September 25, 2012
More Thoughts On Libraries And e-Books
Next Sunday marks the beginning of Banned Books Week. While we think of banned books in the context of censorship, there is another. In this case I’m speaking of publisher hostility to libraries when they refuse to sell e-books to libraries or, in the alternative, sell them with attached onerous conditions. American Library Association Maureen Sullivan issued an open letter to publishers today that highlights the concern:
It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is “no good here.” Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing e-books from three of the largest publishers in the world. Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their e-books for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users.
Let’s be clear on what this means: If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction best-seller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies. The popular “Bared to You” and “The Glass Castle” are not available in libraries because libraries cannot purchase them at any price. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal “Forever,” nor today’s blockbuster “Hunger Games” series.
I realize that publishers see libraries as a threat when it comes to lending e-books. Their first fear is piracy, and their second is that each lend represents a potential lost sale. I can appreciate the concern about piracy, though I think the fear that libraries will be havens for piracy is misplaced. Libraries, by and far, are law abiding citizens who tend not to violate their licensing agreements for electronic content. If there are disputes, such as the Georgia State e-reserve case and the HathiTrust litigation, they are handled in court. Piracy is happening to e-books despite their lack in a library’s collection. I would think that many readers would use the library for viewing content if it were a legal alternative. With or without library lending, e-book piracy is always an alternative to the determined.
I’m of the belief that while library lending is an alternative to purchase for some, not everyone who borrows will buy. This is true in the physical world as it is in the digital. I also believe that the lack of a large selection of e-books in a library may drive some to purchase, but certainly not everyone. The alternatives there are to borrow a printed copy, or wait until one becomes available.As Banned Books Week will begin, think of all the e-books that are banned from libraries due to a publisher’s desire to keep them out the hands of the borrowing public. [MG]