Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The ebook impasse?

If you're a librarian, you don't need me to explain the current uproar within the library lending ebook community now that one publisher has drawn a line in the lending-model sand.

Some library folks have rightly declared shenanigans. And someone from the other side has responded. And the general view in libraryland toward this new pricing model is Fuck You. And the publishers seem to be saying, "Right back at 'cha."

And this is all our fault. We gave money for a shitty product. We always buy shitty products. As consumers, we don't have many choices. We often have to pick from elephant shit or cow shit or pig shit. And the conversations within the committess sound like this:

"This elephant shit is very dense which could make it more durable."
"But this pig shit is so spreadable."

But ultimately we're always left with shit.

Regarding ebooks, some say that accepting DRM limitations from the start was a bad move and that we should have demanded unlimited access and open formats.

And others refer back to even the dawn of ILS software, automation, cataloging, MARC records, etc., where libraries became dependent on outside vendors to provide content and services, pointing out that this dependence forced libraries into a weakened bargaining position and limited future choices.

And again, this is because librarians are weak negotiators. Many of us work for the public sector where salary negotions are often nonexistent. We take what we are offered.

But on the purchasing end, librarians sometimes manage huge piles of cash, the purse strings, major ducats. And if we suck at negotiations, we need to remember that money talks.

People are very good at spending other people's money. And so the question arises as to whether libraries even need to be spending it on ebooks. We buy them because our patrons want them. But other than that, what is the reason that we purchase shit that we don't own?

Our library leases a lot of material. We lease building space; we lease books. We lease financial products; we lease databases. And hopefully, someone with some expertise did the cost analysis to determine whether these leases are affordable. But I doubt it. Even with other products, I think we take what we can get without weilding any of the power one would think would come with all the money we spend.

So what should we do? Is ebook lending one-sided, benefiting the publisher much more than the customer? In some ways, yes. But when you look at the pricing for libraries compared to the basic consumer model, then no.

The basic consumer downloads an ebook for $10 and reads it and maybe gets to lend it to six more people. But libraries pay that same $10 and get to lend that ebook to 26 people. To a simple-minded person, that looks like a good deal.

And that's because the basic consumer created this situation. The individual consumer told publishers that this pricing is fair. So, should be pissed off at publishers who are just taking their cues from the idiot consumer? And then we invite those same consumers into our libraries so they can demand that we accept the same lousy purchasing agreements?

But libraries have historical been allowed to lend materials as often as we want, virtually without limits. Unless the borrower drops the book in the toilet and we have to get a new one. But tell me, should we required to accept what amounts to a digital toilet dunking with our ebooks?

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