Ebook Services Are Bringing Unhinged Conspiracy Books into Public Libraries

From Vice:

For years, the digital media service Hoopla has given library patrons access to ebooks, movies, and audiobooks through bulk subscriptions sold to public libraries. But more recently, librarians have started calling for transparency into the company’s practices after realizing its digital ebook collection contains countless low-quality titles promoting far-right conspiracy theories, COVID disinformation, LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, and Holocaust denial.

In February, a group of librarians in Massachusetts identified a number of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic books on Hoopla, including titles like “Debating The Holocaust” and “A New Nobility of Blood and Soil”—the latter referring to the infamous Nazi slogan for nationalist racial purity. After public outcry from library and information professionals, Hoopla removed a handful of titles from its digital collection.

In an email obtained by the Library Freedom Project last month, Hoopla CEO Jeff Jankowski explained that the titles came from the company’s network of more than 18,000 publishers: “[The titles] were added within the most recent twelve months and, unfortunately, they made it through our protocols that include both human and system-driven reviews and screening.”

However, quick Hoopla keyword searches for ebooks about “homosexuality” and “abortion” turn up dozens of top results that contain largely self-published religious texts categorized as “nonfiction,” including several titles like “Can Homosexuality Be Healed” which promote conversion therapy and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. This prompted a group of librarians to start asking how these titles are appearing in public library catalogs and why they are ranked so high.

“If [ebooks containing disinformation] were on the tenth page of results it wouldn’t be as noticeable, but they’re on the first page of results,” Jennie Rose Halperin, the executive director of Library Futures, told Motherboard. “What this says to me is that vendors don’t think people who are accessing resources through public libraries deserve quality, verifiable information.”

Hoopla serves more than 3,000 library systems and is in more than 8,500 public libraries across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Hoopla allows library users to check out ebooks from their personal devices. All anyone needs to explore Hoopla’s ebook catalog is a registered public library card. Hoopla is one of a few major ebook vendors libraries use to ensure library-goers have access to digital content. But unlike other services like Overdrive, which lets librarians order individual ebooks, Hoopla only sells ebook subscriptions, meaning that libraries have little choice over what titles they’re getting from the service.

Unlike print books that libraries can buy directly from publishers, publishers only sell lending rights to ebooks using third-party vendors like Hoopla. Ebook use has been on the rise for the past decade, and vendors like Overdrive and Hoopla have claimed dramatic increases in ebook checkouts during the pandemic when many libraries were unable to operate at a full in-person capacity. Since March 2020, demand for ebook titles from lending services like Hoopla soared.

Sarah Lamdan, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law data analytics companies in publishing says many libraries choose to subscribe to bundles because it’s cheaper for libraries that are already strapped for cash.

“We lease these streams of content like on Netflix or Spotify,” Lamdan told Motherboard. “It’s more expensive to be deliberate and choose titles a la carte than it is to buy one of these bundles, and [libraries] are not given a lot of choice about it. Although libraries are super trusted and seen as so important to society, they’re not properly funded.”

“It’s just another way that the outsourcing of traditional information roles is really poisoning the well of fact and truth and reliable information sources,” Lamdan added.

Librarians also say that ebook subscription prices are unsustainable as they typically cost three times as much as a customer’s ebook purchase through Kindle. This is emblematic of at least a decade of tension in the digital library market in which librarians have little power to negotiate with publishers and vendors over prices that continue to climb. Libraries are also operating in a time loop where they have to keep purchasing licenses from the Big-Five publishers (Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Randomhouse and Simon & Schuster) through what’s called “metered access.” Typically ebook subscription licenses expire after a two-year term or after 26 circulations per purchase. Except the price keeps climbing.

Link to the rest at Vice

How To Get Your Self-Published Book Into Libraries

From The Creative Penn:

If you haven’t considered libraries as a market for your self-published book(s), you should.

Why? For one, there are 2.6 million libraries globally1, and they spend roughly $31 billion annually2! In the U.S., library expenditures are $14.2 billion a year2, and of this amount, $1.4 billion1 or 10.2% is spent on books!

Secondarily, the library market is growing! Two years after Joanna posted my original article, How To Get Your Book Into Libraries, the number of Academic Libraries worldwide grew to 95,361, a 111.8% increase, and Public Libraries globally grew to 406,834, a 39.4% increase! In the U.S., the number of Academic Libraries had grown 12.5%, and there were 90.5% more Public Libraries!

And third, libraries are purchasing more eBooks. According to the American Library Association (ALA), in 2020, OverDrive (a provider of eBooks to Libraries) loaned out more than 289 million eBooks worldwide, a 40 percent increase from 2019, a shift the company attributed to the global pandemic.

. . . .

If you wonder if libraries buy self-published books, the answer is, “Yes, they do.”

In its April 5, 2021 article, How Library Distribution Works for Indie Authors, the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLI) shared the results of a 2016 survey conducted by US-based publishing service New Shelves. Per the survey, “… 92 percent of librarians reported that they regularly purchase from self-published authors and small presses.”

Although there still may be some libraries whose Collection Development Policy (the guidelines libraries use when making book purchasing decisions) might state they don’t buy self-published books, those excluding are becoming rarer and rarer.

I believe my situation is a good example. As of this writing, 156 libraries worldwide have acquired 192 copies of my self-published titles since I first introduced them to librarians a few years ago.

Also, in the last two years, I haven’t had one library inform me they don’t buy self-published books. And if you’ve heard that it’s hard getting a self-published book into a library, I would say, “It shouldn’t be easy because of the vital role libraries play in societies, but I and others are proof that it can be done.”

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Libraries, Publishers Battle Over Terms for E-Books’ Use

From Bloomberg Law:

States that want to give libraries a better deal on e-books are watching a publishers’ suit against Maryland, the first state to set terms for how digital books are distributed for public borrowing.

Library associations, including the American Library Association and several state groups, have been pushing for state laws to require publishers to distribute digital works to libraries on “reasonable” terms that the states would set. The groups say libraries pay too much for electronic books and should be able to get them at lower prices.

The bills and the law enacted in Maryland have set off alarm bells for authors and publishers who fear the legislation encroaches on copyrights.

Similar suits to the one in Maryland by the Association of American Publishers might follow if bills in other states move forward, copyright attorneys, publishing industry lobbyists and others said. They say the bills propose a radical rewriting of the copyright system that only Congress is able to change.

. . . .

“The Maryland case is very, very significant because we’re hoping and believe the court will say, ‘You can’t do this. This is unconstitutional,’” said Keith Kupferschmid, the president of the Copyright Alliance, a nonprofit that represents a broad group of creators. “And, presumably, other states would at least be a little more cautious. Hopefully they wouldn’t introduce the bills at all.”

. . . .

Library officials back the bills so they can loosen restrictions on the number of digital works that can circulate and not let publishers dictate pricing terms, said John Chrastka, the executive director of the EveryLibrary Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for library funding.

The Rhode Island and Massachusetts bills are based on the Maryland law. Supporters hope the bills can either be redrafted to avoid similar lawsuits or that the Maryland court will throw out the case.

In New York, Brianna McNamee, the New York Library Association’s director of government relations and advocacy, said the bill Hochul vetoed will likely be tweaked based on recommendations from her office.

“The bill’s viability in its current form is contingent on that pending litigation in Maryland,” McNamee said. “In a perfect world, if the suit goes away it would be our hope that it would provide reassurance to the governor and her staff that New York state won’t be sued upon enacting similar legislation.”

It’s not clear that the Maryland law is preempted by the Copyright Act, said Alan Inouye, the senior director of public policy and government relations for the American Library Association. The AAP’s claims aren’t valid in terms of copyright law because it’s actually a matter of contract law, Inouye said.

. . . .

The Maryland law and the similar legislation are preempted by the federal Copyright Act, which gives copyright owners a bundle of exclusive rights, including being able to decide when and how their works are distributed, Mary Rasenberger, the CEO of the Authors Guild, said.

The AAP and proponents of the lawsuit said they support public libraries and that libraries are essential in expanding readership, but the Maryland law has the potential to harm creators and weaken the copyright system.

“The public libraries are an important piece of providing public access, but they don’t operate alone in a vacuum,” said Maria A. Pallante, the CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

The Motion Picture Association, the National Music Publishers Association, and the News Media Alliance also oppose the bills because they say there could be a potential domino effect in states also creating compulsory licenses for other creative works besides e-books.

“The other industries are concerned because if states start doing this,” Rasenberger said, “then the next thing down the line is going to be movies and television programming.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

PG has suggested on many prior occasions that traditional publishers are foolish in their pricing strategies for ebooks because, after the first copy of an ebook is created, additional copies cost the publisher no more to produce.

In a perfectly-sane publishing world, ebooks would always cost much less than printed books and still generate a much higher profit margin without killing any more trees and shipping physical books long distances from the low-income nations where they are printed.

PG suggests that Amazon’s pricing sweet spot for ebooks per its KDP royalty structure is $2.99-9.99. That’s where the 70% royalty is payable. Everywhere else in the 99 cent to $200 price range permitted by Amazon, the royalty is 35%.

To the best of PG’s recollection, this pricing/royalty strategy is identical to the policy created by Amazon at or near the introduction of its ebook self-publishing option for authors that gave authors who didn’t feel a publisher added value (or couldn’t find a publisher for their books) direct access to what has become by far the largest bookstore in the world.

One of Amazon’s motives for setting and maintaining this royalty structure, indeed for putting a lot of effort to make self-publishing easy in the first place, was the attempt of major US publishers to force Amazon in increase its prices for all books to the suggested retail price set by publishers.

Amazon hadn’t grown into the international giant it is today and American publishers were more focused on killing Amazon to avoid this sort of discounting below their fancifully-created suggest retail pricing structure in order to preserve their effective monopoly over the market for books found in traditional bookstores.

Times have changed greatly since then – lots and lots of physical bookstores have gone out of business in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) and ebooks have become a significant source of income and far more significant source of profits for traditional publishers selling through Amazon.

With respect to ebooks licensed to libraries, traditional publishers have forgotten nothing and have learned nothing. The incremental cost of ebooks licensed to libraries over ebooks licensed to Amazon and other online bookstores is also effectively zero, but publishers still want to charge libraries more for exactly the same collection of electrons as Amazon offers for much less.

PG thinks there are some copyright issues in the states’ litigation claims, but this collection of lawsuits and the potential for yet another loss in court for traditional publishers reflects (in PG’s stupendously humble opinion) the ongoing stupidity of those individuals and conglomerates running traditional publishing in the United States.

Too much greed in the library sales department could end up costing publishers much, much more over the long run. It’s a risk the publishers didn’t have to take, but they did so anyway.

Hochul Vetoes New York’s Library E-book Bill

From Publishers Weekly:

Just hours before it was set to become law, New York Governor Kathy Hochul on December 29 vetoed New York’s library e-book bill. The bill is now back with the legislature, where it is tabled.

The veto comes despite strong grassroots support: in June, the bill unanimously passed the New York Assembly 148-0, and passed the New York State Senate 62-1. But the Association of American Publishers’ December 9 federal lawsuit seeking to block implementation of a similar law in Maryland sparked concern in the governor’s office. And in her brief explanation of the veto, Hochul cited the AAP’s concerns.

“While the goal of this bill is laudable, unfortunately, copyright protection provides the author of the work with the exclusive right to their works,” Hochul wrote. “As such the law would allow the author, and only the author, to determine to whom they wish to share their work and on what terms. Because the provisions of this bill are preempted by federal copyright law, I cannot support this bill. These bills are disapproved.”

The New York bill was also opposed by a cohort of powerful New York-based industry groups, including the AAP and the Authors Guild, which urged Hochul to veto the measure in a recent letter, calling the bill “an unjustified attack” that would have “a significant negative impact on the economy and jobs” in New York.

. . . .

The library e-book bills come after a decade of tension in the library e-book market, with librarians long complaining of unsustainable, non-negotiable prices and restrictions on digital licenses. Specifically, the bills emerged as a response to Macmillan’s controversial (and since abandoned) 2019 embargo on frontlist e-books in libraries, which led library advocates to take their concerns to state and federal legislators.

“This is a powerful moment for libraries,” concluded a December, 2020 report on digital lending from the ALA’s Joint Digital Content Working Group. “If we cannot find ways to make our digital collections robust and lasting, including a return to perpetual access as an option, libraries will never be able to meet an ever-increasing demand and provide equity to the communities we serve.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

New York’s library e-book licensing bill vetoed as Maryland challenge looms

From The Bookseller:

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has welcomed the decision by New York Governor Kathy Hochul to veto a bill that would have forced publishers and authors to grant e-book licences to libraries under state-imposed terms.

New York’s State Assembly legislation was similar to a new law in Maryland which the AAP is currently challenging in court over concerns it will force publishers both in the US and abroad to license e-books to public libraries on “reasonable terms” defined by the state. A hearing on the challenge is set for February.

Vetoing the New York bill, Hochul wrote: “While the goal of this bill is laudable, unfortunately, copyright protection provides the author of a work with the exclusive right to their works. As such, federal law would allow the author, and only the author, to determine to whom they wish to share their work and on what terms. Because the provisions of this bill are pre-empted by federal copyright law, I cannot support this bill.”

The AAP said the New York bill would have contravened the US Copyright Act and pointed out it included penalties for non-compliance, “effectively chilling copyright owners from pursuing the full benefit of their copyright interests and literary properties within the state”. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Wyden, Eshoo press publishers over library e-book contracts

From The Hill:

The largest book publishing companies in the U.S. are facing pressure from Democrats over e-book lending contracts with libraries that advocates and librarians have criticized.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) sent letters to the publishers, Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, on Thursday asking for detailed responses about the contracts and any restrictions on deals made with libraries for e-book licensing.

“Many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their patrons, which jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their mission,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is our understanding that these difficulties arise because e-books are typically offered under more expensive and limited licensing agreements, unlike print books that libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms.”
Wyden and Eshoo underscored the importance of remote access to e-books because the COVID-19 pandemic prolonged school and library closures.

Unlike with physical books, which libraries can purchase and lend out for as long as copies hold up, libraries have to adhere to conditions in licensing agreements that constrain how long they can keep e-books in circulation. Librarians and library groups have called out the licensing agreements for prices they say are too high.

Wyden and Eshoo call for the publishers to share data, including the average price of physical copies of books sold to consumers and the average price of e-book licensing to libraries, on their 100 most sold or licensed works in 2020.

Lia Holland, the campaigns and communications director for Fight for the Future, said the group was “thrilled” to see lawmakers taking action on the issue. 

Fight for the Future has been advocating for greater library access to a wide array of digital books. Holland called the “licensing schemes” on digital books “restrictive and expensive.” 

“We hope that legislators will take swift action to ensure perpetual access to knowledge and diverse voices for everyone,” Holland said in a statement. 

. . . .

The Democrats did not target Amazon with their letter. The tech giant until recently had even more restrictions in place — prohibiting Amazon published e-books to be sold to libraries for lending.

The company reached a deal in May to make all Amazon Publishing titles available through the DPLA Exchange, a library-centered content marketplace. Library patrons can access the titles through the SimplyE e-reader app.

Link to the rest at The Hill

US Senate Finance Committee Presses Publishers on Library Ebook Contracts

From Book Riot:

Earlier this year, Fight for the Future — a group of technology experts, policymakers, and creatives — launched a tool called Who Can Get Your Book, meant to highlight the challenges of accessibility and availability of ebooks in public schools and libraries, rural areas, and other communities where these disparities create burdens to information. It is but one organization seeking transparency around ebooks from publishers, and now, the US Senate Finance Committee is pushing for more.

Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D., Oregon) and U.S. Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D., California) lead the latest charge, drafting a series of letters to the Big Five publishers to clarify their ebook contracts with public schools.

Ebook contracts are notoriously tricky. For libraries, who can purchase print books and own them through their natural lifespan, ebooks come with restrictions on a number of fronts. They aren’t owned by the library and instead are licensed: at any time, the books may disappear or come with circulation limits, and those licenses come at astronomical prices. In cases where licenses can be negotiated with better terms for the library, costs only grow.

These contracts and the ways they restrict access for users have become magnified over the course of the pandemic, when the digital divide became even more profound.

As reported in December, one school district in southern California found itself budgeting $27 per student every 12 months to access the classic and widely-taught The Diary of Anne Frank. The same title can be purchased in print by a library for a one-time price and used without limit; outside of the library, the average person can purchase The Diary of Anne Frank on Kindle one time from anywhere from $.20 to $14 and read it as much as desired for that single cost.

That doesn’t mean non-library purchases of ebooks are perpetual, nor are they owned by the individual who made the purchase.

“Even readers with vast personal collections of e- and audio-books should be alarmed, as most ebooks and audiobooks are also merely licensed to those who believe they are “buying” them, leaving the door open for publishers and big tech companies like Amazon to later erase books, as well as alter what they say, down the line,” said Lia Holland campaigns and Communications Director at Fight for the Future.

Beyond the costs, not all digital material is made available for licensing by schools or libraries. Amazon exclusives, for example, keep many works completely inaccessible. Who Can Get Your Book gives points for every accessible format to a title, and uses those to grade how easy it is to borrow it. Born a Crime, the popular memoir by Trevor Noah, for example, earns a D grade because the digital audiobook isn’t available outside its exclusive deal with Audible and because of restrictive licensing agreements for the ebook.

All of these challenges have led to demand for change.

“E-books play a critical role in ensuring that libraries can fulfill their mission of providing broad and equitable access to information for all Americans, and it is imperative that libraries can continue their traditional lending functions as technology advances,” reads the letter Senate Finance Committee members sent to Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan.

. . . .

“We are thrilled to see legislators taking action for the public’s right to own and preserve all books, no matter what form they are published in. With so much of our lives happening online, the opportunity to own digital books is almost nonexistent—a stark and concerning departure from how our society interacts with paper books,” said Holland.

“Through restrictive and expensive licensing schemes on ebooks and audiobooks, publishers are acting against the best interest of authors by reducing the number of titles that libraries and schools are allowed to offer and preserve. This often means that the most successful and mainstream books are the only ones purchased, locking many authors out of income from library purchases as well as away from the vast audiences of readers that public institutions serve. We hope that legislators will take swift action to ensure perpetual access to knowledge and diverse voices for everyone.”

Earlier this summer, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation on ebook licensing. The bill, which goes into effect January 1, 2022, requires any publisher offering ebooks for sale to consumers in the state also make those materials available for purchase by libraries in the state.

In other words, exclusives would no longer be allowed to be exclusive or put undue access barriers to library materials in the state. Publishers Weekly breaks down this legislation, making it sound like Amazon remains a question mark.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Yes, of course traditional publishers would screw up library licensing of ebooks just like they screwed up everything else with their ebook businesses.

Big Business of Library E-Books

From The New Yorker:

teve Potash, the bearded and bespectacled president and C.E.O. of OverDrive, spent the second week of March, 2020, on a business trip to New York City. OverDrive distributes e-books and audiobooks—i.e., “digital content.” In New York, Potash met with two clients: the New York Public Library and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. By then, Potash had already heard what he described to me recently as “heart-wrenching stories” from colleagues in China, about neighborhoods that were shut down owing to the coronavirus. He had an inkling that his business might be in for big changes when, toward the end of the week, on March 13th, the N.Y.P.L. closed down and issued a statement: “The responsible thing to do—and the best way to serve our patrons right now—is to help minimize the spread of covid-19.” The library added, “We will continue to offer access to e-books.”

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”

In the first days of the lockdown, the N.Y.P.L. experienced a spike in downloads, which lengthened the wait times for popular books. In response, it limited readers to three checkouts and three waitlist requests at a time, and it shifted almost all of its multimillion-dollar acquisitions budget to digital content. By the end of March, seventy-four per cent of U.S. libraries were reporting that they had expanded their digital offerings in response to coronavirus-related library closures. During a recent interview over Zoom (another digital service that proliferated during the pandemic), Potash recalled that OverDrive quickly redirected about a hundred employees, who would normally have been at trade shows, “to help support and fortify the increase in demand in digital.” He recalled a fellow-executive telling him, “E-books aren’t just ‘a thing’ now—they’re our only thing.”

Before the pandemic, I had never read an e-book, and didn’t particularly want to. But, during the lockdown, I spent nearly every day wandering my neighborhood in a mask and headphones, listening to audiobooks. I wanted to hear a human voice and feel the passing of time; Libby became a lifeline. As a dual citizen of the Brooklyn Public Library and the N.Y.P.L., I toggled between library cards, in search of the shortest waiting list. I did what previously had been unthinkable and spent a hundred and eighty dollars on a Kobo. I read more books in 2020 than I had in years. I was not the only one; last year, more than a hundred library systems checked out a million or more books each from OverDrive’s catalogue, and the company reported a staggering four hundred and thirty million checkouts, up a third from the year before. (Barnes & Noble, which has more retail locations than any other bookseller in the U.S., has said that it sells about a hundred and fifty-five million print books a year.) The burst in digital borrowing has helped many readers, but it has also accelerated an unsettling trend. Books, like music and movies and TV shows, are increasingly something that libraries and readers do not own but, rather, access temporarily, from corporations that do.

. . . .

In the two-thousands, OverDrive helped publishers set up online stores and sold e-books directly to consumers through its own marketplace. The company also persuaded a few presses to license their e-books to libraries. At the time, the six largest publishers tended to sell their goods through online retailers, such as Amazon, which released its e-reader, the Kindle, in 2007. But, gradually, the Big Six began to sell digital rights to libraries under a “one copy, one user” model. As soon as one reader returned an e-book, a second reader could check it out, and so on, with no expiration date. “At the beginning, we were really trying to replicate what happens on the print-book side,” a publishing executive told me. Digital books, which could in theory be duplicated for free by any librarian with a computer, would still have waiting lists.

“We then saw the first wrinkle in one copy, one user,” Potash said. In 2011, HarperCollins introduced a new lending model that was capped at twenty-six checkouts, after which a library would need to purchase the book again. Publishers soon introduced other variations, from two-year licenses to copies that multiple readers could use at one time, which boosted their revenue and allowed libraries to buy different kinds of books in different ways. For a classic work, which readers were likely to check out steadily for years to come, a library might purchase a handful of expensive perpetual licenses. With a flashy best-seller, which could be expected to lose steam over time, the library might buy a large number of cheaper licenses that would expire relatively quickly. During nationwide racial-justice protests in the summer of 2020, the N.Y.P.L. licensed books about Black liberation under a pay-per-use model, which gave all library users access to the books without any waiting list; such licenses are too expensive to be used for an entire collection, but they can accommodate surges in demand. “At the time of its launch, the twenty-six-circulation model was a lightning rod,” Josh Marwell, the president of sales at HarperCollins, told me. “But, over time, the feedback we have gotten from librarians is that our model is fair and works well with their mission to provide library patrons with the books they want to read.”

. . . .

Libraries now pay OverDrive and its peers for a wide range of digital services, from negotiating prices with publishers to managing an increasingly complex system of digital rights. During our video call, Potash showed me OverDrive’s e-book marketplace for librarians, which can sort titles by price, popularity, release date, language, topic, license type, and more. About fifty librarians work for OverDrive, Potash said, and “each week they curate the best ways each community can maximize their taxpayers’ dollar.” The company offers rotating discounts and generates statistics that public libraries can use to project their future budgets. When I noted that OverDrive’s portal looked a bit like Amazon.com, Potash didn’t respond. Later, he said, with a touch of pride, “This is like coming into the front door of Costco.”

Alan Inouye, the senior public-policy director at the American Library Association, told me that consolidation could reduce competition and potentially drive the cost of library e-books even higher. “OverDrive is already a very large presence in the market,” he said. The company’s private-equity owner, K.K.R., also owns a major audiobook producer, RBMedia, which sold its digital library assets to OverDrive last year. But, Inouye added, OverDrive’s influence is an important counterweight to the largest publishers and to Amazon, which dominates the consumer e-book market and operates as a publisher in its own right. (Amazon did not make its own e-books available to libraries until May, when it announced a deal with the Digital Public Library of America.) When I asked Potash about the concern that consolidation could also give OverDrive too much influence over the market, he called that “a far-fetched conspiracy theory.” He cited the company’s track record of advocating for libraries, adding, “I’m a big fan of free-market capitalism.”

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

Readers of the future are likely to want even more digital content, but it may not look the same as it does now. Audible, which is owned by Amazon, has already made listening to books more like streaming, with subscribers gaining access to a shifting catalogue of audiobooks that they do not need to buy separately. “We have moved away from owning, to accessing,” Mirela Roncevic, a longtime publishing and library consultant, told me. Maybe readers will expect books to feel more like Web sites, and an infinite scroll will replace the turn of the page, as it has in the digital magazine you are reading now. Perhaps readers will want images and videos to be woven seamlessly into the text, requiring a new format. The e-book as we know it “will not last,” Roncevic insisted. Lending libraries were once an innovation that helped spread literacy and popularize books. Roncevic wants libraries to continue innovating—for example, by experimenting with new formats and license models in partnership with independent or international publishers. “Libraries have more power than they sometimes realize,” she told me.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Where Is Our Spotify for Books?

From Slate:

For many families and schools, e-books were a lifeline to keep kids reading during lockdown.
Total numbers of digital books borrowed from libraries hit 289 million in 2020—a 33 percent increase over 2019. That makes the feisty public library the main challenger to Amazon, which almost completely monopolizes private sales of e-books and sold 487,000 in 2020.

But there is a giant problem.

Many e-books have incredibly limited availability or are not available at all at public libraries, and library budgets are strained covering the escalating costs of e-book demand.

Publishers make the costs for e-books prohibitive for libraries. For example, before COVID hit, a typical deal at Macmillan was that public libraries had to pay $60 for any e-book and could lend it out only 52 times or for two years, whichever came first, after which they had to repurchase the e-book. Publishers temporarily lowered some prices and loosened rules on select titles during the pandemic, but the costs overall still severely limit the ability of libraries to offer many books. Some publishers, particularly Amazon, still refuse to let libraries get access to any of the e-books they publish, while publishers like Macmillan have withheld new releases from libraries.

. . . .

The reason publishers can charge higher price is because of a quirk in copyright law, called the “first sale doctrine.” Unlike with physical books, the courts have said libraries have no right to buy an e-book and then lend it to their members. Instead, publishers only “license” e-books and can deny that license to a library or condition the right to lend the e-book on paying that much higher price.

Some state legislators are outraged enough they have proposed legislation to force publishers to license e-books they are currently withholding from libraries, and Maryland enacted such a law this spring. But these will likely be challenged by publishers in court as preempted by federal copyright law.

For university libraries and their student patrons, the restrictions on electronic textbooks are even more severe. By one estimate, publishers refuse to license 85 percent of electronic versions of textbooks to university libraries, forcing students to either buy directly from the publisher or do without. And according to a survey during the pandemic of 82 campuses conducted by US PIRG, a consumer group focused heavily on student concerns, 65 percent of students have skipped at least one textbook purchase because of the costs.

When an e-textbook is made available to universities, it’s often more than 10 times the retail price, and may come with additional conditions and subscriptions that drive the costs even higher. “You have to pay thousands for a package with a few eBooks you need and lots of things you don’t,” complains librarian Joanna Anderson, who co-authored a letter protesting these costs signed by 3,000 librarians, academics and students.

The complicated legal distinction between selling physical books and “licensing” e-books is one reason private attempts at subscription book services for monthly fees have mostly failed or had limited book availability. In the publishing trade, publishers have the right to sell books, but authors often retain the copyrights that would allow licensing to monthly subscription services and have their own demands for fair compensation, so deals for subscription services are often legally impossible or economically untenable. One version, Oyster, shut down a few years ago. Epic! Books has had modest success with a subscription service solely for a subset of kids’ books used mostly by schools. Scribd, the most successful surviving version, still lacks most popular books.

Amazon has created an end-run around this problem by creating an unlimited reading program for subscribers solely with authors who self-publish with Amazon itself and opt into the program. Estimates are that nearly 50 percent of paid e-books downloaded are now self-published, largely due to the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, making Amazon’s program the most successful model for a monthly unlimited reading service—but for only a limited subset of books.

. . . .

Congress could fix the problem instantly by extending the first sale doctrine to allow school and public libraries to purchase e-books at regular retail prices and keep them in their collections permanently. At a stroke, this would triple to quadruple the number of e-books libraries could purchase with current budgets and, since the books would never expire, increase their e-book holdings by orders of magnitude over time.

The Congressional Research Service in an April 2020 review of the issue noted that Congress considered doing this back in 1998, the last time the federal copyright law was updated, but put off that decision until the market for e-books “has matured sufficiently and in a manner that would warrant further action.” Obviously, with nearly $2 billion in annual sales, e-books have reached that point.

At the same time, authors who often already struggle financially have reasonable fears that reducing library fees to publishers will further reduce their incomes. But instead of depending on strapped local library budgets to supply the income authors need to keep writing, Congress could, at the same time they restore the first sale doctrine, also institute a federal “Public Lending Right,” or PLR, a mechanism used by 35 nations around the world, including almost all of Europe, to offer authors payments for each book, physical or digital, borrowed from a public library.

In fact, the Authors Guild, which promoted a PLR in the U.S. decades ago, relaunched a campaign in 2019 to enact legislation to have the National Endowment for Humanities distribute payments to authors for each book borrowed from a library. “PLR recognizes two fundamental principles,” then-Authors Guild President James Gleick wrote in 2019, “the need for society to provide free access to books, and the right of authors to be remunerated for their work.”

Link to the rest at Slate

PG notes that, contra to the author of the OP, there isn’t a “quirk” in the copyright law.

The First Sale doctrine relates to copyrighted objects like a physical book or painting.

When an author signs a publishing agreement for a physical book, the author is granting a license to the publisher to (among other things) make copies of the author’s creation in the form of physical books and sell them to others.

An ebook is not, of course, physical. It’s a collection of organized electronic charges on a medium that can keep them from vanishing. When someone licenses an ebook, a copy of the collection of electronic charges is made and that invisible electronic packet is sent via other media capable of transmitting those charges in their organized fashion. It’s almost as easy to create and transmit a hundred copies of the ebook as it is to transmit a single copy.

A physical book only exists by itself as a manufacture object. The First Sale doctrine permits someone who purchases a physical book to give or sell her/his copy to someone else. Nobody makes a copy of the physical book during such a transaction.

Making a photocopy of a physical book to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the author’s copyight just like making an electronic copy of an ebook to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the author’s copyright.

Not so difficult after all, is it?

OverDrive to Acquire Kanopy

From Publishers Weekly:

OverDrive, the market leading digital reading platform for libraries and schools, has announced that it is acquiring Kanopy, a popular video streaming service for public and academic libraries. Terms of the acquisition were not announced.

The acquisition of Kanopy adds an extensive video catalog to the OverDrive platform, with some 30,000 films available to students and library users through the Kanopy platform, including iconic films produced by A24, Criterion Collection, Paramount, PBS and Kino Lorber. The move is yet another major move for OverDrive, which in June of last year acquired the library assets of RBmedia, just weeks after OverDrive itself was acquired by investment firm KKR.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to C. for the tip.

Amazon Publishing, DPLA Ink Deal to Lend E-books in Libraries

From Publishers Weekly:

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) today announced that it has signed a much-anticipated agreement with Amazon Publishing to make all of the roughly 10,000 Amazon Publishing e-books and digital audiobooks available to libraries, the first time that digital content from Amazon Publishing will be made available to libraries.

In a release today, DPLA officials said that lending will begin sometime this summer, with Amazon Publishing content to be made available for license via the DPLA Exchange, the DPLA’s not-for-profit, “library-centered” platform, and accessible to readers via the SimplyE app, a free, open source library e-reader app developed by the New York Public Library and used by DPLA. Library users will not have to go through their Amazon accounts to access Amazon Publishing titles via the DPLA, and DPLA officials confirmed that, as with other publishers DPLA works with, Amazon will not receive any patron data.

The executed, long awaited deal comes nearly six months after Amazon Publishing and the DPLA confirmed that they were in talks to make Amazon Publishing titles available to libraries for the first time.

The deal represents a major step forward for the digital library market. Not only is Amazon Publishing finally making its digital content available to libraries, the deal gives libraries a range of models through which it can license the content, offering libraries the kind of flexibility librarians have long asked for from the major publishers.

DPLA officials said that Amazon Publishing titles will begin with four available licensing models this summer:

  • Unlimited, one user at a time access, two-year license
  • Bundles of 40 lends, available with a maximum of 10 simultaneously, with no time limit to use the lends
  • Bundles of five lends, available simultaneously, with no time limit to use the lends
  • 26 lends, one user at a time access, the lesser of two years or 26 lends license

. . . .

The deal will also serve to blunt a major criticism of Amazon, which until now had not made its digital content available to libraries under any terms—an exclusion that librarians have loudly criticized for years, and which was brought to the attention of lawmakers in an ALA report last year. In fact, an Amazon spokesperson revealed news of the potential deal with DPLA last year after reporters from The Hill contacted the company regarding a petition urging Congress to pursue “an antitrust investigation and legislative action to preserve and expand library services.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Mandatory Ebook Licenses for Public Libraries

Note: The bill linked to at the bottom of this post appears to be pending in the Maryland legislature. It is not a law at this point.


PG is concerned about the mandatory nature of this bill in part because he did not see any limitation on the definition of who or who not is a “Publisher” and, thus, who would be subject to the provisions of this bill, if it were to become a law.

In PG’s mind, it would be one thing if the Random Houses of the world were governed by such a law and another if indie authors were also subject to such a law.

While PG expects that a great many indie authors might be willing to grant ebook licenses to public libraries in principle, he is concerned that, due to the unequal bargaining power between a state agency and an indie author, the author might be intimidated into granting a public library license on terms that are very disadvantageous to the author.

As an example, if the State of Maryland presented the author with a “standard” ebook license that pays the author $1.00 per year for licensing an unlimited number of copies of her ebook to every library in the state, such a license might deprive the author of a significant amount of royalties compared with the royalties the author might have received from Maryland readers for a $2.99 ebook listed on Amazon.

At least some avid Maryland readers might automatically resort to library to borrow an ebook instead of buying a reasonably-priced ebook from the author.


With physical library books, there is a certain amount of friction in the borrowing process, time required to travel to the library, locate the physical book, wait in line for a librarian to check the book out, then return to their home, followed by a second trip to the library to return the book with a potential fine if the book is returned late. There is much less friction in borrowing an ebook from the library and no fine because the library automatically terminates access to the book when the allotted time for the loan has expired.

The existence of this sort of physical friction in the borrowing/return process is a consideration for at least some portion of the reading public. PG has purchased more than one book instead of waiting until he could visit the library to check it out (if it wasn’t already checked out).


It is common for some people to assume that library books are primarily a benefit for readers who might not be able to afford to buy books they would like to read. However, there is nothing in a typical public library structure that distinguishes between a patron who is wealthy from one who is under financial constraints that make it difficult for him/her to afford to purchase even a reasonably-priced ebook.

Particularly in the case of ebooks which can be located and accessed online from a library as easily as they can be located and accessed online from Amazon, PG is concerned that doing so might become standard practice for more than a few readers who simply prefer to spend their money on something else they’re required to pay for instead of purchasing an ebook at a cost that is well within their budgets.


In an arms-length negotiation between two parties with equal or near equal bargaining power and financial resources, a reasonable agreement concerning an ebook license for a library might certainly be negotiated.

However, when one of the two parties is a state agency with access to state-employed lawyers and the courts of that state and the other is an individual author who may earn a few hundred dollars a year from her self-published ebooks, the power disparity is immense.

If this Maryland bill is enacted into law, there is little reason to believe that legislators or government officials in other states would not learn about Maryland’s law and pass similar legislation to help stretch their own library budgets further.


PG would be happy to hear from others who have more knowledge of this Maryland proposal or other similar bills/laws concerning the provisions of this bill in particular or the topic of mandated ebook licenses and public libraries in general. PG acknowledges that he may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but he is concerned about intentional or unintentional adverse impacts on indie authors.

Please share any thoughts or opinions in the comments.

Link to Bill

Amazon withholds its ebooks from libraries because it prefers you pay it instead

From The Verge:

Amazon is withholding ebook and audiobook versions of works it publishes through its in-house publishing arms from US libraries, according to a new report from The Washington Post. In fact, Amazon is the only major publisher that’s doing this, the report states. It’s doing so because the company thinks the terms involved with selling digital versions of books to libraries, which in turn make them available to local residents for free through ebook lending platforms like Libby, are unfavorable.

“It’s not clear to us that current digital library lending models fairly balance the interests of authors and library patrons,” Mikyla Bruder, the global marketing chief at Amazon Publishing, told The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler in an emailed statement. “We see this as an opportunity to invent a new approach to help expand readership and serve library patrons, while at the same time safeguarding author interests, including income and royalties.”

At the heart of the issue is a debate over whether libraries, which often pay far higher than retail price for physical and ebook copies of books, ultimately harm publisher sales by letting people check out copies for free. In the age of mobile apps and widespread Kindle usage, borrowing an ebook is now easier than ever — you need a library card and the Libby app, and you can then place holds and eventually check out ebooks that can be sent directly to your Kindle e-reader or app to access for a limited time.

Yet publishers, not authors, decide the fate of a book’s various distribution deals, and Amazon apparently does not want libraries lending its ebooks, at least not under whatever terms have been discussed. That means many of the authors the company has signed onto its publishing imprints — like Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Andy Weir, and Michael Pollan — are available to read only if you pay the full retail price. That’s true when those same authors have expressed support for libraries and free book lending, as Pollan has to The Post.

Amazon is reportedly negotiating with a nonprofit, the Digital Public Library of America, to coordinate the selling of its ebooks to libraries, but The Post notes that the deal would not include any self-published works or Audible audiobooks. And making matters worse, Amazon is allegedly not negotiating — and hasn’t for years — a serious deal with OverDrive, the maker of the Libby app that’s used by many libraries around the country.

Instead, OverDrive CEO Steve Potash tells The Post the company and Amazon have an ongoing dialogue” in which OverDerive has communicated its “willingness to innovate in an effort to support their business strategy.” Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Carolyn for the tip.

As regular visitors to TPV already suspect, misinformation is rampant in the OP.

Here’s a bullet-point list:

  1. At present, OverDrive is the only effective way for ebooks to get into libraries, at least in the US.
  2. Amazon Publishing, Amazon’s counterpart to a traditional publisher (albeit with better royalty terms) is a small fry compared to traditional publishers. Book wholesalers that provide physical books to bookstores don’t carry Amazon Publishing books and, even if they did, a great many physical bookstores would refuse to carry Amazon Publishing’s books because Devil Bezos.
  3. PG believes that OverDrive’s prices, to the extent he understands them, are also higher than they need to be for an online service that is effectively a complete ebook lending system with, to the best of PG’s knowledge, no need to integrate with the various physical book management systems libraries may employ.
  4. To the best of PG’s knowledge, OverDrive doesn’t have any serious competition in ebook lending, at least in the United States, and charges libraries accordingly.
  5. OverDrive is owned by KKR, a major US-based private equity firm.
  6. Private equity firms typically acquire assets with a plan to sell them or take other steps to take cash out of their investments. One strategy that some private equity firms utilize is to load an acquired firm up with debt, putting the proceeds of such loans into the pockets of the owners of the private equity firms, then sell the debt-burdened companies to someone else. As with some other Wall Street financial types, private equity firms are often ready and willing to throw sharp elbows on their way to a profit. PG doesn’t know if KKR has done any of these things with OverDrive, however.
  7. Per an article in American Libraries from December 31, 2019, reporting on the sale of OverDrive to KKR,
    • “OverDrive holds the dominant market share as the leading provider of digital content to libraries, with more than 43,000 libraries subscribing to its content lending platform. The OverDrive catalog currently offers 4.5 million books and audiobooks from more than 25,000 publishers. More than 95% of public libraries in the US and Canada rely on it for digital lending and other services. Though public libraries represent the largest portion of OverDrive’s customers, the company also works with schools and corporate libraries.
    • “[T]he acquisition of OverDrive is a “financial investment,” in which the buyer, usually a private equity firm or other financial sponsor, expects to increase the value of the company over the short term, typically five to seven years. Financial investments by private equity firms typically take the form of leveraged buyouts, where the buyer contributes only a portion of the purchase price and secures loans from investment banks to meet the full amount negotiated with the seller. Financial buyers control the business strategies and operations of their portfolio companies via placement of representatives on their board of directors, usually in proportion to their ownership stake. The company itself is saddled with paying off the debts, but these transactions provide the company with new capital to fund business expansion and product development.
    • “KKR also owns RBmedia, one of the major suppliers of audiobooks to libraries. In a transaction announced in July 2018, KKR acquired RBmedia from Shamrock Capital Advisors. As with OverDrive, this investment was made through its KKR Americas XII Fund. KKR’s investments in RBmedia and OverDrive were shepherded by Richard Sarnoff, a veteran of the publishing industry and chairman of media, entertainment, and education for KKR.
    • “RBmedia offers a subscription service for consumers in addition to its library lending platform. The company, at the time known as Recorded Books, was acquired by Shamrock in August 2015. The previous month, Recorded Books acquired competing audiobook publisher Tantor Media and in May 2014 it acquired HighBridge Audio, partially consolidating the digital audiobook industry.
    • “Will OverDrive and RBmedia merge? Such a union would signal a major consolidation in the digital content industry for libraries and schools.
    • “Ebook lending occurs within a highly consolidated publishing industry dominated by the Big Five and Amazon. Some of these corporate forces perceive library lending as intrusive and are not motivated to offer favorable licensing terms. Pricing models that place restrictions on the number of copies available for lending, the number of circulations allowed before the title must be relicensed, and temporary embargos on front-list titles present significant challenges for libraries. OverDrive’s dominant market share in this area could add substantial clout to library interests in negotiating more favorable pricing and terms.
    • “KKR’s Christmas Eve announcement sounded many alarm bells in the library community. Concerns include the negative impact of private equity ownership and industry consolidation.
    • “The possibility of a merger between OverDrive and RBmedia into a new superpower is a more valid concern. In sectors involving the sale of products and services, fewer competitors lead to higher consumer prices. But in an arena where pricing is controlled more by publishers than distributors, a larger player could optimize library interests in future negotiations of prices and lending terms.
    • “As library investments in digital content continue to rise and spending on print stagnates or falls, the dynamics of this sector bring high-stakes ramifications for public libraries.”
  1. In PG’s electronically-driven humble opinion, traditional publishers overprice their ebooks to Amazon and everyone else. That’s good news for indie authors because they can make a lot of money for each ebook licensed/sold via Amazon while still offering their readers a lower purchase price than traditionally published books would cost.
  2. PG expects that Amazon’s lawyers are worried about antitrust problems, but he wishes that Amazon would develop its own system to support library ebook lending. PG has no doubt that Amazon’s system would work better than OverDrive does (PG uses OverDrive via his local library to borrow books from time to time and finds it to be clumsy and outdated. KKR hasn’t appeared to have put much money into improving the user experience of those who use OverDrive.)

PG has one final note – Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, which was the source for much of The Verge’s OP. When he acquired the paper, there was lots of Sturm und Drang among the Amazon-haters about how Bezos would ruin the Post and stifle the voices of opposition to Amazon represented by The New York Times, etc.

While PG believes the Post is fully-capable of ruining itself, it appears Bezos isn’t stifling the editorial side of the newspaper for Amazon’s benefit as predicted.

Libby is stuck between libraries and publishers in the e-book war

From Protocol:

On the surface, there couldn’t be a more wholesome story than the meteoric rise of the Libby app. A user-friendly reading app becomes popular during the pandemic, making books cool again for young readers, multiplying e-book circulation and saving public libraries from sudden obsolescence.

But the Libby story is also a parable for how the best-intentioned people can build a beloved technological tool and accidentally create a financial crisis for those who need the tech most. Public librarians depend on Libby, but they also worry that its newfound popularity could seriously strain their budgets.

Before 2017, e-books were still pretty niche, and checking out library e-books was torture. In 2016, just over a quarter of Americans had read an e-book within the previous year, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Not many people even knew their libraries offered digital books. Overdrive — the digital marketplace for publishers and libraries, and the creator of Libby — was (and still is) clunky, slow and unintuitive. Overdrive hit just under 200 million checkouts in 2016; in 2020, that number more than doubled, surpassing 430 million.

Few noticed when the cute, friendly virtual library app launched in 2017. Libraries are never very good at selling themselves, and neither is Overdrive. But the app’s seamless, user-friendly experience was so exceptional that it spoke for itself. Libby became a cult favorite for book lovers and dedicated librarygoers, and almost every public library in the country, already dependent on Overdrive for their growing digital collections, loved that they could make reading online a little bit easier. It was the public library’s best-kept secret.

And then in March 2020, when libraries closed their doors and books sat gathering dust, the Libby app became so much more than a cute reading tool. People turned to digital books and were delighted to discover they were so much simpler than remembered. You could access the web app anywhere on any computer, and everything synced to a phone app as well. You could download library books to Kindle. You never needed a password. You could use more than one library card. Libby downloads increased three times their usual amount beginning in late March. E-book checkout growth and new users on Overdrive both increased more than 50%.

Libby had helped to save libraries.

It had also accelerated a funding crisis. Public library budgets have never been luxe, and book acquisition budgets in particular have always been tight. Though it may seem counterintuitive to readers, e-books cost far more than physical books for libraries, meaning that increased demand for digital editions put libraries in a financial bind.

Because e-books are not regulated under the same laws that govern physical books, publishers can price them however they choose. Rather than emulate the physical model, where libraries pay a fixed cost for a certain number of books, they instead offer digital editions through a license that usually includes a limit on the number of times a book can be checked out, the length of time a library holds an edition, or both. Just like with movies, music and software, book publishers have moved from an ownership model to a subscription model for their digital products (none of the major publishing houses responded to multiple requests for comment for this story). Librarians sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to circulate one copy of an e-book for a two-year period, a number that could theoretically add up to thousands for one book over decades, according to a 2019 American Library Association report to Congress.

The librarians I spoke with celebrate Libby. They love that more people are reading digital books. But they can’t help but quietly curse the technological problem that brought them here.

“It is definitely problematic,” said Michelle Jeske, the city librarian for the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. “You’re buying it in print, you’re buying it in e-book, and in audio e-book, CD, and in Spanish. With either a steady or decreasing collection development budget, it’s a serious problem.”

Despite Overdrive’s dominance, the company has escaped criticism for the funding crisis. Overdrive makes good money on the digital book-lending business; it’s the largest marketplace for publishers to sell to public libraries in the U.S., is expanding rapidly in other major publishing powerhouse countries like Germany and China, and offers a popular school reading app called Sora. More than 23,000 new schools and libraries joined Overdrive in 2020 alone.

“It’s important for us to have the same values and standards that the libraries do, protecting privacy and confidentiality, making information accessible in as broad a ways as possible,” said David Burleigh, the communications director for Overdrive. Overdrive also became a Certified B Corporation the same year it launched the Libby app, and it now leverages that status to avoid getting mucked up in the financial fight.

The ALA lobbying arm has been pushing Congress to consider regulating digital media to address this problem, and it’s no secret to anyone who reads Publishers Weekly that tensions between librarians and publishers have spilled over into public animosity. “Publishing is a tough tough world, and it sometimes has felt like librarians and publishers have been pitted against each other. They need to make money, and we need to be able to serve our public. There has got to be some place in the middle,” Jeske said.

Publishers justify the increased cost of e-books because they say the new technology has reduced friction too much, hurting their sales. They have argued that Libby and libraries have made it too easy for people to read books without buying them. Macmillan, one of the big five publishers, placed an eight-week embargo on library sales of new e-book releases in late 2019 for just that reason, though it reversed its position in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and as libraries extend their reach statewide as well as nationally, it is becoming ever easier to borrow rather than buy,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan’s then-CEO, in an open letter to librarians justifying the embargo.

And though librarians like Jeske and Eileen Ybarra, the e-book coordinator for the largest digital collection in the country at the LA Public Library, vehemently disagree — they believe it’s still too hard for people to access digital books — they say that in one respect, the publishers are absolutely correct: Overdrive wants to make the e-reading experience as frictionless as possible.

“That’s the idea. It’s to make it as easy as possible for people to read as much as they like,” Burleigh said. “Ease,” “accessibility” and “efficiency” are his keywords: He repeats them over and over again in every conversation about his company’s app.

Overdrive doesn’t believe that frictionless library lending hurts publishers. In fact, Burleigh said, it actually can help.

While Burleigh wouldn’t directly answer questions about Overdrive’s role in reducing the friction — it would be awkward for business if he did, given that Overdrive mostly makes money through a cut of what publishers sell on its platform — he pointed to research that shows that increased library lending actually helps book sales. (Overdrive funds Panorama, the independent group that conducted the research.)

“Libraries are part of the ecosystem. They’re not competing necessarily with booksellers,” Burleigh said, adding that the research shows that when people read more, it creates a channel of discovery for lesser-known books.

. . . .

Burleigh said that Overdrive advocates for a wide range of funding models and the best deals for libraries, but he also hesitated to describe an “ideal” solution for e-book pricing that would satisfy everyone. “It’s a good question. I don’t know that I have the answer. Publishers have different strategies. Libraries have different strategies.”

Link to the rest at Protocol and thanks to DM for the tip.

The OP constitutes PG’s Exhibit 723,467 in support of his proposition that major publishers are run by idiots.

  1. You hate Amazon because it’s too successful at selling books because it knows how to price books optimally to generate the largest number of sales to optimize profits from those sales.
  2. Once again, demonstrating the stupidity of groupthink you put all your ebook lending eggs into one basket and give the entire business to Overdrive, mainly because it’s not Amazon.
  3. PG doesn’t know if Overdrive is run by smart people or not, but it recognizes a great opportunity for a quasi-monopoly-scale profit that a mind-blown ex-hippie drug dealer could see. To whit (or, to wit (PG is old-style on this topic)), that it can deliver organized groups of electrons that it receives from publishers to libraries almost for free.
  4. There is no technological reason that each major publisher could not put together its own version of Overdrive’s system and deal with libraries directly. (Yes, the publishers would have to hire some outside technology experts to build the system, but graduates from the computer science departments of any number of major and minor universities could handle the job providing that they graduated in the top half of their class. (LexisNexis has been doing the same thing for thousands of years. (PG knows this because he worked there when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (and it was not rocket science then))))

PG is in an uncharacteristically-charitable mood (probably an unannounced side effect of the covid vaccine), so he will lay out a plan for Big Publishing to extricate itself from this self-made car-crash.

  • Fly to Seattle (you can share a chartered jet to save money because you love private meetings with no one listening in)
  • Enter Bezos Mansion dressed in sackcloth on bended knees
  • Beg the Jeffster to please, please, please forgive you of your follies and save you from your stupidity
  • Explain that you know the smart folks at Amazon can put together their own version of Overdrive over a long weekend (you might offer to reimburse any overtime expenses Amazon accrues and provide food and Jolt Cola for all concerned)
  • Change back into New York business attire on the plane flying back. Imbibe freely because you aren’t going to be fired after all. Glance out the window to view terra incognita.
  • A week later, send a joint letter (more Big Publishing “cooperation”) to all libraries in America announcing that they have an alternative to Overdrive that will cost them less and is coming to them from (through gritted teeth) Amazon.

PG feels much better now. For a moment, it was almost like he wasn’t sheltering in place.

PG is familiar with Libby because his local library uses it for ebook lending. Libby works, sort of, and reminds him of the 80’s.

Amazon’s discovery, lending and check-out systems for books are light-years better than Libby (Libby even uses Amazon to deliver ebooks to PG’s Kindle Fire). Amazon may already have the bones of an ebook lending reporting system for publishers in the KDP reporting system.

Making a deal with Amazon could solve Big Publishing’s Overdrive problem and make them more money with one flight to Seattle.

In PG’s limited view, only one potential cloud my be on Big Publishing’s ebook lending horizon – the possibility that each of the major publishers signed an exclusive contract with Overdrive.

There’s only so much PG can do for really stupid people.

One of his rules for practicing law is “Don’t do business with fools.”

One of PG’s observations on the practice of law is “Fools can be so ingenious.”

But, if everything always worked out as expected, life would get boring pretty quickly.

PG is feeling rather wise, which is a sure sign he’s acting stupidly.