December 8, 2011
A Bit More On e-Books And Libraries
An article in The Atlantic called Library Wars: Amazon and Publishers Vie for Control of E-Book Rentals by Peter Osnos that examines the publishing world’s paranoia with e-books. They love the idea of selling them at prices comparable to print copies, but fear that libraries that loan them will discourage paying customers from paying and encourage piracy from borrowers. The second point is refuted to the extent that the article quotes Carrie Russell, the director of the American Library Association Public Access to Information program as saying “There is no evidence that security breaches have been tied to public libraries or library users. One would think this is more of an issue with everyday consumers or hackers who do not want to pay for e-books.”
We here at LLB passed along our own references to stripping away DRM from proprietary e-books here, not that I am encouraging anyone. As last I checked, the links and information in that post were still good. The Atlantic article posits that the recent move by Penguin to delay the availability of new titles in a digital format is a power ploy between that publisher and Amazon. It’s not merely the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, which Amazon slickly got around contracts by buying the book loaned to a customer, but Overdrive, a major supplier of e-books to libraries which has cheerfully partnered with Amazon to promote library loans to the Kindle.
Publishers apparently are not fond of the idea of people getting used to reading without paying some form of pay-per-view. A sale with restrictions and one that brings in top value dollar is much preferred. Amazon may not have enough market power to challenge the agency pricing model, one where the publishers set the price (high) and the profit split, but it does have enough power to scare publishers by manipulating the stock to promote its own e-book readers. Hence this back and forth between the publishers and Amazon over who gets the final say over how an e-book is delivered to a customer and upon what terms.
Let’s remember that Apple contributed to this situation by agreeing to the agency pricing model for books sold through the iTunes store. Amazon initially had a more consumer friendly pricing model that Apple was happy to thwart to protect sales for books read on the iPad, and speculatively to hurt Amazon as a competitor. That may or may not prove to be true in the coming months. Both the European Union and The U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the possible collusion between Apple and the major publishers to set prices. It could get ugly.
I can’t say the piracy fears of the publishing industries are unfounded. I do think that some of this is brought on by the publishers themselves. The old saw is that it’s impossible to compete with free. I don’t think that’s really it. I think it’s impossible to compete with convenience over inconvenience. Some may feel that piracy is justified in order to stick it “to the man.” I believe the majority of pirates are those who simply find unencumbered books easier to load on their devices and read. As the article in The Atlantic notes, the Overdrive library lending program is popular. E-books lent through the program tripled this year over last. Library patrons are used to borrowing books from a library. Their mindset shouldn’t necessarily change with the format despite DRM restrictions. That’s inconvenient. It’s the mindset of the publishing industry that needs to change. [MG]