Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Inaugural LibraryReads List, With e-Lending Annotations

This morning the inaugural LibraryReads list was announced. However,  a number of the selected books may not be available in digital form in your library.

by Rainbow Rowell
Published: 9/10/2013
by St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 9781250030955
X Macmillan does not do e-lending of the St. Martin's Griffin imprint. However, the Director of Library Marketing at Macmillan says "stay tuned as we continue to roll out new titles for e-lending."

How the Light Gets In: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
by Louise Penny
Published: 8/27/2013 by Minotaur Books
ISBN: 9780312655471
X Macmillan has some of the books from its Minotaur imprint in its e-lending pilot. But not this one. Again, "stay tuned". Apparently the audiobook is available for pre-order on Overdrive.

Night Film: A Novel
by Marisha Pessl
Published: 8/20/2013 by Random House
ISBN: 9781400067886
Random House has a strong e-lending program, but the books are expensive! The ebook pre-order is currently available on Overdrive for $84; it's $12.99 on Kindle Store.

Help for the Haunted: A Novel
by John Searles
Published: 9/17/2013 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780060779634
✓ HarperCollins allows e-lending. The ebooks expire after the 26th lend, but they're priced at a discount from retail print.

The Returned
by Jason Mott
Published: 8/27/2013 by Harlequin MIRA
ISBN: 9780778315339
✓ Harlequin has a good library e-lending presence. The library ebook is available for $21 on Overdrive. It's $9.46 on the Kindle Store.

Burial Rites: A Novel
by Hannah Kent
Published: 9/10/2013 by Little, Brown
ISBN: 9780316243919
✓ Little, Brown is part of Hachette Book Group. Hachette recently announced that its full list would be available for library e-lending. The program is comparable to Random House's.

Margot: A Novel
by Jillian Cantor
Published: 9/3/2013 by Riverhead
ISBN: 9781594486432
? Riverhead is part of Penguin, (now part of Random Penguin House). I'm not sure what the e-lending status of this will be.

Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel
by Jamie Ford
Published: 9/10/2013 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780345522023
✓ Another Random House title, should be available for e-lending.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
by Sheri Fink
Published: 9/10/2013 by Crown
ISBN: 9780307718969
✓ Yet another Random House title, should be available for e-lending.

A House in the Sky: A Memoir
by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
Published: 9/10/2013 by Scribner
ISBN: 9781451645606
X Simon and Schuster is at this point in time the least e-friendly to libraries of the big 6 publishers. This title should be available as part of a pilot with New York City public libraries, but if you live anywhere else you are screwed.

It seems to me that if the librarians participating in LibraryReads really want to promote reading in libraries, then they should push to have any selected books available for e-lending, and not just in New York City. Just three years ago, fully half this list would have been digitally forbidden to libraries; just because some advances have been made doesn't mean the struggle for library survival is over. Not even close.

The covers are linked to Amazon. So there! Updated with some real pricing/availability info.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Rational Framework for Library eBook Licensing

Since the Redigi decision made it clear that there is no right of first sale for digital content in the US, it's been much easier to think up realistic doomsday scenarios for public libraries in the US. Why should a publisher let a public library lend an ebook if Amazon or some other competitor were to offer much better terms? How would our public library system, saddled with difficult-to-use systems and unfavorable contracts, ever hope to compete?

Back when HarperCollins first announced that it would only let libraries lend their ebooks 26 times before they would expire, there was widespread outrage from the library community. Looking back on that, it seems pretty clear that a lack of consultation and poor customer communication fueled the furor. By itself, the lending limit could have terrible long-term consequences for libraries, but as part of a wider, well-thought out framework, it could be useful component.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this over the last 3 years, and I've decided it's time to float a comprehensive proposal for how libraries and publishers might work together on ebook distribution to benefit the entire reading ecosystem. eBook lending as implemented to date has been founded on a combination of irrational fears and outmoded processes. We deserve better.

Behind this framework is a set of assumptions.
  1. Library ebook distribution must sustain and increase the total population of readers; this is a prerequisite for a healthy book publishing industry.
  2. Patron discovery of ebooks in libraries must connect effectively to ebook sales.
  3. Library distribution must become much more efficient, and overhead must become much smaller for ebooks than it is today for print books and ebooks.
  4. Long term preservation of ebook availability must be a joint undertaking of libraries and publishers.
  5. The economic models used for library ebook distribution must provide incentives for libraries and publishers to promote points 1-4.
I don't pretend that people won't disagree with some or all of these 5 assumptions, but if any of them are false, then, I think there will be NO distribution of ebooks through libraries. I also recognize that not all books are alike; even if library distribution works for some ebooks, it's unlikely that it will work for every ebook.

So the fifth assumption is what this post is really about. Given 1-4, what should an economic framework look like? Here are the features of a model that makes sense to me:
  1. Decoupled pricing. An ebook license that allows for lending makes the ebook more valuable, so why shouldn't it cost more than an individual, non-transferable license? I can't say whether Random House's 300% markup for libraries is excessive, but why not let the marketplace decide? For new, super-popular ebooks, maybe 500% markup makes sense. On the other hand, maybe ebooks that need exposure should have an 80% markdown because libraries might turn them into bestsellers.
  2. Rate limits instead of DRM. Patron license embedding.  I've written about this before. This may take the most convincing, but in thinking about the imperatives of effective discovery, low distribution overhead, and long-term preservation, I've concluded that there are no alternatives to major change in library distribution technology.
  3. Circulation charges after an initial period. Most books are bought in the first year of publication. Today, libraries "deaccession" books to match their declining demand. But there's no reason for a library to deaccession an ebook, so for most books the global supply for any given ebook will eventually exceed global demand. If the library can cut its transaction cost from ~$2 per circulation to $0.20 per circulation it seems fair to reward the publisher with part of the difference for developing books with long term value. 
  4. License transferability/InterLibrary Loan. Libraries rely on interlibrary loan to expand the scope of their collections and meet special needs. But ebook loans can be instantaneous, so digital ILL can compete directly with backlist sales. If the transaction costs (currently ~$10) for ILL can be squeezed down to $1 or so, there's plenty of margin to provide a transaction payment to the rights holder for the privilege of doing so. 
  5. Patron-funded purchases. Libraries are tight on funding even as they need to completely transform what they do. Their biggest asset is a huge reservoir of public goodwill. At this pivotal juncture, their ebook offerings are characterized by long hold queues. Why can't a library patron buy an extra copy for the library and jump to the front of the queue? Why don't publishers offer "Buy for your Library" buttons on their catalog pages? The reasons are complex, but it's mostly a case of "we haven't done that before". But if it doesn't happen I just can't fathom how library discovery can effectively plug into publisher commerce.
  6. License durability. If libraries are expected to "buy" ebooks, it should be pretty much for keeps. If the publisher for some reason has to revoke a license without cause, the library should get a refund of the license price.
  7. Archival copies. Libraries need to do a lot of things with books other than lending. Indexing and archiving are good examples. The saddest thing about the most successful library ebook distributors today is that libraries don't get access to unencrypted ebook files. If libraries are to offer effective discovery and archiving of ebooks, they need access to the files. Seems a no-brainer to me.
There are a bunch of parameters to plug into this framework; here's my guess as to what they should be:
  • Rate limits: One authenticated user per two weeks.
  • Circulation fee: $0 for the first year, after the first year, 2% of purchase price or $1 whichever is greater. 
  • ILL fee (publisher share): 5% of purchase price or $2, whichever is greater. 

A rational ebook lending framework would mean big changes for both the book publishing industry and the library industry. Even if a HarperCollins decided today that this was an attractive way forward, it would be hard-pressed to find a way to implement it, because libraries just don't work that way. So it seems a bit far-fetched at this point. Based on the iBookstore fiasco, it appears to be illegal for big publishers to even talk to each other, let alone drive business model changes. It's good that a library group is still trying to figure it out.

Maybe some small startup company could try some sort of pilot program.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wattpad Usage is in the Ballpark of US Public Libraries

Billion Reasons Why, a novel
by xXdemolitionloverXx
on Wattpad
While working on another article, I came across this bit of data. Wattpad, the reading and writing community that's sort of a YouTube for stories, claims that its users are spending 3.5 billion minutes per month on the site. That's a number so big that I had no context for it.

So I wondered, how many minutes per month do people spend in their public libraries? There's a lot of data available for US public libraries from IMLS. In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, 1.57 billion visits were made to US public libraries, or about 131 million visits per month. I have no idea how long an average library visit lasts, but let's say it's a half hour, then the total minutes of "user engagement" by US public libraries would be about 3.9 billion minutes per month. Roughly the same as Wattpad.

Maybe we should also count the time that readers spend at home with a library book, 30 minutes might be a serious underestimate. (see update) Also, Wattpad's usage is spread out internationally- they are the top mobile site in the Phillipines, for example. So its usage within the US is probably quite a bit less than public libraries. But it's also concentrated in certain demographics- teenage girls, for example. And it continues to grow at a solid pace.

Update: Karen Coyle point out in comments that you could also estimate library user engagement by looking at circulations. By that measure, assuming an average of 4 hours of reading per book, you get that US public libraries are about 8 Wattpads of engagement.

Any way you look at it, that's a lot of reading going on.