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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Author walks away from $500k deal to self-publish

Thanks to DCL staff person Dedra Anderson for sending this to me. Author Barry Eisler says, "my general point was that digital was going to become more and more attractive relative to paper. First, because the price of digital readers would continue to drop while the functionality would continue to increase; second, because more and more titles would become available for digital download at the same time more brick and mortar stores were closing. In other words, everything about paper represented a static defense, while everything about digital represented a dynamic offense. Not hard to predict how a battle like that is going to end."

And later, "the trends reinforce each other: the Borders in your neighborhood closes, so you try a low-priced digital reader, and you love the lower cost of digital books, the immediate delivery, the adjustable font, etc... and you never go back to paper. The reverse isn’t happening: people aren’t leaving digital for paper. There’s a ratchet effect in favor of digital."

And later, "Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm."

Bottom line: today's commercial publishers are "legacy publishers." Self-publishing is the future. And libraries really aren't ready for it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Center for Digital Storytelling

An interesting site here. I had a conversation with the Denver Post's Claire Martin today about some publishing trends, and she told me about this. It is yet another area where libraries could and should be active.

Author on publishing today

Funny Margaret Atwood video and blog here about an author's perspective on the changing publishing world. The content is rich and incisive. The Power Point slides are priceless.

American Libraries piece

I really like this Beverly Goldberg piece. She makes an important point with the question: "why should it matter that a 'single eBook license to a library may never expire, never wear out, and never need replacement?' Most printed books last for years in library collections and that didn’t affect book sales when the economy was a bit more flush; those loanable titles just whetted the public’s appetite to borrow and buy more. Why should that pattern change for e-books? If anything, there may well be more incentive, since a borrowed e-book vanishes from a patron’s e-reader device when the loan period ends even if the borrower wants to retain the copy for a few more days to finish it."

See also this Slate piece, which also cites studies about the contribution of the secondary market to the primary market. As I wrote to a publisher friend, "I think the publisher/author fear of resale/lending is not only bad for society, it's bad for YOU."

Independent Publisher opines on ebooks and libraries

I realized that I should have blogged about our press release about a partnership between Douglas County Libraries, Red Rocks Community College Library, and the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) last week. My column about it is here, though.

Since then, we've had a follow-up meeting with past, present, and future presidents of CIPA. The past president, Kenn Amdahl, wrote an interesting post. You can find it here.

This kind of conversation - publisher concerns, library concerns - is good and important. Kenn and I have some disagreements about the resale of digital works. But we are agreed about many more things, and we might even get to agreement about this. It certainly a lot better for publishers/writers and librarians to talk to each other than it is for those publishers to simply announce, as HarperCollins did, how things will work now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Google settlement overturned

I'm surprised, but generally pleased. Google digitized many titles without copyright approval, then required people to "opt-out" if they had objections. That meant, as critics noted, that centuries of copyright protections disappeared overnight, and Google became the owner of record.

But now, United States District Court Judge Denny Chin writes, "In the end, I conclude that the ASA is not fair, adequate, and reasonable. As the United States and other objectors have noted, many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an 'opt-out' settlement to an 'opt-in' settlement."

I bet there's more to come!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Open letter to HarperCollins

Today I wrote this to HarperCollins, at this address.

You may wish to do the same.

Dear HarperCollins:

I have written about this elsewhere, most recently here.

I have three concerns and one suggestion. My first concern is that as a volume purchaser, libraries should get discounts, not price hikes coinciding with new limitations of use. A second concern is that content licensing is itself profoundly destructive to the emerging ebook ecosystem. At present, libraries greatly assist authors in finding audiences. Passing things around – pulling copies from the library and distributing to booksales, church bazaars, charter schools, etc. – not only helps people find authors in ways they can afford, it also encourages reading, which is clearly one of the library’s role. From the other side, many libraries RECEIVE donations from people who bought a book but are done with it. How does one donate an ebook to the library under your model? My third concern is simply the long tail problem. What happens when our license expires, but the file is no longer available for renewing? You won’t let us own things. How can we be sure that titles endure past some arbitrary time?

My suggestion is this: instead of punishing us for being among your best customers, make us sales partners. My library has over 2 million website visits a year. All of those people are looking for books. Douglas County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, and highly tech savvy. We’re working on prototype systems for the display of ebooks, further simplifying the process of locating new authors.

The way it works now is people like what they read, so buy it. But there’s no reason we couldn’t make that an option right from our catalogs. And for every borrowing that turns into a purchase, the library should get a shareback, or credit for purchase, or reduction in the cost of future purchases, or some mix of the above. Buying through a library is a perk provided by the library, leveraging the cooperative purchasing power of their taxes (and yes, our patrons should get a discount, too). Advantage to you: a nationwide sales system, with eager salespeople you don’t even have to pay.

Remember, all we’re guilty of is the desire to buy books from you, and to generate ongoing interest in them. If HarperCollins isn’t interested in selling to us, I am confident that many small, independent publishers – and a growing number of self-published authors – certainly will be. And that might be a change in the ecosystem, too, accelerated by such decisions as the content licensing model. But I can’t see how HarperCollins would benefit from it.