My Letter to John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan

In the 14 October 2009 New York Times article Libraries and Readers Wade Into Digital Lending, which looked at library patrons looking to borrow digital books, Macmillan CEO John Sargent made the following statements:

“I don’t have to get in my car, go to the library, look at the book, check it out,” said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, which publishes authors like Janet Evanovich, Augusten Burroughs and Jeffrey Eugenides. “Instead, I’m sitting in the comfort of my living room and can say, ‘Oh, that looks interesting’ and download it.”

As digital collections grow, Mr. Sargent said he feared a world in which “pretty soon you’re not paying for anything.” Partly because of such concerns, Macmillan does not allow its e-books to be offered in public libraries.

In response, and with the assistance of Jane Litte and Robin from Dear Author, I composed a letter to Mr. Sargent, asking that he rethink Macmillan’s policy on allowing its digital catalog to be accessed by libraries offering digital lending to patrons in the United States. (Next up, I think, shall be an equally long letter to the New York Public Library asking what it was smoking when it decided to disallow non-resident library cards.)

Below the fold, if you’re curious, is the text of my letter which should have arrived in Mr. Sargent’s office earlier this week. I hope the policy is reconsidered, and soon, as digital lending is about the best thing to hit my computer and Sony since, well, electricity and a rechargeable battery. Decisions like these that penalize digital readers for no valid reason make me ineffably sad. And really cranky.

 

 

Dear Mr. Sargent:

My name is Sarah Wendell, and I am the co-founder of the romance novel review website Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Our community is a very active one comprised of readers, writers, published romance authors, and publishing folks all discussing romance fiction and the publishing industry.

I’m not sure if you are aware, but one of the most active groups to embrace digital reading and digital books is romance readers, in large part because the portability and convenience of digital books fit so easily into the diversely engaged lifestyle of contemporary women. Which is why I was struck so strongly by your comments in the 14 October 2009 New York Times article about digital books and libraries:

“I don’t have to get in my car, go to the library, look at the book, check it out,” said John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, which publishes authors like Janet Evanovich, Augusten Burroughs and Jeffrey Eugenides. “Instead, I’m sitting in the comfort of my living room and can say, ‘Oh, that looks interesting’ and download it.”

As digital collections grow, Mr. Sargent said he feared a world in which “pretty soon you’re not paying for anything.” Partly because of such concerns, Macmillan does not allow its e-books to be offered in public libraries.

While I well understand the space limitations of newspaper interviews, and am certain you said a lot more than just those words, your comments as related seem to equate downloading and online commerce with piracy and theft—that if something is downloaded, the recipient is not paying for it. Moreover, your comments seem to indicate that you are not in favor of library lending, particularly the lending of digital media, particularly since Macmillan does not allow its books to be lent digitally in American libraries. I’m writing to ask that you please rethink that decision.

It seems to me from your comments that you may be equating library loans of digital books with free, pirated books; however, those two things are fundamentally different. Digital books are a format, like large print or mass market paperback. Readers have a preference for one over the other, and not because of reasons related to potential theft. In the same way that readers who prefer a paper format rely on being able to check out free paper books from the library, so do readers who prefer electronic books want the ability to check out free digital books from their local library. The free lending principle of public libraries applied to digital media is not at all the same as stealing or pirating a copy of a book.

Books digitally lent from public libraries, like paper books, are a gateway to a potential legitimate revenue stream. Libraries influence book buying, particularly among romance readers, who are high volume book buyers. Readers like me, who regularly read 3-4 books per week, use library books to try new authors. Books that I’ve borrowed from the library can and do become purchases from my local bookstore. Moreover, library lending can enable greater buying potential for digital books. Once a user becomes comfortable with the process of borrowing and downloading a library ebook, purchasing that same digital book is easier. So not only does traditional library lending incentivize book buying among avid readers, but electronic library lending can incentivize digital book buying, which, as you pointed out, is even more convenient than traditional book buying, because it can be accomplished anywhere the reader has access to both an Internet connection and an electronic device ranging from a laptop computer to an iPhone.

Digital library lending also meets a need unique to women readers, one of which you may not be aware. For many women, the most preferred commerce method is digital. I queried my Web site’s readers as to what types of products they buy online, and the response was a digital avalanche. Among the things purchased online by the women who responded to my query: movies, music, shoes, clothing, jewelry, groceries, craft supplies, toys, party supplies, garden supplies, office supplies, gifts, computer equipment, travel tickets, and, in more than one case, automobiles.

And the most common item mentioned by the women who responded to my request? Books. Books from online e-bookstores, books from print bookstores, and books from their public library, either ordered and placed on hold, or downloaded and read on a digital reader. I regularly read digital books from the New York Public Library.

Why are you excluding your books from being downloaded by these eager library patrons? Readers like me buy many books, and as my casual survey of my many readers can attest, women readers prefer digital commerce, particularly for books and digital media. So if library lending represents a gateway to eventual purchases, refusing to allow your company’s books to be digitally available to library patrons effectively excludes Macmillan from untold future revenue. According to the Romance Writers of America, the romance reader buys over $1.7 billion in romance fiction annually, and digital readers already tolerate many frustrations in order to read our favorite books electronically. Making things easier for us will not induce piracy; on the contrary, it will build loyalty in a readership that is already amazingly loyal in our book buying habits. Show us you understand our needs and wants and we will buy more, not fewer, Macmillan books. We would also appreciate competitive pricing and simultaneous digital release, but those are subjects for future conversations.

I hope that you will reconsider your decision to exclude Macmillan digital books from public libraries. Whether the book is paper or digital, romance fans are eager to find your books in their nearest public library. I am sure you would never announce that you have made the decision to exclude Macmillan’s mass-market paperbacks or hardcover large print editions from public libraries. Excluding digital books is tantamount to doing exactly that: eliminating access to a desired format for a population eager to read, and ideally purchase, your books. I will hope that I will find Macmillan books in the New York Public Library’s e-catalog soon.

Until that time, your decision to disallow digital book borrowing through public libraries is, in the opinion of this avid reader and book purchaser, bad business that does nothing to serve anti-piracy efforts.

Digitally yours,

Sarah Wendell
Managing Partner
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books LLC

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    SouthwesternBelle says:

    So not only does traditional library lending incentivize book buying among avid readers, but electronic library lending can incentivize digital book buying, which, as you pointed out, is even more convenient than traditional book buying, because it can be accomplished anywhere the reader has access to both an Internet connection and an electronic device ranging from a laptop computer to an iPhone

    I really appreciate the message here, but holy run-on sentences, Sarah.

    (Just trying to be honest, since grammar is something y’all here rip on book authors for).

  2. 2
    JanLo says:

    Hopefully, your educational and heartfelt letter will actually reach his desk, to be read by him, not some office dweeb! Let us all know if he responds.

  3. 3
    Laura (in PA) says:

    Great letter. I hope he reconsiders.

    I am also appalled at the comment about NY Public Library and non-resident library cards. I currently patronize, and am now a volunteer at, a library that is not in my county. The library in my town is old, the people are rude, and the books I want are never there. I am now using a brand new, friendly, and easy-to-use library in the next county, and it’s worth the 30-minute drive. Thank God they don’t have the policy the NY Public library has adopted.

  4. 4
    Marianne McA says:

    Perhaps he’s – not exactly right – but got some sort of point?

    So imagine e-reading is up and running properly, and most readers have access to some sort of wireless reading device. And today ‘Harry Potter and the Unexpected Sequel’ is published. I can do the bookshop thing, but if I’m happy to e-read it I can either, on the stroke of midnight, download it for a heavily discounted £4.99, or download it free from the library.
    Unless I reread books (and personally, I do) why would I pay? Even if I do reread books, I know I can borrow it again, anytime I like (because ebooks don’t get lost or go OOP) for free. 

    Of course, that’s not the entire argument: it leaves piracy out of the equation – but I do think the man has a point. Presumably with e-books there’s no limit to the number of copies a library can issue, and no limit to the number of books they can stock. Nothing goes OOP, ever.

    If you’re trying to run a MacDonald’s franchise, and beside you a state-run competitor is legally giving away the identical product for free, where does your profit come from?

    Would there not be an argument that we need to rethink the idea of the library for the digital age? If I borrow a DVD from the library I pay £1.50 a week. (I think: I don’t actually borrow them.)
    Perhaps there should be a fee – small fee, because otherwise people may chose to read pirated versions – each time you borrow an e-book?

  5. 5
    Kristin says:

    Great letter Sarah!

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    Perhaps there should be a fee – small fee, because otherwise people may chose to read pirated versions – each time you borrow an e-book?

    I disagree, simply because libraries exist to allow access to information for a community for free. Period. Full stop. End of sentence. Just because a book is digital or on paper doesn’t mean one format should cost more because it’s newer.

    When you borrow a library book, one would hope you bring it back so someone else can read it, too. Digital books disappear off your device after the 20 day lending term. Then someone else gets to borrow them.

    Moreover, LIBRARIES are paying for the book. Libraries BUY their books. They aren’t free from the publisher. And often, the library pays more for the digital copy than we do as consumers because it’s not as discounted.

  7. 7

    I couldn’t agree more, and hope that he takes your advise and reconsiders his stand for his company.

  8. 8
    Terry Odell says:

    Great letter!

    Marianne said:

    Of course, that’s not the entire argument: it leaves piracy out of the equation – but I do think the man has a point. Presumably with e-books there’s no limit to the number of copies a library can issue, and no limit to the number of books they can stock.

    I don’t think this is the case. My library doesn’t have e-book lending yet, but I was under the impression that there are limits on how many “copies” can be out at any given time.  My library has 3 copies of one of my books. So three people can read it at any given time. They can request it on line and it will show up at their door. If they don’t finish within the timeframe, they can renew it on line as well. I’m thinking a similar system would be in place for e-books.

    I’d love library downloads. Almost as much as I’d love a universal reader.

  9. 9
    Rhyss says:

    Ebooks from my library can only be borrowed by one person at a time and they have a waiting list the same as print books.  Also, when I re- borrowed an ebook that I had read digitally before from this library, I was able to borrow it but unable to read it because I was told by my Sony reader and Adobe Digital Editions I did not have permission to do so.  (No such problem the first time)

    After much discussion with the library tech peeps I was informed that it was not their software, nor Sony, nor Adobe but something the publisher did to restrict the same person from downloading the book too many times.  ?????  So no rereading of ebooks?  Can this be true or was I getting a snow job from an uninformed and probably frustrated help tech?

  10. 10
    Caroline says:

    So imagine e-reading is up and running properly, and most readers have access to some sort of wireless reading device. And today ‘Harry Potter and the Unexpected Sequel’ is published. I can do the bookshop thing, but if I’m happy to e-read it I can either, on the stroke of midnight, download it for a heavily discounted £4.99, or download it free from the library.
    Unless I reread books (and personally, I do) why would I pay? Even if I do reread books, I know I can borrow it again, anytime I like (because ebooks don’t get lost or go OOP) for free.

    The solution to that is simple: have a small wait before allowing libraries to lend the book. Many digital editions don’t release until later anyway. Libraries are already “giving it away for free,” so unless you’re arguing that libraries shouldn’t lend any books, your argument doesn’t hold water.

    Great letter, Sarah. The publishing industry, at least a large part of it, is displaying the same alarmist, anti-technology attitude that sunk (sank?) the music industry. If they don’t learn the lesson from what happened there and embrace technology rather than try to stand in its way, they’re going to suffer the same fate.

  11. 11
    Laurel says:

    Marlanne:

    I’ve got a foot in your camp. I get the fear here and I bet some of it comes from authors. My first thought was “small fee” as well. I also think someone could clean up “renting” digital books for maybe one or two bucks for a one week stretch. Maybe someone is already doing this and I just don’t know about it.

    I also see the other side of this. My feeling is that if the number of digital copies that can be out at any given time is comparable to the number of hardcopies that it might work. I also like limiting the number of times someone can check out the digital copy although this obviously does not apply to hardcopies. Seriously, if you liked it that much can’t you show the author some love?

    On the absolute win side, with digital lending there is no issue with overdue, lost, or stolen books.

    I already have many books on my Kindle that I wouldn’t read again so I know if I had read them free originally I would never have paid for them. Good for me, sucks for the publisher and the author. Free is great. We all love free. But if we want more new books, somebody has to make some money on the old ones. Milk, cows, and all that.

    So yeah, I have no idea what the solution is. I hope someone smarter than me can figure it out because I love me some digital.

  12. 12
    Dena says:

    Presumably with e-books there’s no limit to the number of copies a library can issue, and no limit to the number of books they can stock. Nothing goes OOP, ever.

    Speaking as a librarian at a large urban library who deals extensively with downloadable books (audio and e-books), The is indeed a limit to the amount of books we can issue and stock. It’s not a physical limit, as we don’t have to worry about shelf space for them, but a financial one.

    Just like buying a physical book, we order x number of licenses (copies) of an e-book, for which we pay a substantial amount.  Once all the copies are checked out, you have to put your name on the hold list and wait for the next available one. In our library people get e-books for a few weeks and then the file becomes unreadable and the license reverts back to the library for the next borrower. It’s exactly like coming to the library for a physical copy of the book, and if there are no copies on the shelf you put your name on the holds list and wait.

    In an ideal world we’d be able to buy multiple copies of every book ever published (both print and electronically) but as library funding keep getting cut, we can barely afford to buy any books at all right now. (I’m just slightly bitter about library funding decreasing in a time when libraries are being used more than ever)

    One the plus side, a patron can’t accidentally drop an electronic library book in the bathtub or leave it on the bus or check it out and never return it, thus depriving future readers of that copy.  An e-book can have more enduring value in a library than a print book in terms of damage, theft, and general wear and tear.

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    Free is great. We all love free. But if we want more new books, somebody has to make some money on the old ones.

    Library books are not free. I’ll say it again: library books: not free. Oh, wait, I’ll use my own formatting tags:

    LIBRARY BOOKS ARE NOT FREE.

    Libraries pay for them. They pay a LOT for them.
    You also pay for libraries. With your sexxy tax dollars. So in a roundabout way, YOU HAVE PAID for library books.

    They do not magically appear on the shelves with a gust of pixie dust and the work of benevolent publishing industry elves.

    The publisher has been paid. The librarian has been paid, too. And the digital provider, usually Overdrive, has ALSO been paid, both for access and management of the download process, and for the license for the lend-able copy of the digital file itself.

    Free is a completely incorrect concept in this argument.

    Moreover, digital books should be available at the same time as the print copy, whether it’s for sale or lending at a public library. Would you submit to a delay in the release of a library’s copy of a hardcover bestseller so that more people would buy it in stores?

    And speaking of that bestseller – you can’t keep a book and pay late fees with a digital copy. When you’re time is up on that book, it’s gone. And the next person waiting to find that pesky Lost Symbol can borrow the book without waiting for patron disinclined to respect the due date to return the physical book. That right there is an utter win.

  14. 14
    Kalen Hughes says:

    An e-book can have more enduring value in a library than a print book in terms of damage, theft, and general wear and tear.

    Libraries pay for them. They pay a LOT for them.
    You also pay for libraries. With your sexxy tax dollars. So in a roundabout way, YOU HAVE PAID for library books.

    If a physical book is popular at the library, it will wear out after being lent repeatedly, and the library will have to buy another copy. This is not true with digital books. If the library had to pay to renew their license after a set number of lendings, then the financial equation would remain level with physical books, otherwise, I can kind of see Sargent’s point (not in its entirety, but I do think publishers and authors have legitimate concerns about just how lending is going to work in a digital world). Here in the states we don’t pay a fee per lending, but in other countries (the UK for example) I’ve been told that they do. Perhaps libraries shouldn’t pay upfront for digital books, but should pay a small fee to the publisher/author for each lending?

    Personally, I’m guessing that something like this will come down the pike in the not-so-distant future. A massive online-based digital lending library that rents books for a small fee.

  15. 15
    wimseynotes says:

    Thank you Sarah – for the original letter and for the LIBRARY BOOKS: NOT FREE comment.  The library system I use in Canada is moving into ebooks, and although there is limited choice at the moment, I can see it as a growing market, especially in smaller communities where libraries are bound by physical space as well as dwindling finances.  Much as I loved the Bookmobile that used to show up in my neighbourhood once or twice a month, it is not as practical a solution to library networks trying to cover several hundred kilometers as an eLibrary.

    Not only are the books paid for, but, as has been pointed out, there is no loss, no damage, no books returned smelling so foully of cigarette smoke that they have to be left outside for a day just in order to be reshelved.  There are innumerable arguments FOR ebooks, and the only ones against them appear to be based on mis-understanding about the DRM(?) technology which allows you to read the book and then ‘return it’. 

    iTunes and others do the same with renting out movies and tv shows – once downloaded, the purchaser has 48 hours (or whatever) to view.  Then it is no longer available.

    And frankly, I don’t buy a lot of books (a lot being a relative term – we packed over 100 boxes of books the last time we moved), and I do expect to be able to go to my local library and take out a favourite book every week for the rest of my life if it is available.  The joy of a library is access to something I do not wish to purchase, store, or own, but do want to read.

    Boo to Macmillan.  They’ll eat their words.  Hope they have ketchup.

  16. 16
    Kit says:

    Kalen said:

    If a physical book is popular at the library, it will wear out after being lent repeatedly, and the library will have to buy another copy.

    I see the point, AND I wish you could see the mending area at our library! Often bindings on books split completely in two while there’s still a “new” sticker on the book.

    We’ve seen a real decline in the quality of binding in books that have come out in the past few years. Older stuff that we discard for having yellowed pages still has perfectly firm binding, but new bestsellers fall apart after only a couple of check-outs. Our vendor rep claims that this is due to publishers wanting to keep the hardback price low while still paying a famous series author more money for new installments.

    But I think the idea of libraries having to re-buy an e-book if it’s still popular could work, since the librarian in charge of that collection could decide whether to buy it again or not. Having to pay per check-out would be a budgeting nightmare, because you would never know how much a given book cost.

  17. 17

    If a physical book is popular at the library, it will wear out after being lent repeatedly, and the library will have to buy another copy. This is not true with digital books. If the library had to pay to renew their license after a set number of lendings, then the financial equation would remain level with physical books.

    The key word here is “popular.” 

    For the very popular books, it holds true. But the vast majority of books, especially mass market paperbacks, simply can’t be replaced no matter how grody the actual copy is, or how much the patrons wish it would circulate.  This is because by the time the library has the budget to replace a well-worn, disgusting copy, you just can’t buy the new paperback any more. 

    (Check out Wendy the Superlibrarian’s post on Jodi Thomas’s The Tender Texan here— http://super_librarian.blogspot.com/2009/10/librarians-dirty-secret.html—a book that circulated 67 times in the last 6 years, having been on the shelf for 18 years.)

    My guess is that the library shelf-life is greater than the in-print purchase life for the vast, vast majority of books. And recall that once the rights have reverted to the author, the publisher simply can’t renew the library’s license, so it’s not as simple as just spending more money.

    In publishing, which do you suppose is the norm?  You got it—FAR more books hit the “can’t buy it for love or money” stage than will ever encounter the “bought again and again” stage.  It seems to me to be a terrible mistake to base policy on the 0.1% chance of a library’s future purchase, which they can only exercise for the 1% of books that do not fall out of print.

  18. 18
    Laurel says:

    LIBRARY BOOKS ARE NOT FREE.

    I feel like I’ve been taken to the woodshed *ducks head*.

    I think everyone is aware that libraries pay for books. I used to be a sales rep for a textbook publisher, though, and guess what? We spent very little time in libraries because that was not where we made our money. And piracy is real, not the boogey man. I know many people who’ve lost their jobs because of profit lost to piracy.

    Authors and publishers live and die by bookscan numbers. An author’s success is not judged by the number of times her book has been read but by how many copies have been sold. If a library has three copies that are never read or three copies that are worn slap out it’s the same amount of money for the author.

    I love libraries. I am pro-library, both in theory and execution. I am pro-digital lending, too, since I know those licensing fees are indeed expensive and go up significantly for multiple users. I’m just saying I get why the publishing industry is so terrified of all things digital. They need to embrace it instead of fight it so hard, but it’s always scary when someone is messing with your paycheck. And an individual publishing house can’t do much to change the existing algorithm:

    Bookscan numbers=good=$$$
    Bookscan numbers=bad=no $$$

    The entire industry, top to bottom, needs to collectively move out of the stone age before authors will stop being terrified of digital rights, lending, and sales.

  19. 19
    SB Sarah says:

    There’s a hot tub in the woodshed! Come on in!

    I get why the publishing industry is afraid of all things digital, too, but what drives me up a digital wall is the inability to listen, and consider alternatives when evidence abounds, instead of just eliminating access across the board.

    Maybe we should beat up Bookscan. No hot tub for you, Bookscan!

  20. 20
    Laurel says:

    I don’t know. If Bookscan brings liquor I might let them in. I’m can be bought with a good martini.

    Hmmm. Maybe that’s why Bookscan has such a stranglehold. I’m not the only one….

  21. 21
    SB Sarah says:

    Laurel, you have stumbled upon the reason for the extreme-dining-out drinks-and-business culture of publishing.

    Pass me the martini shaker!

  22. 22

    As an author published by Macmillan (St. Martin’s Minotaur,) I would love to have my books available in digital versions at libraries. I think Dena covers the cogent issues of use and licensing very well—thank you, Dena the librarian! Books in libraries—dead-tree, audio or digital—mean money in my pocket. Plain and simple. When I started out, library sales were what kept me afloat.

    As a library user, I already download audiobooks from the Portland Public Library, available through Overdrive. I know I’d be all over ebooks if they were available as well. The convenience for a busy mom living out in the Maine countryside cannot be overstated.

    As a volunteer at my local library, I suspect digital editions would INCREASE the variety of titles offered. A large number of romance titles, cozy mysteries and manga are available only in mass market paperbacks that cannot stand up to circulation. Our library won’t buy them because they’ll fall apart! A licensed digital edition would enable us to expand our offerings.

    I strongly suspect that library patrons are among the least likely population to indulge in piracy. Indeed, I think having legally available digital editions that are free to the reader would decrease piracy. After all, no one is going to be rereading my books over and over every week as it they’re the latest from the Killers or Coldplay.

  23. 23
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Having to pay per check-out would be a budgeting nightmare, because you would never know how much a given book cost.

    They do it in other places . . . and I’m not saying it’s the only solution. I’m just saying it’s one possible solution.

    It’s not just publishers and authors who are going to have to make adjustments as we enter into the digital age. Some solution is going to have to be found, or I’m afraid more and more publishers will have a policy like Macmillan’s.

  24. 24
    joykenn says:

    Great discussion, guys, and great letter, Sarah.  I just have one question/comment about NYPL not letting non-residents get cards.  How is the NYPL funded?  If its paid mostly for by local property taxes as is the case in most public libraries (all public libraries in my state of Illinois), it is entirely legitimate and makes sense for them to limit services to the folks who pay taxes for the library.  I pity the person with the sub-par local library but there is a remedy….contact the governing body for the library and complain and work work work for an increase in taxes to make the library better.  Better/more professional staff, more books bought from publishers, money for programs to promote reading (look at Wendy the Superlibrarian’s annual programs with local authors).  All these things including a nice, well-lighted, comfortable library building cost tax dollars.  Sorry no free books to libraries, no free salaries to library staff and no free gas and electricity for the building.  It all costs.  Taxes pay for it and most libraries save the “goodies” (sometimes AV, sometimes a limit on holds for nonresident borrowers, sometimes digital resources) for those who pay for the library.

  25. 25
    Kalen Hughes says:

    How is the NYPL funded?  If its paid mostly for by local property taxes as is the case in most public libraries (all public libraries in my state of Illinois), it is entirely legitimate and makes sense for them to limit services to the folks who pay taxes for the library.

    I know that the San Francisco Public Library offers cards to non-residents. It’s free to anyone who’s a CA citizen and there’s a fee for out-of-state people.

  26. 26
    Marianne McA says:

    I’m completely pro-library. My mum was a librarian and one of my earliest memories is being in the library as a toddler. I’m also completely pro-ereading. *Waves my Sony in the air*
    I do, of course, understand that libaries have to pay for books, and that this is funded through tax.

    My contention is that the man may have a point.

    I want to read a book. Imagine I can phone my local Waterstones, and they will deliver a pristine copy to my door within 5 minutes for £6.99. Or I can phone my local library and they will deliver a pristine copy to my door within 5 minutes for free. The difference is, I can keep the Waterstone’s copy, but the library will take their’s back after 20 days. 
    Your argument is that people will, reasonably often, be prepared to pay the £6.99. If not for that book, for the next.

    Now, I can see that with actual paper books – because there is something tangible to have, to display, to share. But I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t pay for a virtual book when I could legally and fairly get the same book for free.
    (I take your point that it’s not actually free, but free in the ‘I don’t have to pay anything extra’ sense of the word.)

    I’m not arguing there’s anything immoral about libraries lending ebooks – I just can’t see how the publishers make money that way. Your assertion is that they make money because readers, who have read MacMillan Author’s Book Ten, and loved it, will go out and purchase that author’s back list. But why wouldn’t they just get them for free at the library too?
    And yes, okay, the library pays for their copy, but if they can lend that copy infinite times, the return per book must be small. (And I was wrong about them being able to lend as many copies as they liked. I apologise. I am talking through my hat, and know it.)

    I don’t think it’s a problem now, because most people don’t read ebooks. But if 90% of the poulation read that way, would it be a problem?
    Perhaps it’s not, perhaps the numbers work out. But to me, it’s not an ethical issue about whether books should be available this way – of course they should – but a practical question of whether the existing paradigm (is that the right word?) of library lending works in a post-print world.

    And if not, why not change the system? The important thing, as you said, is that:

    … libraries exist to allow access to information for a community for free.

    I do, seriously, know I don’t know enough to know if that’s a valid argument. And clearly there are other relevant factors – like piracy, and like the fact relatively few books are irreplacable: if a book I want isn’t available, I may read something else from the library rather than pay for it at a bookshop. I understand that.

    But I can’t be certain that Mr Sargent must be wrong. (Do I get a gold medal for fence-sitting with that sentence?)

  27. 27
    Marianne McA says:

    And…

    When you borrow a library book, one would hope you bring it back so someone else can read it, too.

    O/T entirely, but I was returning my library books yesterday, and the librarian confided in me that my eldest daughter has a £14.40 fine on her overdue books. Clearly this quaint notion that you ‘bring it back’ has escaped her completely.

  28. 28
    Karen S. says:

    A note about a couple things mentioned here, at least from how things work at my library system, for what it’s worth:

    —as I’ve seen people saying what might be interpreted as “non-residents don’t pay for the library” (or I could be reading it wrong): non-residents still pay a fee to get a library card.  In my town, it’s $33/year, in the larger city I got a card at so I could borrow ebooks it’s $40/year (Best. $40. Ever. Spent.).  I know a lot of places in the States have statewide or county-wide library cards though I’d think that would be because of how the libraries are funded.

    Though I totally admit that we get a lot of non-residents who think they shouldn’t have to pay for it at all (and boy, are they ever fun to deal with).

    —as for having to reorder copies, that’s really only with the most popular books, if the numbers get really low.  For example we might have ordered 7 or 8 copies of the Harry Potter books when they were new, but not reorder until we have 2 copies left, and then only order one more.  In most cases, it’s more that a lot of the original copies we ordered get pulled from the collection because they haven’t been checked out in more than a year and we need shelf space for new books.  I’d check and see how many Nora Roberts and James Pattersons we have kicking around at the moment where the copies are 5+ years old, but the branch I’m at has non-typical circulation as it’s teeny-tiny.

    —if this is what people meant, depending on where you are, it may not be legal to charge patrons a fee for borrowing.  The Ontario Public Libraries Act prohibits libraries from charging cardholders specifically to borrow materials.  I remember it coming up in an article I read about an Ontario library that wanted to charge $1 for borrowing a DVD, as they get lost/destroyed/stolen so easily.

    I know other countries have models where libraries pay a small “royalty” for the number of checkouts, though, which is a different thing.  I’m kind of curious how this works though—if libraries are paying the same as they used to for the actual copy as well as “royalties”, or if they don’t pay as much up front, but make it up and more with the “royalties”.

    There’s also the side issue that there are some books I’d really like to read that I’m not going to buy, period, whether available from the library or not (mainly because of prioritizing my spending), but I’ve rambled enough.

  29. 29
    Carin says:

    So it seems the publishers believe that if they don’t sell the books to the library, that the patrons will come and buy the books.  Well, for me that just isn’t the case.  I read a LOT.  And 99% of it comes from the library.  I don’t have a budget to buy all those books.  I’m happy that my taxes go to the library so I can get books there. 

    I agree with Sarah – books in the library are good for sales.  Not having them there is bad for sales.  Consider when I DO buy a book…

    WhenI buy a book, it’s usually one that I’ve read and re-read and I decide I want my OWN copy, because every time I want it from the library I have to get on the hold list again!  So, yes, you can check it out over and over again at the library, but it is a shared copy, so you have to wait.

    Honestly, my “buy” threshold is pretty high.  But I have to think, across the board, that providing access to books means more sales. 

    Oh, and there IS a delay between hardcover release and library availability, at my library at least.  It seems to take a couple of weeks the release date to get the books ready to circulate.

  30. 30
    Jen says:

    As another librarian and book lover, I have a few response to some of the comments.
    Book lover first:

    I also like limiting the number of times someone can check out the digital copy although this obviously does not apply to hardcopies. Seriously, if you liked it that much can’t you show the author some love?

    I think this would not make any difference.  I have a number of mass market paperbacks at home that I re-read every year.  I just re-read The Blue Sword for the something-th time this past weekend.  The author got nothing for this.  HOWEVER, I also just purchased an additional copy of the same book on Amazon in order to send it to my niece who is turning into quite the book reader.  People who read share the love and discovery with other people who read.
    Librarian, now:

    I want to read a book. Imagine I can phone my local Waterstones, and they will deliver a pristine copy to my door within 5 minutes for £6.99. Or I can phone my local library and they will deliver a pristine copy to my door within 5 minutes for free. The difference is, I can keep the Waterstone’s copy, but the library will take their’s back after 20 days.

    This is not really realistic as eBook lending goes.  You will not be likely to get a copy from the library within 5 minutes.  Most popular titles have long waiting lists.  Our library has 5 holds on The Lost Symbol right now and only one licensed copy.  With each user taking it out for 3 weeks, the last person on the list will have waited nearly 5 months to take it out.  If paying 6.99 for the title right now is something you can afford, you’ll probably pay. 
    Thanks for taking up the cause, Sarah!  This is an awesome thread!

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