

The biggest reason is that the House of Representatives is currently dominated by Republicans. Since ebook pricing has nothing to do with either cutting taxes or restricting abortion rights, it hasn’t a chance in hell of becoming the object of any legislation.

The other big problem is that there’s nothing that can really be done. What do librarians expect? A law requiring publishers to sell ebooks to libraries at a given price? Or better yet, a law requiring all publishers to sell ebooks to libraries at whatever price libraries deem fair? That’ll show you, Macmillan!

Given the current understanding of intellectual property law, that idea is ridiculous.

There’s not even a compelling reason. If the government doesn’t care if people get equal access to healthcare or education, it certainly won’t care that they don’t get equal access to ebooks.

The librarians might protest and claim the government is already considering suing publishers for raising prices, and this is the same thing.

Okay, so the “Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly colluding to raise the price of electronic books,” but that has nothing to do with the Random House decision, even though another news story coming out of Nashville made the connection.

First of all, Random House is the only one of the Big Six publishers not named by the Justice Department, so Random House isn’t a target yet.

Second of all, Random House deciding what to charge institutions for its own books isn’t collusion. Far from colluding, Random House has broken from the pack by allowing libraries to purchase new ebooks at all. Sheesh, librarians always need something to complain about.

Next thing you know, libraries will be suing ebook publishers to try to force them to exploit libraries with their ridiculous ebook contracts.

For all I know, that is the next step. It’s America, after all, and Americans like litigation. Some of them also like libraries. Libraries and litigation even sound good together. Libraries can sue the Big Six all the way to the Supreme Court, where they will then lose, but in the meantime it will make them feel like they’re doing something.



  1. Christopher Elliott says:

    Question – Why would a patron want to wait 5 months to read “The Hunger Games” on their kindle when there are 5 paper copies on the shelf in the library? Answer – because of the novelty of “OMG I got an e-reader and I gotta use it for EVERYTHING!!!”.

    The idea is ridiculous, most libraries restrict the number of e-books anyway, which pretty much knocks a big reason for an e-reader out of the water. If their reader can hold 1000 books and you only let them have 3, is print that much worse?

    If a library insists on e-books, concentrate on small publishers, independents and non-fiction, books that a patron would not be so quick to purchase from Amazon or Baker & Taylor.

    As I’ve said before, the whole novelty of the e-reader will settle down in a few years and libraries will be in a better position to decide what they want and need to offer.

  2. Curt Tagtmeier says:

    Response to librarians being made non-essential:
    I like to tell people all the time in our one-on-one and classroom training. There is no magic easy button for eBooks and their devices. Yes, technology does make life infinitely easier, but that does not necessarily mean that it is always easy. Why should eBooks be any different than when you learned to use a computer, Microsoft Word, or the Internet? There is a learning curve that requires a certain set of skills to download and successfully read an eBook. This leads to the next point that expectations are much too high by many novice users as to the ease of access for downloads. Why does this gap exist? One reason lies in the fact as allude to earlier that 75% of those who use dedicated e-readers are seniors. This group is not as tech savvy about technology and may not understand as well the actual process of downloading an eBook. They may look upon any explanation of a download as too much work, too much jargon because they do not have any prior experience to base it on. Recently, I tried using the app Overdrive uses for the iPhone and actually said to myself, “Gee, without prior experience with the iPod, this might be somewhat challenging.” The problem as I see it is twofold, the user expects an easier experience, but they also do not possess the skills to make that experience any easier.

  3. Curt Tagtmeier says:

    Response to eBook publishing business plan: The idea that you need to limit downloads or raise prices to offset library downloads is ludicrous. You already have a barrier with library downloads and a reward with store downloads. Store downloads allow you to take your time to read a title, but library downloads do not. Only the diehard read every second users will take advantage of library downloads because of a lack of renewal possibility. What about the fact that libraries are starting to purchase the ebook devices and buy directly from the store for the missing authors and check those devices out. Hmmm, how will the publishers stop that?

  4. Christopher – Bobbi Newman agrees with you. Last week she posted, Should Libraries Get Out of the eBook Business?. It’s already received over 130 comments and people are still weighing in.

  5. I’ll tell you what gets me most about this eBook story. It’s that the ALA gets to set the tone in the media and the media will not go outside the ALA line. The AP, if I recall, took the ALA press release and basically reprinted it. For this story. This “Wahhhhh!” story.

    The media, especially the library media, especially the ALA media, are not reporting on a much, much bigger story that happened at about the same time.

    The author of the Children’s Internet Protection Act [CIPA] has revealed that the ALA has effective control of a third of American communities so they will not avail themselves of CIPA that enables communities to keep porn out of its libraries.

    Given the ALA spent a HUGE amount of money and time on the CIPA case, given the ALA has a HUGE national influence regarding the CIPA case, one would think the CIPA author saying the ALA is intentionally misleading communities would be major news.

    But it is not. On the other hand, one library media source removed a comment I made having the CIPA author’s link. Another media source, the Executive Editor of a certain library journal, abruptly got off the phone with me when I told him/her who I was. He/she never called back nor responded to my email about what the CIPA author said.

    So the media pounds away on the eBook issue, but is completely silent, even actively working to remove exposure, of the CIPA author outing the ALA as endangering children nationwide.

    That’s what gets me most about this eBook story. It pales in comparison to the significance of some organization that lost in the US Supreme Court getting to effectively thwart the law that people have been working towards for decades, with several previous attempts to protect children being shot down, and children remain exposed to harm as a result.

    Can you imagine the outcry if someone thwarted library patron privacy laws? Oh yes, for that Judith Krug was in the New York Times stating she wished the Delran, FL, librarian had followed the privacy law instead of turning in an actual 9/11 terrorist to the police.

    ALA harming children in a third of American libraries, says the CIPA author? Silence. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh.


    “CIPA Author Exposes ALA Deception; Ernest Istook Who Authored Children’s Internet Protection Act Calls Out American Library Association for Using Legal Tactics to Claim First Amendment Protection for Public Library Pornography Viewing, Causing Librarians to Be Indifferent and Leave Children Unprotected”

    And thank goodness for columns like the AL’s where people can get around the ALA censors.

  6. Dagny Taggart says:

    Can I suggest that going before congress is not an appropriate way to solve trumped-up “problems”? If the prices of the electron books are too high for your demand (as exhibited through library budget), then simply do not purchase them. “Problem” solved.

  7. I think it’s like anything- the market is finding it’s natural resting state.

    As for me, now that I’m a boss (being a boss LIKE A BOSS, btw)- I’m attempting to balance the demand on a budget. I’m using Freading- or will be soon- and paying a little bit for smaller publishers’ titles to test if demand is really what demanders say it is.

    As for litigation- I want to sue apple for ipads being to expensive for me to own one for every member of my family. Can I get a nonprofit together to do that?

    How sad and stupid.

  8. anonymous says:

    I wonder how many people — including librarians — understand how much is coming out now exclusively as ebooks? It’s not like they can get a print copy instead. Not much of the big 6 stuff, of course, but libraries now can’t get at any version of as much as a third of the titles on Amazon’s top 100 Kindle most downloaded list.

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