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The Deals Just Get Worse

A kind reader sent in this piece from American Libraries. Amazingly enough, it contains a bit of actual news rather than the usual library cheering section. It might be best just to quote from the email quoted in full in the article:

I’m over-the-Empire-State-Building excited to announce that effective today Penguin Group (USA) has agreed to expand its pilot with 3M beyond the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library and license access of its ebooks to all of our library systems. Titles are available for purchase immediately in the Library Admin Tool.

That’s from the Collection Development Manager at the 3M Cloud Library. “Over-the-Empire-State-Building excited” sounds pretty darn excited, and why wouldn’t she be? She’s giving librarians another clear opportunity to show what dupes they can be about ebooks.

And why dupes? Well, the terms of the 3M agreement aren’t exactly good deals for libraries.

The terms that 3M originally brokered still apply: There is a six-month delay on new titles and term of use is one year from purchase date. Library patrons will be allowed to access ebooks remotely using library-compatible reading devices, under the one-user, one-copy model.

The delay in new titles seems entirely reasonable to me, and I’ve already supported that position. There’s no solid reason why publishers should let libraries compete with them in the first few important months after a title’s release if they can help it.

But expiring after a year? That’s sort of ridiculous. For most books it won’t matter anyway, and Penguin won’t see any more money. It seems to be a way for Penguin to see just how many librarians will line up to be swindled, or rather, how much public money will go for this swindle.

However, I expect plenty of libraries will take advantage of the deal, or rather let the deal take advantage of them. After all, the “customers” want ebooks! That’s what some librarians say. And there’s the occasional article about how ebooks give libraries a “new life.”

But there have also been numerous articles in the last few months detailing the problems libraries face getting ebooks. The goal of those is to put pressure on publishers while educating library patrons about why they can’t borrow most of the ebooks they can buy at Amazon.

That pressure doesn’t seem to be working, if the Penguin move is any indication. At least it’s not working in favor of libraries or the people who fund them.

So the options now seem to be for libraries to pay 3 times the price for the ebook, pay a regular price but have only 26 loans, or pay a regular price but only have access to it for a year – all while still having the one-checkout limit.

Maybe librarians will start stepping away from these deals, but I doubt it. Not long ago I saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time in years, and librarians salivating after ebooks remind me of Lando Calrissian. With every new negotiation, the deal gets worse, and the librarians sit anxiously by while publishers (sounding remarkably like James Earl Jones in an iron lung) say, “Pray I do not alter it further.”



  1. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    The question is whether she will be over-One-World-Trade-Center excited when it is completed in 2013 and officially becomes the tallest structure in NYC — just about when those first Penguin purchases start to expire…

  2. PremproPosse says:

    Well, by now we all know that MLSers cannot count. Case-in-point is Jenica P. Rogers, Director of Libraries at SUNY Potsdam – around whom much echo chamber noise was made surrounding her ideologic ballyhoo against the American Chemical Society subscription package which cost was claimed by Rogers to have increased by 71% in 5 years with the 2013 proposal representing 10% of her entire acquisitions budget which perforce caused her to take a “tough stand” by cancelling that University’s subscription. Not a peep was later heard from her fellow arithmophobics when Rogers – calling into question ACS’ mission and business model- later retracted those misrepresented figures (which were incorrectly quoted to SPARC and summarized by many others) down to 48% (from 71%) and was compelled to apologize about other errant data. Her misleading calculations also included a falsely – yet loudly – proclaimed number of SUNY Potsdam majors (68? according to Rogers’ creative “new millenium” math method).

  3. Librarian_ish says:

    I’d expect the one-year deal to become more standard, considering how many books are becoming movies. It takes time to rewrite a book into a screenplay, so the movie provides publishers with a second opportunity to make money off their back catalog a little later. It’s a solid business move, no matter how much it sucks for libraries.

  4. Actually, the expiration makes a kind of sense too. Unlike a sale, the publisher is entering into an enduring commitment, and probably would like to be able to adjust that commitment from time to time as conditions change. That’s one reason why contracts expire. This is certainly not ideal for libraries (which tend to take a much longer view than publishers) but I like it better than most consumer contracts these days, in which the provider can make any changes he wants anytime while the consumer is bound to whatever the terms have become today, his only recourse being to break the relationship.

    In short: it’s a reasonable deal but not a very attractive one. Library systems should be making counter-offers: this is what we want — how much would you need for that? (Of course, be prepared to negotiate down toward what you think it’s worth!)

  5. Tired Librarian says:

    Perhaps Ms. Rogers should consider a career change -politics.

  6. Perhaps the Director can find enough wiggle-room in her budget for a SUNY-sponsored remedial math MOOC?

  7. I’m not sure that a 1 year cutoff will be such a bad thing. It will give libraries the opportunity to purchase newer titles that are in more demand. If prices are reasonable, this would be a win-win for both publishers and libraries alike.
    Susan Riley, Director, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY

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