Publishers, please read this, particularly those of you involved with the Publishers Association.
Reprinted in full from Library Journal, October 15, 2010. Francine, you go girl!
We missed you, but, more importantly, you missed out on an opportunity to engage in discussion with a large market already invested in the future of ebooks. Library Journal and School Library Journal’s first virtual ebook summit—a daylong event on September 29—focused on how public, academic, and school libraries are addressing digital books. It drew over 2100 registrants who stayed for an average of five and one-half hours. Over 238 libraries purchased site licenses so staff could come and go. At Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, the event drew—and distracted—the entire leadership team from its regularly scheduled meeting. (The summit archive is still available online, until December 31, 2010, at www.ebook-summit.com.)
The panelists included forward-thinking librarians, a product manager from Google Books, ebook aggregators, and ebook distributors like OverDrive’s Steve Potash, who has been pushing the bounds on library distribution. We asked a number of you to provide the publisher perspective but got turned down repeatedly. (The exceptions were our sponsors Springer, which represented academic publishing, and Capstone, which represented K-12 publishing). Some publishers, feeling they had been misquoted in the past when discussing possible ebook models, were too skittish to take part in another public forum.
To be fair, a few of you were present: out of those 2100-plus attendees, only 112 registered as “publisher.”
The summit raised more questions than it answered, but it reaffirmed librarians’ willingness to embrace ebook delivery and access for their users and to rethink libraries’ roles in providing information, education, and community in a digital world. It also confirmed librarians’ continued frustration at being excluded from the decisions around ebooks, decisions integral to the future of libraries—and to publishers and readers as well. As Aaron Schmidt, a librarian panelist (and a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker), said, “The ebook ship has sailed, and libraries are not on it.” Libraries in the thick of circulating ebooks might disagree, but in developing ebook distribution models, publishers aren’t taking into account the vital roles that libraries play in promoting authors, developing readers, and moving books.
Years ago in LJ, we referred to libraries as an “invisible market” to adult trade publishers: invisible because sales to libraries go through distributors and not directly through publishers. We made the point that libraries were a steady, reliable channel for publishers and that librarians not only purchased books but pushed first novels and midlist titles and helped to create best sellers. Smart trade publishers—who understand that book borrowers are also book buyers—took advantage of the library-patron connection and worked more closely with librarians to the benefit of both library and publisher—and readers.
If you doubt the power that libraries have to transform society, then consider the likes of Bill Gates, who recognized the reach of libraries and used them to hasten the adoption of personal computing and access to the Internet. Many consumers with PCs in their home first discovered the value of computing at their local library and still dip into the library’s technology in the course of their days.
As trusted community institutions, libraries—and librarians—can lead a new reading revolution. They can provide ereading devices, which are multiplying rapidly (and confusingly) and help patrons learn to use them; they can expand digital reading to the well-off as well as the less affluent; they can advise readers on how to choose books in a digital landscape. OverDrive’s Potash put it best when he said libraries are “evangelists for new forms of reading”—and for developing evolving features and use models.
Libraries and publishers share many of the same goals. We are on the same side in the struggle for literacy, the promotion of reading and learning, and the commitment to intellectual freedom. By embracing how libraries can and do drive this new revolution, you can only help make a more robust future for ebooks and for publishing itself.
Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief