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.