Open Letter to E-Book Creators and Sellers from Library Customers

Reposting this open letter from an LJ article, thanks to @mlharper for the tweet.

An Open Letter to E-Book Creators and Sellers from Library Customers

Libraries and their customers have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with authors, publishers, and vendors, based on the printed word – books. Now, with the emergence of popular e-books and e-book readers, libraries are positioned to continue that partnership with these exciting new products.
Libraries have much to offer e-book sellers as you work to establish a new successful business model around the e-book format. At the same time libraries need e-book providers to offer e-pub materials in ways that enable and support use by libraries and library users. Here is the deal.

We will help you sell popular e-books.

–      When users find e-books in library catalogs or on websites, they can borrow them and may have the option to rent or buy them.

–      Libraries buy lots of books, spending about $2 billion annually.

–      Libraries are a big part of the reading public’s lives. They help people develop a passion for reading as children and indulge it as adults. Public libraries alone report 1.4 billion visits and 2.1 billion circulations annually.

–      Library staff will develop customers for you. Librarians are great at helping the public learn about technology and will help readers learn about e-books and e-book readers

In order for us to help you sell and promote your e-books, we need you to sell or license them to us in a manner that works with our business model.

–      Provide for electronic check-out to customers similar to how we lend hard copy items.

–      Offer popular titles at reasonable prices.

–      Provide e-books in standard format with standard digital rights management.

–      Offer them to individual libraries and allow libraries to pool resources by selling to groups and consortia.

Books!  Books!  Books! – Writers, book sellers, and libraries have a long and mutually supportive relationship based on books! Please work with libraries and help us offer new popular e-book titles to libraries so we can continue this relationship as we move into this exciting new future!

Thank you for your consideration!

Linda Crowe
Executive Director
Pacific Library Partnership

Charlie Parker
Executive Director
Tampa Bay Library Consortium

Henry Bankhead
Principal Librarian
Los Gatos Public Library

Al Carlson
System Administrator
Tampa Bay Library Consortium

Heather Teysko

Chad Mairn, M.L.I.S.
Information Services Librarian
St. Petersburg College

4 thoughts on “Open Letter to E-Book Creators and Sellers from Library Customers”

  1. This is a good letter and hits on the head many of the areas I always heard from libraries about eBooks. A few things that worry me though is the idea of copying the check out model they do for print. In my mind that’s wrong for eBooks.

    First off, eBooks should be available to everyone all the time, if you copy the print checkout, you may only get one instance or have to buy multiple copies. If I’m reading this wrong, let me know someone, but current models by pubs and aggregators allows for single use or multiple simultaneous use. Which would be better, only 1 person in a class can use the eBook or the whole class and campus? I’m going with campus.

    There is a form of rental currently, it’s EBL’s model of patron driven with a short term loan that leads to a purchase. This is a great model for some subject areas and others, you may want to perform collection development on it. If your vendor can accommodate your current workflow for purchasing print, then they should be able to for eBooks as well. One thing we have to remember is that academic libraries work differently for acquisitions then say K-12. One size fits all won’t work with eBooks in that regard.

    Licenses and DRM are the gorillas in the room. Many pubs have their own unique DRM and license arrangements, then the aggregators have theirs as well. The key to remember is that the aggregators are working within constraints from the pubs, not blaming the pubs, but if a restriction is in place, a vendor can only do so much. But keeping talking to them, best thing you can do is have a conversation. In regards to the standard format, this comes down into a whole other conversation. You have multiple readers, that read multiple formats or in the kindle’s case, it’s own format. makes it even more challenging. Then the part you don’t know about, each format, if best practice is followed, should have it’s own isbn; meaning an eBook could have 9 isbns, one for each format including print, wow.

    In regards to pricing, when you say popular titles, do you mean ficition, if so, this is where the agency model will come into effect. if you mean academic titles, then we are in another arena altogether, and Sue I’m sure doesn’t want me to use up all of her comment space.

    There are consortia deals you can do, vendors that work with the consortia and small groups, Blackwell did this, I believe Ingram, YBP do as well. It’s all about how you want to structure it and what your goal is in the end.

    Happy to talk more with anyone who wants to, but I’m going to end now so Sue doesn’t ban me with my long posts I have a history of. Heck, even LJ can give me a call or email, happy to explain things.


  2. If it is an eTextbook, then the individual student is responsible for purchasing it. The professor must order eTextbooks that are readable on a variety of devices. I think licensing an eBook should be more flexible and include at least 4-5 simultaneous users with a clear “due date” so that more people can have access to it. If it is a supplemental course reserve item then the professor needs to order enough titles to go within the limits mentioned above or see if the title can be bundled with other course materials. If not, then users will get discouraged if the books they want to or are required to read are never available.

    And I never thought of an eBook with different formats actually having an ISBN for each format. That is crazy. And lastly, wouldn’t it be great if readers who purchased an eBook from Amazon, for example, could donate it to a library when they are finished reading it? It has been purchased, Amazon made a profit, and the eBook could continue to educate/entertain others. This type of functionality would be fantastic if it could be included in an existing and/or not-yet-created business model. I realize that profit is the motivator for our vendors/publishers, but perhaps a library’s ROI could be calculated and added to a company like Amazon’s business model. I know, I am a dreamer.

  3. (Long comment. Sorry)
    Let’s simplify our exploration of eBook purchasing options for libraries by exploring it in the past tense in a parallel universe that is very much like our own, but runs a few years ahead of us. Here’s what happened there.

    Arthur Author discovered some long lost correspondence from the Colonial era detailing several previously unknown adventures
    and inventions of Benjamin Franklin. He was able to turn this into a book. Arthur derived his title from an apocryphal story of a tavern brawl in Philadelphia after which Sam Adams blamed the damage to the tavern on Ben by pointing at him and saying, “Ben, there, done that.”

    Arthur used McMuffen—a small publisher often confused with its larger cousin–as his publisher and shrewdly negotiated a deal that allowed him to decide how and when various formats of his book would be released. The hardcover edition of Ben, There, Done That came out in January with a list price of $30. Amazone and Borderlesss got it for $15 and sold it directly to readers for $25. Baker & Sailor got it for $20 and sold it to libraries at $22 per copy, processed.

    The author’s quirky style and the public’s fascination with new revelations about good old Ben led to interviews with Oprah and Stephen Colbert. Bouyed by the Colbert bump, the book climbed onto the best seller list.

    Being an avid reader and library user himself, Arthur authorized the title to be released as an eBook with a few unique stipulations. Amazone, Barnes & Nibble, Grapple, and the Pony Reader Store bought the rights to ‘distribute’ Ben, There, Done That as an eBook. They sold it to end users for $10 and gave Arthur $5 for each copy sold. End users could read it on their Spindle, Rook, gPad, or Pony Reader. Or on their laptop, netbook, gPhone, Blockberry or Droid, provided they had downloaded the free eReading software.

    Overdraft and Engram were able buy distribution rights to libraries. They sold it to libraries for $15 per copy for one-patron-at-a-time checkout and gave Arthur $10 for each such sale. Patrons downloaded the eBooks from the Engram and Overdraft servers. Checkout was authenticated by a library card lookup
    in the local patron database. DRM was based on the date-time stamp of check-out, the loan period, and the internal clock on the user’s laptop. Engram even offered a free utility program that enabled the user to transfer the book to a Spindle, Rook, or Pony reader after downloading it. Overdraft has been working on a similar tool.

    For public libraries, Arthur also authorized the sale of Multiple Simultaneous Access (MSA) purchases. For $30 per title (of which Arthur got $15), the library could buy the right to check the title out to up to 10 patrons simultaneously. This right was time limited and expired after one year. Once the MSA right had expired, the library retained the right to check the title out in the traditional way: one patron at a time (1PAT). And it had the option to renew the MSA agreement.

    Academic libraries also became interested in the title as additional reading for American History and Government classes. For $50 per title (of which Arthur got $25) a college could loan an unlimited number of copies to enrolled students for an entire semester. As was the case with public libraries, this right expired after one calendar year. However it could be renewed at the same rate.

    But Arthur wasn’t done yet. Copies of Ben, There, Done That purchased under the One Patron At a Time (1PAT) agreement often had waiting lists. Arthur allowed interested libraries to rent copies to patrons at $1 per week, payable through PayPal. Arthur got 25% of the income; the library got 25%, and the vendor—Overdraft or Engram—got 50%.

    Many patrons enjoyed the book so much that they wanted to own their own copy. Patrons who purchased it through the library could get a discount on the purchase, and the library they went through got a piece of the action. Generally the sellers were local book stores. Arthur believed in promoting small businesses and local businesses, and he gave local bookstores a slightly better discount than he gave the big vendors, which allowed a small discount for the patron and a small percentage of the sale for the library. Libraries whose charters did not allow them to “make money” could still participate. Forgoing their cut gave their patrons a slightly better deal. But the library still got the good will and the local book store still got the business and the recognition as a library partner.

    Some patrons who bought the book decided, eventually, that they did not want to own it forever. They were able to donate it to the library and take the standard tax deduction. The library could easily add it to their own collection as a 1PAT copy, since there was no need to add a plastic jacket, spine label, security strip, or barcode. Actually, this has worked so far (in our parallel universe) only for Kohah and Nevergreen libraries. They are the only libraries so far who have chosen to, and been able to, store eBooks on their own servers and check them out via the Web. Storage space wasn’t the issue. At about 600 Kilobytes per title, hundreds of thousands of titles can be stored on any current server or even on a $100 1 TeraByte portable hard drive. And a Download Library can be set up as a web site on any low end server. The tough part was writing the code that enabled the patron authentication (via RPA or EZProxy), the download of a DRM’d copy to the patron, and a marker on the master title of 1PAT copies that this copy would be unavailable for ‘x’ days. Kohah and Nevergreen programmers were able to create and debug the necessary code in about 30 days. The corporate ILS vendors are still working on it, but it is rumored to be ready “real soon now”.

    These creative sales, lending, and renting arrangements were made possible by attributes the eBook has and the hard copy lacks. Once written, the eBook can be distributed as easily as email. The costs of lumber, paper, ink, chemicals, labor, and shipping are entirely avoided. Publishers who support authors during the writing of a book and who contribute to the research and editing have costs they must recoup, and that is reflected in their contract with the author. The same is true for promotion
    costs borne by the publisher or other vendors in the supply chain. But there is no measurable difference between selling one copy or 1,000 copies to a single customer, whether the customer is an individual or a library. Shipping from any party to any party is always instantaneous and nearly free. Cost avoidance, instant delivery, and ‘perfect’ digital copying allow the content of an eBook to be sold, rented, loaned or leased to one user or to many with nearly equal ease.

    All of the participants in the supply chain still make money, but the end users pay less, because the unnecessary parts have been removed from the chain.

    This brief description of what happened in our parallel universe does not answer all the questions nor describe all the possibilities ePublishing offers for libraries. Maybe when the portal from our universe to that one reappears, we’ll visit again and learn more.

  4. I stumbled on this thread because I was just saying to my colleague (public library reference librarians) that we should be working towards patron carried ereaders where all they have to do is enter a number to download the book. They get the number from a book sized display box -the front being the book cover and the back a synopsis. If we started with new popular books that are leased already we could save big IF the distributor only charged the library for the titles downloaded. So instead of paying $XXXX to lease XX titles per month (and getting titles that do not move and not enough of the popular ones) we only pay for what the patrons “check out”. Also, I do not see why there would be ANY limit to the number of “check outs” per title, just charge us 20 cents or something for each “check out”.

    Eventually the whole library could work like this with new books charged at a higher rate than older titles and public domain titles for free.

    This is rad, I know but think of the potential flexibility in user service. Someone would have to work out a deal with a generic ereader, book distributor, software vendor and then get the patrons to buy the ereader for say $75. The benefit to these patrons is guaranteed no waiting for new-pop titles!

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