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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.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The problem of the middle man

An article was referred to me from "Beyond the Bookcast." It's interesting to hear (see the previous link for the podcast) what the folks from Publishers Weekly made of ALA's midwinter. On the whole, I agreed with them: things are looking up.

But having thought about this some more, I think there's something really new here. The commentators "got" what we're doing with the DCL Model. The creation of our own infrastructure, our launching of direct negotiations with publishers, our securing of significant discounts, all reveal a fundamental shift in the market.

Once we put together our system, and realized that the independent publishers and the self-published authors weren't available to us at any price through the usual suspects of Baker and Taylor, Ingrams, or 3M, we realized that we had cut out the middle man. And having done that, why not go direct to more mainstream publishers? After all, we were using the same technologies as the distributors -- and achieving a much higher degree of integration, and ease of use.

As I have written several times now, if you can't add value in the distribution chain, you become irrelevant. There are some who believe libraries have become so. And here's a defense for libraries that answers questions I'm still astonished that people are asking.

But here's MY question: Do libraries still need middle men? Increasingly, I find that distributors aren't revealing their terms with publishers, and publishers don't know their terms with libraries. Moreover, when I talk directly to publishers, I find that they've already formed ideas about libraries that are wildly inaccurate. And where did those ideas come from? The middle men.

DCL got into our system to solve a very specific business problem. But over time, I've learned that we may have solved more than we realized.

1 comment:

jeremy said...

Great post. The spread of disinformation about libraries from such middle men reminds me of the pharmaceutical salesmen jokeying with doctors to use the company's particular brand X med so they can get a free coffee cup with the company logo if they go with their brand.