Friday, January 15, 2010

Offline Book "Lending" Costs U.S. Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion

Hot on the heels of the story in Publisher's Weekly that "publishers could be losing out on as much $3 billion to online book piracy" comes a sudden realization of a much larger threat to the viability of the book industry. Apparently, over 2 billion books were "loaned" last year by a cabal of organizations found in nearly every American city and town. Using the same advanced projective mathematics used in the study cited by Publishers Weekly, Go To Hellman has computed that publishers could be losing sales opportunities totaling over $100 Billion per year, losses which extend back to at least the year 2000. These lost sales dwarf the online piracy reported yesterday, and indeed, even the global book publishing business itself.

From what we've been able to piece together, the book "lending" takes place in "libraries". On entering one of these dens, patrons may view a dazzling array of books, periodicals, even CDs and DVDs, all available to anyone willing to disclose valuable personal information in exchange for a "card". But there is an ominous silence pervading these ersatz sanctuaries, enforced by the stern demeanor of staff and the glares of other patrons. Although there's no admission charge and it doesn't cost anything to borrow a book, there's always the threat of an onerous overdue bill for the hapless borrower who forgets to continue the cycle of not paying for copyrighted material.

To get to the bottom of this story, Go To Hellman has dispatched its Senior Piracy Analyst (me) to Boston, where a mass meeting of alleged book traffickers is to take place. Over 10,000 are expected at the "ALA Midwinter" event. Even at the Amtrak station in New York City this morning, at the very the heart of the US publishing industry, book trafficking culture was evident, with many travelers brazenly displaying the totebags used to transport printed contraband.

As soon as I got off the train, I was surrounded by even more of this crowd. Calling themselves "Librarians", they talk about promoting literacy, education, culture and economic development, which are, of course, code words for the use and dispersal of intellectual property. They readily admit to their activities, and rationalize them because they're perfectly legal in the US, at least for now.

Typical was Susanne from DC, who told me that she's been involved in lending operations for over 15 years. This confirms our estimate that "lending" has been going on for over ten years, beyond even Google's memory. Our trillion dollar estimate may thus be on the conservative side. Of course, it's impossible to tell how many of these lent books would have been purchased legally if "libraries" were not an option, but we're not even considering the huge potential losses to publishers when "used" books are resold for pennies on the black markets.

The communications backbone for this vast enterprise appears to be Twitter. Already, there is constant chatter on the #alamw10 hashtag. Most messages are clearly coded references to illicit transactions. For example a trafficker with the alias "@libacat" tweets "Have to be on the bus to the airport at 6:41 tomorrow morning to make it to the airport to get on my plane to #alamw10". At first glance, it seems like a mundane tweet about travel plans, but the breathtaking ordinariness and triple redundancy is more likely a secret code. How else to understand @scolford's (correction: retweet of @SonjaandLibrary replying to @BPLBoston) tweet; "curling my toes in joy at the thought of visiting your library"?

I've attended this meeting before. When I register for the book lending confab, I'll be presented with an encrypted document labeled the "program", which once decoded, will tell me where I can meet other book traffickers, discuss arcane trafficker lore, and drink trafficker beer. It's thick with secret code words like YALSA, LITA and NMRT, and no apparent rhyme or reason in its layout, evidently to frustrate outside investigators. I'll be lucky if I can find a bathroom.

Two places I'll be sure to find this weekend will be the OCLC Blog Salon on Sunday evening and the Chinatown Storefront Library on Saturday afternoon. Say hello if you see me.

A more serious post on Attributor is forthcoming.

Update: here's my post on "Deconstructing the Attributor Study".
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30 comments:

  1. Eric, that wasn't my tweet! That was a retweet of @SonjaandLibrary replying to @BPLBoston. Would be weird for me to say that, not only because I have delicate slender toes, but because the BPL is *my* library. You know, where I work.

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  2. Clever and funny, but I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that one day, libraries and librarians will find themselves witch-hunted like Metallica fans downloading St. Anger.

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  3. Scot, I still don't know what it means!

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  4. I am not sure why you think this is funny, publishers and writers alike are all suffering because of these despicable people. How are they going to make their payments on their 3rd yacht, did you ever think of that. Not only do we have to consider the incredible wealthy shipmakers with nothing to do, but the yacht crews will be out of a job as well. Grandkids, Great Grandkids and even Greater Grandkids are being forced onto the street to earn money for themselves because the 100-year old copyright money that they earned, by being born to the right person, is not providing enough. This is not a laughing matter

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  5. mettalica fans downloaded st. anger?
    when
    have you listened to st. anger. its horrid

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  6. Are you sure you want to call publishers' attention to libraries?

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  7. How very true. I hope you don't mind that I've linked to this post on my blog.

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  8. Funny and accurate at the same time. The biggest problem with all the official piracy numbers tossed around is that they are just a pile of assumptions with the biggest one being that people would have purchased the item if there was no other choice. I've purchased the same book a number of times and now I've moved to ebooks and am again repurchasing many of my favorites. Now, if a book isn't available as an ebook the odds of me buying it is quite small as the joy of an uncluttered house and the ability to carry thousands with me at one time has finally overcome the pleasure of a printed copy.

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  9. You know... there are many great points here, but the original conspiracy is completely overlooked.

    It's the Government behind this conspiracy to put book writers and publishers down. Anybody ever hear of a small place called the "Library" of Congress?? A Government sanctioned copyright infringing intellectual property giving establishment.

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  10. I'm sure the publishers would love to outlaw libraries, but even the most bought-and-paid-for politician isn't willing to attack a centuries-old tradition like that. With digital stuff, a sizable portion of the electorate will just be confused ("digital downloads"? Series of tubes? huh?).

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  11. Excellent cartoon, Adam. (from 2000)

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  12. You do realize that libraries actually buy trhe books they lend, don't you? And that they don't make extra copies for everyone who wants one? Does the expression 'sophomoric humor' ring a bell?

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  13. Laugh all you want Hellman, my mother has been all but kidnapped by one of these book trafficking sites. They've brainwashed her to the point that she has now begun to VOLUNTEER her time at one of their 'outlets'.

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  14. Strangely, exactly this (and yes, I do get the humour, very well done in fact) point has led in the UK to something called "Public Lending Right".

    http://www.plr.uk.com/

    Authors get a fee every time a book is lent out of a library. A small fee to be sure, and the maximum payout is quite low for any author in any one year (£5k if memory serves right).

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  15. WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CORPORATIONS??

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  16. That is a fine post Eric. Well done.

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  17. I enjoyed your post very much. I get so tired of hearing how the publishing industry is going to die. As long as people love books, it ain't gonna happen.

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  18. With each sarcastic jab at the 'wealthy' and 'corporations', et al, brings forth the earnest quality of the proletariat mind. By placing the spotlight, once again, on evil book publishers, i.e. CORPORATIONS, we get to add to the summary judgment against capitalism and private property. People justify why they shouldn't pay for music, or movies, now...books. Eventually, video games will become targeted once cheap, convenient technology is readily available to the 'vox populi' to steal that as well. With each and every new 'godnology' that is made available to people, specifically through the internet, enters new levels of entitlement. Ebooks is just another pillar to fasten that. Soon enough someone will create a Napster for books and then watch the en masse hysteria begin. Next, will come the mentality that anybody can have a great library, if not the best. This hysteria isn't about having great books, movies, or music at their disposal, it's about collecting content on a monolithic scale; it gives people 'godlike' hubris to think they possess immediate access to all of this content. The Shakespearian Tragedy is nothing is truly done with it. Knowledge is nothing without application, alas, everyone with a computer or a kindle, doesn't become deified, they simply become whores to their own inability to apply.

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  19. Thank you for a brilliant post. Perhaps it should be mentioned, that at least one publisher is on the side of the traffickers... http://www.baen.com/library/

    They even corrupted a writer, in to try and rationalize there evaaal schemes on the grounds, that it will help them make money....

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  20. I loved the post! And didn't you also notice the publishers coming to spy on us?

    I am now doubly sorry I did not make the blog salon this time, but the place I went instead....well, let's just say it was fun!

    DC in June! You can still take the train (and I still have to fly!).

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  21. Clever! Funny! Brilliant! Librarians rule (as we all know if we think about it at all) If I could sell just one copy of each novel to every public library in the nation I would be happy.

    One correction. Libraries aren't free. We do pay for them through our taxes. They are (or should be) part of the social contract.

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  22. Me too, Carl. I love libraries. They buy books and encourage reading.

    And I'm wondering just how many authors there are with yachts. I know a hundred or more and I haven't met one yet who can afford more than a dinghy.

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  23. Comment posted on behalf of Richard M Stallman

    The publishing industry is already taking action to put an end to this leakage. E-book readers such as Amazon Swindle are designed to eliminate libraries as we know them: the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) makes it impossible to lend books, resell books, even give them away. You can't buy them anonymously either.

    If you want to join in fighting against this, visit DefectivebyDesign.org .

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  24. This vexing issue will finally be "solved" when the only books left are eBooks. Already, the Doctrine of First Sale that these traffickers hide behind is being dismantled. An eBook, you see, is not for sale. You cannot buy one. You and these malevolent librarians can only **license** an eBook and that license will forbid lending. When all copyrighted books are eBooks, lending libraries will be unable to legally lend and will disappear shortly thereafter. Ditto for the secondary (used) book market.

    Problem solved.

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