Big Publishing

US vs. Apple

6 December 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Politicians and social critics who worry about “the curse of bigness”—and vow to rewrite antitrust law to break up Facebook and Google—forget what happened the last time the government used the law against a Silicon Valley company. In 2012 the government successfully sued Apple for daring to compete with Amazon in selling e-books. The unintended result was not exactly a victory for the consumer or for competition: the continued dominance of Kindle, Amazon’s e-book format and reading device; increased e-book prices; and suppressed e-book innovation.

Chris Sagers, a law professor at Cleveland State University, explains in “United States v. Apple: Competition in America” what he sees as confusion about antitrust law. His analysis can be helpful—he notes the long history of companies invoking claims of “predatory pricing” as a cudgel against more efficient competitors and stresses that consumers often benefit when industries and companies are driven out of business—but he is confused about the case itself.

His thesis is that Apple’s entry into the e-book market was so clearly a violation of antitrust law that critics of the case must not believe in competition. But critics object to an interpretation of antitrust law that ended up punishing Apple for introducing a new pricing approach—an approach that is now common in every other area of online sales. Mr. Sagers forgets the guardrail rule of antitrust: Don’t bring cases against innovations that create more competition.

Consumers were delighted when Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader in 2007, and book publishers were happy to sell books in digital form. But there was an unusual feature. In its selling of e-books, Amazon operated according to the same pricing arrangement that had governed the sale of print books—that is, it bought e-books wholesale and chose its own price for them, just as bookstores had long done with print books. Brick-and-mortar bookstores needed this pricing flexibility for many reasons, not least to clear their inventory of unsold books by means of lower prices. The arrangement let Amazon sell e-books for years as a loss-leader—at the low price of $9.99—to boost profitable sales of its Kindle devices.

Around the same time, Apple had set about licensing music, video and games so that consumers would have reasons to buy its iPad. Apple realized that, for digital goods, there was no reason to follow the wholesale model. It could simply set up a revenue-sharing formula. Content owners and app developers—think of an iPad or iPhone game, such as “Minecraft” or “Fortnite,” that offers premium features—could pick their own price, even choosing to offer content free, and Apple would take 30% of any sales as a commission.

When Steve Jobs decided to include e-books on the iPad in 2010, Kindle had a 90% market share. So book publishers were again delighted—that Apple would be entering the market with its revenue-share model and letting publishers set the prices for their e-books. The largest publishers met among themselves to agree on the terms for licensing their books to Apple. The government sued, claiming an unlawful conspiracy masterminded by Apple.

Mr. Sagers sees this as an open-and-shut case of an unlawful pricing conspiracy and expresses surprise that there was so much support for the book publishers and Apple. He rightly dismisses the self-serving argument that books are so culturally important that publishers and Apple deserved an antitrust exemption. He is also right to note that Amazon was not, despite its huge market share, an unlawful monopolist—big is not always bad.

. . . .

Mr. Sagers believes that opposition to the Apple case shows that Americans are ambivalent about competition. There are times, he says, when “competition seems destructive.” When antitrust law requires firms to compete in such circumstances, then “antitrust itself has seemed like a failure.” The government claimed that Apple conspired with book publishers, risking higher prices, but the case was perceived as a government favor to Amazon, which it was.

Indeed, people objected to the Apple case because it was ill-advised—limiting consumer choices and blocking lower prices. Appeals Court Judge Dennis Jacobs made this point, writing in his 2015 dissent that Apple’s conduct “immediately deconcentrated the e-book retail market, added a platform for reading e-books, and removed barriers to entry by others.” With Apple in the game, Amazon’s 90% market share fell to 60%. Now it’s back up to 83%, according to the latest industry estimate. As competition decreased, prices increased. The typical price for a Kindle best seller is now in the range of $14.95.

. . . .

The Apple case violated the first rule of antitrust: First, do no harm.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG hasn’t read the book that is the subject of the WSJ review. However, the author of the review wildly misstates the purposes, activities and actions of Apple and all but one of the largest publishers in the United States.

Let us review the actions and actors in this matter (which were extensively documented and discussed on TPV during the days of yore):

  1. While Amazon was not the first entity to sell ebooks, it was the first to sell ebooks from traditional publishers at a substantial discount from their list prices, which correlated with the suggested list prices for printed versions of the same books.
  2. Amazon also was revolutionary in permitting self-published books (including ebooks) to be listed and sold side-by-side on the same basis as traditionally-published books.
  3. The six largest publishers in the United States – Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster had developed a cozy little dinner group consisting of their CEO’s who met about every three months in a private dining room in Manhattan to talk about their mutual concerns – most often Amazon’s habit of discounting the prices of their books and what they could do about it. These six produced the majority of books sold in the US and were receiving complaints from their traditional bookstore customers about Amazon’s low prices. The publishers did not want to “cannibalize” their sales of printed books and were the recipients of a growing number of complaints from their traditional bookstore customers. No company attorneys were present during these dinner discussions.
  4. PG will note that private meetings of the top executives of large companies that dominate an industry to discuss the pricing of their products are almost always a bad idea and, by themselves, raise a big red antitrust flag. Competent corporate counsel would always advise against such a practice.
  5. Apple was planning to introduce its iPad in January, 2010, and include an iBookstore as one of the product’s attractions.
  6. PG notes that Apple has never been a fan of significant discounts for the products it sells.
  7. In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, contacted the members of the Publishers dinner group to set up meetings.
  8. During these meetings, Cue said that Apple:
    1. Would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, higher prices than Amazon was charging.
    2. Apple would use the same “agency pricing model” that it used in the App Store for ebooks.
    3. Agency Pricing allowed the Publishers control the retail price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.
    4. Most significantly, Apple would require what is generically described as a “Most-favored nation” clause in its contracts with publishers that allowed Apple to sell e-book at the lowest price of its ebookstore competitors (read “Amazon”).
  9. PG doesn’t recall if the publishers had another private CEO dinner or not, but evidence at the later antitrust trial showed the Big Six publishers called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the Apple agreements. Everyone except Random House boarded this bandwagon.
  10. In January 2010, Apple held one of its typically flashy product launches for the iPad together with its associated ebook, music and video stores.
  11. During the post-launch mingling, Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg asked Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.” In other words, the publishers would force Amazon to raise its ebook prices to match those in the iBookstore.
  12. Amazon complained to the Federal Trade Commission and, rather than not being able to sell any ebooks of the major publishers, switched to the agency model after negotiations with the major publishers. This resulted in an average per unit e-book retail price increase of 14.2% for their new releases, 42.7% for their NYT Bestsellers, and 18.6% across all of the Publisher Defendants’ e-books.

For lots more information, see United States v. Apple on Wikipedia.

Back to the book reviewed in the OP, there was nothing wrong with Apple “introducing a new pricing structure” – agency pricing. Had Apple only done that, no antitrust violation would have occurred. However, when Apple conspired with a group of the largest publishers to force Amazon (and anyone else selling ebooks) to adopt agency pricing when such had not previously been the case, that was an antitrust violation, particularly in the light of what happened to ebook prices after the coordinated joint action took place.

Had the big publishers individually been willing to lose the highly-profitable ebook sales on Amazon as a potential consequence of telling Amazon it had to raise its prices and/or agree to let the publisher set the price, that would probably not have triggered any antitrust concern. Coordination between the publishers to use their combined power to force Amazon raise prices was where the publishers crossed a clear legal line.

With respect to what happened in the court case, each of the publishers admitted guilt, settled the antitrust claim and promised not to do any price-fixing in the future. Apple litigated the antitrust case to the max and lost at every stage.

Although Amazon was not a party to the litigation, Amazon won.

More significantly (in PG’s majestic and resplendent opinion), authors won. Indie authors in particular won. In June, 2010, a couple of years before any antitrust litigation had been commenced, Amazon introduced its 70% ebook royalty option which has put a great deal of additional money into authors’ pockets ever since.

NaNoWriMo Has The Writers To Solve The Book Industry’s Diversity Problem

20 November 2019
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From The HuffPost:

When I was in seventh grade, my teacher instructed the class to read “Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor. It was the first time I’d been assigned to read a book or story written by a non-white author about non-white characters.

Mainly, my classes focused on the works of great American novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and Harper Lee. Even outside the classroom, my favorite books came from popular series such as “The Baby-Sitters Club,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and, of course, Harry Potter. All great stories, yet all written by white authors featuring white main characters.

These days, there are more diverse stories about race, religion, gender and sexuality for kids, teens and adults than before. But the numbers are still too few and the majority of books, diverse or not, are still being written by white, cisgender, male authors.

. . . .

There’s a way to help change that starting this month. In November, aspiring writers across America and around the world are going to put their diverse stories into words. And those stories are ripe for the publishers’ picking ― if publishers are looking at NaNoWriMo.

. . . .

The aspiring authors who sign up for the challenge “win” if they manage to complete their novel. NaNoWriMo helps them along with free tutorials, community support, advice on tracking progress and connections with published authors, all of which are not normally available to budding novelists, especially not those of color.

Numerous published novels have come out of this process, including such best-sellers as “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen and “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell. An even wider range of voices could emerge.

. . . .

But none of this matters if publishers don’t look at the works of NaNoWriMo writers of color. Diversity isn’t just the responsibility of authors or readers. Publishers have to be interested in changing the landscape of the industry and willing to expand their networks and pay attention to emerging non-white authors and reviewers. (Right now, an overwhelming 89% of book reviewers at major publishing houses identify as white.)

Link to the rest at The HuffPost

A reminder that PG doesn’t always agree with everything he posts on TPV.

PG keeps wondering why the various and sundry people and groups who express reality-based claims against traditional publishers always want those publishers to reform themselves.

And expect that such reform might happen.

Perhaps it’s time to declare traditional publishers irredeemable, unreformable, irreversible, unregenerate and beyond any hope of changing their retrograde ways even at the militant urging of social justice warriors.

Maybe it’s traditional publishers time to be dumped onto the ash-heap of history alongside the Whigs, Microsoft Bob, the Copperheads, Sony Betamax, Esperanto, Neville Chamberlain, hippies, the Tea Party, hula hoops, Tiny Tim, Occupy Wall Street, George McGovern, Trump University, Google Glass, Ted Nugent, Ross Perot, The Delorean Motor Company, Carrie Nation, New Coke, Dan Quayle, Evel Knievel, lava lamps, pet rocks and mood rings.

Ken Follett Opens Brexit-Inspired Friendship Tour This Weekend

15 November 2019
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From Publishing Perspectives:

Even as the impeachment inquiry in Washington revs to fever pitch with its battery of public hearings riling Capitol Hill and many of your American colleagues, the Brexit crisis in the UK has gone into a comparatively quiet phase ahead of the December 12 general election. Perhaps that’s the perfect moment for author Ken Follett and three of his high-profile writing associates to launch their “Friendship Tour” in Europe.

The associates on the road with Follett are Jojo Moyes (Me Before You, Penguin, 2012); Lee Child (Blue Moon, Bantam, October); and Kate Mosse (The City of Tears, Mantle, releasing in May).

. . . .

And although the Brexit crisis is starting point for the concept, Follett is careful in such an uncertain time, sometimes opting to stress the opportunity of the tour for these authors to thank their European readers, albeit with a secondary message—”please keep reading us”—reflected in the fact that the tour is paid for by these authors’ translation publishers.

As Birgit Lübbe of Germany’s Bastei Lübbe (Follett and Mosse) is quoted saying in tour material, “One of the rewarding tasks in publishing is to make the works of international authors accessible to our readers.

“We support the Friendship Tour because the friendship between our authors and their loyal fans, as well as the friendship between our authors and us, transcends national borders. Publishing and reading books is a cultural exchange for all book lovers worldwide.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is not an expert on Brexit, the EU or any related subject, but this strikes him as a sleazy attempt to gain publicity at a time when a great many people across Europe are upset about Brexit.

Is anyone really going to feel better because Ken Follett or Lee Child comes to visit a bookstore?

“We feel your pain, so buy our books”

FutureBook Live 2019 Ramps Up: Maintaining the Cultural Caché of Books

12 November 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

Those of us on the annual international tournée de livres can tell you that, as advertised, FutureBook Live really is the largest of today’s conferences in terms of turnout. Not trade shows, mind you, this is a conference, a one-day outing which includes not only plenary sessions but four strands of focus.

. . . .

  • Hook the Readers sessions (purple)
  • Take Smarter Risks sessions (navy)
  • Seize the Agenda sessions (pink)
  • Hack the Process sessions (a kind of worried blue that’s not navy)

. . . .

As Flatt announced earlier this autumn, you’ll find appropriate change afoot this year in the show. “As we approach our 10th anniversary,” she wrote, “you may have noticed that we’ve dropped both ‘digital’ and ‘innovation’ from our tagline and marketing. Why?

“Because in this extraordinarily unstable time, those terms no longer feel very useful. Everyone who works in publishing, whatever their seniority or specialism, must now understand digital; everyone, whether a conglomerate CTO or a self-published author, must innovate or die. And nor are digital solutions or splashy innovations always the best way to answer the challenges exploding around us.

“We have to use everything at our disposal, from woodblocks to Weibo, to restore books to a central place in our culture and to keep book businesses afloat.”

. . . .

Bookseller editor Philip Jones writes, “The conference began as a digital event, morphed into one concentrated on innovation, and is now squarely focused on the business in its entirety, particularly, ahem, the future bit.”

He goes on, as Jones is still perhaps the best in the business at doing, at capturing exactly the challenge that world publishing–don’t tell the Brits it’s not just them–faces today: “How we maintain the cultural caché of books.” Exactly.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG found it interesting that British (and perhaps other European) publishers are worried about the “cultural caché of books.”

PG speculates the unspoken extension of this concern is the “cultural caché of traditional publishers.”

If an intelligent and well-meaning young person who loves books were to ask PG about going to work for a publisher, PG would paint a dire picture of the future of traditional publishing. The echo chamber of New York (and, likely London) publishing is growing smaller and smaller by the day.

If the traditional book business is losing cultural caché, how will it justify its high prices and low royalties?

No Time for Sargent

9 November 2019

From Scrivener’s Error:

It’s not often that one can legitimately call an “official” major corporation CEO communication “inherently deceptive and based on fantasy or science fiction only.” OK, it’s not routine that one can do so — not even in the entertainment industry — thanks to SEC disclosure rules. But there’s a recent opportunity; and I have both personal knowledge and verifiable data to do it.

In this instance, for public consumption I’m relying upon (hack! phhhhht!) PW‘s account of Macmillan “CEO” John Sargent’s presentation to state librarians on discriminatory e-book distribution. So, why do I think Sargent was being deceptive? In no particular order:

  • Anecdotally (apparently according to Sargent himself!), eight percent of science fiction and fantasy fans who couldn’t get an e-book promptly from the library would instead go out and buy it. So it really is based on fantasy and science fiction! One wonders what kind of anecdotal “evidence” this is — whether it’s based on a random sample of fannish statements of intent, actual general sales figures (but see below), comparative library purchase figures and circulation statistics (but see below), or as is most likely self-selected fannish responses based on a self-selected subset of fen.
  • Well, how about reproducibility? A nonscientific, nonreplicable sampling indicates an increase of between 12 and 15% in publicly stated “user views” of library-embargoed Tor titles over the past year at relatively safe pirate venues… and a disproportionate (compared to other similar imprints, and even generally) increase in the number of pirate handles associated with library-embargoed Tor titles over the past year. This has been a distinctly, but due to the poor quality of the dataset not statistically validatable, greater increase for library-embargoed Tor books than for other similar and dissimilar imprints. The conclusion one can draw is that an unknown but probably substantial proportion of the vaunted 8% were interested in acquiring the Tor titles, not necessarily buying them. And demonstrated with their actions (not unverifiable, anecdotal statements of intent) that that is precisely what they would do.

. . . .

As a follow-on to the preceding point, carefully consider the assertion (quoting the PW piece’s summary of another summary) that

[Sargent] likened the e-book marketplace to that for major motion pictures in that new releases have the greatest value in their first few weeks and their initial release should allow for the greatest return on both creative and business investment. The availability of e-books through libraries, which may be perceived as being free, is, in Macmillan’s opinion, the major driver in the consumer decline.

which rather self-refutes the argument. Bluntly, if this were actually a valid consideration, the combination of revenues from DVD sales and post-release streaming/broadcast/etc. would not frequently exceed the initial release revenue… when one allows for the avoided costs in that back end (such as “distribution fees”). It also implicitly assumes that every Macmillan title is a superhero blockbuster. It ignores cult films. Or “indie productions” over at, say, Picador (“Fox Searchlight”).

More subtly, it ignores the more-valid comparison. Library sales — thanks to the discriminatory terms offered to libraries — are a helluva lot closer to “iMax 3D” with a $25 ticket than to no sale at all, as implied both in the PW piece’s summary and the continuing rhetoric coming out of Macmillan. There is one, and only one, market segment in which “discounting” of library sales as “insignificant” has any validity at all, and it’s not category trade fiction: It’s textbooks (at least in the 1990s version of the market, and those who came up selling textbooks in the 1990s are now in charge of overall sales and marketing at more than one Big Five publisher).

. . . .

Bluntly, this is so delusional that I can’t really say it’s a “lie.” Lying requires actual knowledge that what one is saying is untruthful and deceptive. I’m not certain that mere ignorance and/or self-deception, even when willful, qualifies, so I’m explicitly not calling Mr Sargent a liar. Fraud goes just a bit farther, in that it also requires intent that the listener reasonably rely on those statements, so I’m explicitly not calling Mr Sargent a con artist, either. I am, however, explicitly calling him out for putting forth bullshit.

Link to the rest at Scrivener’s Error

And these people style themselves as curators of our culture.

Plus, a reminder that traditionally-published authors basically have no say in what these curators do with their books.

Is Publishing Too Top-Heavy?

4 November 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Book publishing has long been a hits-driven business. The bestsellers, the logic went, paid for the flops. And it was the authors of those in the middle—the so-called midlist—that publishers hoped to build into the next crop of bestsellers. But midlist sales have faltered enough in recent years that there is a growing concern among publishers and agents about how the business can create new hits when the field they once turned to is, well, disappearing.

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, during a discussion of the company’s second-quarter results, pointed to generating interest in midlist books as one of the biggest challenges facing all publishers.

Though the hits-driven nature of publishing has not changed in recent years, the nature of those hits has. Due to a number of coalescing factors—including a shrinking physical retail market and an increase in competing entertainment driven by the proliferation of streaming TV platforms—book publishing has watched as a handful of megaselling titles have begun to command an ever-larger share of its sales.

According to NPD BookScan, which tracks an estimated 80% of unit sales of print books, sales of the 100 bestselling adult titles increased 23% in 2018 compared to 2017. All other titles ranked below that top tier either fell or remained flat. On a 52-week rolling basis through Oct. 5, 2019, the sales of the top 100 books rose another 6% over the comparable 52-week period ending in 2018, while, again, all other sales levels either fared worse or stayed flat. Taken together, sales of the 100 bestselling print books rose nearly 30% over a period of about two years, while books that ranked between 101 and 10,000 saw their total print unit sales fall 16%. Books that ranked below 10,000 remained flat in the period.

. . . .

The cycle that creates this system is a frustratingly circular one. “The top books—[which are] most often [earning] the highest advances—require serious capital and resources to push them into the top slots,” McLean explained. And publishers, she added, “are under serious pressure to recoup their investment” on their most expensive acquisitions. The situation, she went on, “is amplified by the need for books to earn their shelf space in mass market retail—big books are a better bet” for those types of outlets.

A publisher at a major house agreed that, to an extent, publishers have contributed to the gap between the top sellers and those below. With social media offering a variety of ways to promote titles that are selling, publishers usually put more resources behind books that are succeeding in order to maintain momentum. As these books get the lion’s share of the houses’ focus, other titles are left to find audiences on their own.

. . . .

As one Big Five editor who specializes in commercial and literary fiction said of his category, “There used to be a lot more books that could sell 40,000–50,000 copies. Now more sell fewer than 10,000 copies.” It seems, he said, that “it’s either feast or famine.”

Those suffering from the famine are, to an extent, a group once known as the midlist. Ironically, if you ask most editors or literary agents to define the term, you’re unlikely to get a specific answer. Few can say, for example, how many books one needs to sell to be considered midlist. The only thing sources agreed on is the fact that the term is negative.

“You want to be debut, literary, or bestselling; you don’t want to be midlist,” one literary agent said. “The midlist is like the middle class; it’s the group that gets squeezed. They don’t get the support from their publishers. They don’t get their due [as writers]. They don’t get the attention they deserve from reviewers. Everybody wants to break out of the midlist.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that an indie author can support a reasonably good standard of living by selling 40-50,000 of his/her books. 10,000 copies also works if the author can indie publish 2-3 books per year.

The other point PG will note is that a midlist book that is released by a publisher is left to sink beneath the waves while many indie authors tend to pursue strategies that will help sell both new and old books.

The Problem(s) with Damaged Goods

28 October 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Is it just me, or are damages out of control lately? By damages I mean the multiples of unsalable books that arrive from publishers and distributors alike—ones that are dinged and dented, with pages folded and jacket covers torn. If you don’t regularly work in the receiving part of a bookstore, then you may not be aware of just how much time and inventory is lost in the shipping and delivery process.

Here’s a summary of a Monday at my shop in a recent week: We received a total of 16 boxes of books from five publishers and one distributor. Two boxes were full cases of a book for an author school visit in the week. The others contained a mixture of new releases and backlist orders, as well as a couple of mixed-copy seasonal displays. In addition, our mail carrier brought three small boxes of ARCs and a couple of those giant envelope-type packages created by sealing two squares of cardboard on four sides around a book or two with an inch or two of adhesive. (For the record, if terrorists or spies ever want to smuggle sensitive material into the U.S. via our postal service, these hermetically sealed cardboard packages are clearly the most tamper-proof method, for it takes our staff a good 20 minutes, a case cutter, and a pair of shears to pry a corner of one open in order to liberate the single title inside.)

But let’s get back to the Monday box pile. Of the 16 boxes, nine cartons contained damaged titles. One entire case of paperbacks (in an undamaged carton) for the author event were unusable. Three other boxes each had eight or nine books with ripped jackets and badly dented covers. In our box from the distributor—in which the books were stacked on a cardboard base and then wrapped with plastic to prevent shifting inside the box—all four novelty books had crushed spines or ripped covers. Granted, board books with cutouts on the cover are tough to stack, but they can be layered with early readers or even packing paper to prevent damage—and shipping books, after all, is the distributor’s job. Four other boxes, all new releases, were unusable. Of course, given the Monday delivery, this meant that our Tuesday new-releases display was going to look a little anemic.

. . . .

Each of these publishers has a different method for us to report damages: some require emails, some require phone calls, and some request photographic evidence. It can take days to receive responses to these reports, during which time we must either store the damaged books, waiting for instructions or a call tag, or repack them and wait for UPS to return to pick them up. Then all of those titles must be credited, reordered, and we begin again, hoping as we wield our case cutters that the new boxes will contain undamaged merchandise to sell. All of that time is on the clock—increasing payroll for booksellers in managing the losses and tying up the customer service departments of our publishers, who are simply logging lost potential on phone calls rather than discussing new releases and placing backlist orders.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG will note that, although most reading in his household is done with ebooks, occasionally, Mrs. PG will order a hardcopy via Amazon. PG doesn’t recall any book arriving from Amazon in anything other than pristine condition, lately inside a light, generously-padded plastic envelope.

The OP raises the possibility in PG’s jaundiced mind that some book distributors are juicing their profits by reselling damaged books returned for credit instead of pulping or otherwise destroying the returned books.

Major Public Library System Will Boycott Macmillan E-books

23 October 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

With Macmillan’s controversial embargo on new release library e-books set to begin in just two weeks, PW has learned that the King County (WA) Library System has decided it will no longer purchase embargoed e-book titles from the publisher.

“Despite months of discussion and advocacy, Macmillan continues its position to embargo multiple copies of e-books,” writes King County Library executive director Lisa Rosenblum, in a note sent to fellow library directors (and shared with PW). ”Therefore, effective November 1st, KCLS will no longer purchase e-books from Macmillan. Instead we will divert our e-book funds to those publishers who are willing to sell to us.”

The King County Library System, headquartered in Issaquah, Washington, is one of the nation’s busiest and best library systems, circulating more than 21 million items every year. It has earned a coveted five star rating from Library Journal. And for five years running, King County has been the top digital-circulating public library system in the country, logging more than 4.8 million checkouts of e-books and digital audio in 2018.

In her note, Rosenblum acknowledged differing opinions among public library staff around the country on whether to boycott Macmillan e-books, and said King County’s decision was ultimately driven by two reasons: one “pragmatic” and the other “principled.”

As for the pragmatic side, Rosenblum explained that King County has pledged to readers to limit the wait time for any title to around 3 months. “Not allowing us to purchase multiple copies of an e-book for two months artificially lengthens the queue, triggering more of the same title to be purchased than would have occurred if we had been allowed to buy for the first two months,” she explains. “With an ever-increasing demand to buy a wide variety of digital titles, we do not think this is the best use of public funds.”

. . . .

The “principled” argument, Rosenblum says, is to send a message to other publishers that public libraries cannot accept limits on basic access. To do so, she writes, would “profoundly” change the public library.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has posted about this stupid plan by Macmillan before here and here.

Suffice to say, this is harmful to libraries and those who use them and unlikely to generate significantly more revenue for Macmillan.

As far as Macmillan’s justification – that library patrons will buy more Macmillan books if they can’t borrow them, PG expects this is likely the case in the short run. However, as library patrons continue to discover new authors they love through the books they borrow, and buy books from those authors, and tell all their friends how great those authors books are, Macmillan is short-changing its owners and its authors by effectively giving up on a major (and free) source of additional sales.

As compared with purchasing advertising and giving big discounts to Barnes & Noble (is that still a thing?), whatever dribs and drabs Macmillan fails to garner from regular library patrons who decide they simply must read whatever Macmillan claims is the latest and greatest instead of borrowing a different book are a drop in the bucket compared to the priceless word-of-mouth avid readers provide.

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