Psst….I think you should take this call…it’s the President!

“I really think you should take this call.”

And the controversy over ebook lending continues:

 
In another article on the subject of HarperCollins new restrictions on ebook licensing (specifically targeting library lending), Library Journal columnist Michael Kelley recounts Roberta Stevens (American Library Association president) criticisms of the new policy.  From the ALA’s statement regarding HarperCollins decision to limit licenses to 26 viewings before renewal:
 
     “Libraries have a long history of providing access to knowledge, information and the creative written works of authors…We are committed to equal and free access for the millions of people who depend on their library’s resources every day. While demand has surged, financial support has decreased. The announcement, at a time when libraries are struggling to remain open and staffed, is of grave concern. This new limitation means that fewer people will have access to an increasingly important format for delivering information.”
 
She furthermore vowed to work closely with publishers:
 
     “Crafting 21st century solutions for equitable access to information while ensuring authors and publishers have a fair return on their investments is our common goal. The transition to the e-book format should not result in less availability…The marketplace for e-books is changing rapidly. We encourage publishers to look to libraries as a vehicle to reach and grow diverse audiences.”
 
As of this posting, HarperCollins has not changed their position regarding ebook licensing, namely that they’re acting in the interests of the authors and that ebook licensing in perpetuity will result in a reduced profit stream for both publishing houses and authors.  They maintain that the “26 and out” policy is the most equitable way of solving the problem.
 
Frequent readers of this blog (btw, Thanks Mom!) may be wondering by now why I keep coming back to this issue.  After all, I’m not a librarian, and frankly, the last time I was in a library was to rent a movie. (psst…you can rent them all you want)   So, why should this issue matter to you, or me, or any ebook reader that doesn’t use the library?
 
Simply put…look to the future!
 
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wake up five years from now, pull out my Kindle 5.0 (Now with Holographic display!) and find that half my digital books are no longer there because all the while some virtual doomsday clock is counting down the seconds until my licenses are considered “expired.”  Furthermore, with the advent of such policies as Amazon Kindle’s new lending feature, who’s to say that publishers won’t institute a similar policy for the general public?
 
To quote a hackneyed phrase, “It’s in Revelation, people!”
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Lockout! HarperCollins ebooks to be banned from Libraries?

Never Mess with a Librarian

Well, it looks like messing with Librarian’s isn’t the cakewalk HarperCollins expected it to be.

As of March 7, 2011, several library consortia have decided to suspend any future purchases of ebook licenses from HarperCollins as a direct result of the publisher’s recent decision to enact a license limit of 26 check-outs on ebook titles.

In an article by Michael Kelley that can be found at Library Journal (sorry guys, I know I keep cribbing from you, but who else has the best info on Library news?), the response and concerns regarding HarperCollins actions are chronicled.  Predictably, they’re not happy.  From Joan Kuklinski, executive director of the Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing Consortium:

“The library model has always been you purchase and own it for perpetuity, and I don’t think the format should matter as long as rights are being protected,” she told LJ. “No one tells a library they have to pull their books off the shelf after a certain number of circulations so why should this be different? They are looking at consortia as a threat, and it’s totally the wrong approach,” she said.

Directors of the Upper Hudson Library system have also decided to no longer buy their ebook titles from HarperCollins, calling the decision “patently ridiculous” (oh, fun with puns!) while several other consortiums have hopped on the bandwagon (read the article, I can’t crib everything!).

The best argument against such an arbitrary move is Adri Edwards-Johnson (coordinator of the Virtual Library) video demonstrating that print books have a much longer shelf life than HarperCollins is claiming.  Ouch, awkward moment for the publisher.

So, there we have it.  In their efforts to secure an ongoing profit stream from ebook sales to libraries for themselves, and by extension, the authors they’re claiming to represent, HarperCollins has managed to ensure that neither they nor their authors will see a cent until this issue is resolved.  Furthermore, they’ve managed to damage their brand

I doubt we’ve heard the last of this issue, and suspect that some sort of accommodation will eventually be worked out, but for the moment, it looks like HarperCollins is locked out.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls-Steve Hockensmith

“Wishful thinking is a sin all England stands guilty of today, your fool of a father included.  We told ourselves our long nightmare was over, that a new day had dawned.  Alas, that was the real dream.”  ~Mr. Bennett.

And thus begins, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Steve Hockensmith: copyright © 2010 Quirk Books), a story of Regency England facing  a threat it had thought long since past.  In polite society, one does not talk of the scourge, and if necessary, refers to them as “the Unmentionables“.  Less polite society calls them “the Dreadfuls” and if one loses one’s propriety altogether, “Zombies!”

And propriety is under siege in this novel, as respectable society tries (and fails) to go about business as usual, ignoring the threat that has literally come upon their doorsteps.

Dawn of the Dreadfuls was written as a prequel to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, itself a mash-up of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, chronicling the events that led to the Bennett sisters becoming the undead killing machines of Smith’s novel.  It begins with a funeral (quite apt) and ends with a ballroom dance being crashed by some uninvited (and undead) guests.  Along the way we are introduced to the Bennett family, a family of more status than means.  While Mrs. Bennett seeks an amicable union for her daughters so as to assure a future of comfort and sensibility, Mr. Bennett curses himself for both not having sons and neglecting his daughters martial education.

The daughters themselves are a curious bunch. 

Jane, the eldest, is a demure portrait in modesty (so much so that you need use both words to describe her), yet equipped with a quick wit and an even quicker katana.  She’s the model of civility in such an age, yet  not above doing whatever needs to be done in pursuit of the greater good, whether allowing herself to be courted by an awful English dandy to satisfy her mother, or lopping the head of any dreadful to satisfy her father.  Elizabeth, our protagonist, is much less demure, possibly a quicker wit, and  has a much more realistic view of the world and people around her.  She’s also less mindful of modesty and more willing to ascribe to the axiom that life is, “nasty, brutish and short.”  Unless you strike first.  Mary, the self-absorbed bookworm, lost in her desire to show everyone up, whatever the issue, and finally Lydia and Kitty, too girls with nothing but air between their ears, yet natural skill with implements of death.

You can’t have a family of women in such a novel without a bevy of possible suitors, and Dawn of the Dreadfuls is chock full of them.  Remember, this is pre-Darcy, and Netherfield Park was not yet to be occupied by the Bingsley’s. No, in this prequel Netherfield is the domain of Lord Lumpley, a libertine of the worst sort, whose desperate pursuit of wine and women rules all his actions, and in this case, the object of his pursuit is Jane.  Such a beauty cannot only be the desire of one chunky lord, and his nemesis arrives in the form of Lt. Tindall, charged with protecting the small hamlet of Meryton from the recently unearthed.  He’s the model of a soldier, brave and talented, yet hidebound by the social convention that women are delicate flowers and hobbled by a regiment of recent inductees who barely know one end of a musket from the other. Nevertheless he knows how to put down a dreadful and learns to recognize that convention is all fine and good, ’til it stands between you and continuing life.

Of course, this novel is primarily about Elizabeth Bennett, and while she is cynical of men as a gender, her views are only enhanced by the vices exhibited by the two men in her life.  The first is the seemingly flawless master Hawksworth, an expert of the martial arts and belonging to an order that once put the dreadfuls in their place.  While demonstrating all the physical ability and military talent to deal with the threat, over time Hawksworth’s fatal flaw becomes apparent, both to the reader and Ms. Bennett.  His counterpart is the intellectually superior yet emotionally stunted  Dr. Kekilpenny, a man who would rather play around in his makeshift laboratory trying to rehabilitate the dreadfuls into proper English gentlemen than stand up and fight.  His bravery is obvious, but it’s born of obliviousness.

So, the scene is set, the characters have their places, and the reader is more than likely to be amused and enthralled by this surprisingly entertaining period piece.  Hockensmith manages to capture much of the subtle humour and most of the style  of Austen’s writing.  When talking of Mrs. Bennett’s personality, he inserts such thoughts as, “As always, she found facts antithetical to good conversation.” (pp. 142)  When writing of lord Lumpley’s excesses, such lines as:

“You and I must return to Netherfield at once Ms. Bennett.  Balls don’t throw themselves, you know, and I’m certain you will prove yourself ever so helpful with mine.” (pp. 180)

leap out at the reader and elicit a good chuckle. 

But it’s not all chuckles and wit.  If you’re looking for horror and mayhem, or simply relief from the boredom that comes from sense and sensibility in a time of polite society and debutante’s balls, then Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a must read.  Especially since Hockensmith has been commissioned to bookend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with both this prequel and the forthcoming sequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After, leaping off shelves to feast on the brains of horror readers March 22 of this year.

 

License Revoked!

So, you’re a Librarian, eh?

In a February 25, 2011 article by Josh Hadro of the Library Journal, it was noted that HarperCollins is instituting a new program regarding licensing of ebooks to libraries.  As discussed in my earlier post, the long and short of it is, “26 reads and your license is revoked.”  HarperCollins take on the subject was that 26 viewings was the equivalent of about a year and a half of circulation for a physical book and also the average lifespan of said physical book.  While I understand their rationale, it’s pretty much bogus.  If you were to extend it to its logical conclusion, then libraries would have to send back any title that had been checked out 26 times, whether in good condition or not.

So, today is another day, and feeling the need to justify their actions (Honey, why do you make me hurt you?), HarperCollins responded to criticism in an open letter to Librarians, explaining their position in further detail:

   

March 1, 2010

Open Letter to Librarians:

Over the last few days we at HarperCollins have been listening to the discussion about changes to our e-book policy. HarperCollins is committed to libraries and recognizes that they are a crucial part of our local communities. We count on librarians reading our books and spreading the word about our authors’ good works. Our goal is to continue to sell e-books to libraries, while balancing the challenges and opportunities that the growth of e-books presents to all who are actively engaged in buying, selling, lending, promoting, writing and publishing books.

We are striving to find the best model for all parties. Guiding our decisions is our goal to make sure that all of our sales channels, in both print and digital formats, remain viable, not just today but in the future. Ensuring broad distribution through booksellers and libraries provides the greatest choice for readers and the greatest opportunity for authors’ books to be discovered.

Our prior e-book policy for libraries dates back almost 10 years to a time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure. It is projected that the installed base of e-reading devices domestically will reach nearly 40 million this year. We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors. We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel.

We spent many months examining the issues before making this change. We talked to agents and distributors, had discussions with librarians, and participated in the Library Journal e-book Summit and other conferences. Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist. If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount.

We invite libraries and library distributors to partner with us as we move forward with these new policies. We look forward to ongoing discussions about changes in this space and will continue to look to collaborate on mutually beneficial opportunities.

Sincerely,

Josh Marwell
President of Sales
HarperCollinsPublishers

(Please note that this letter was reproduced from the March 1st column by Josh Hadro and Francine Fialkoff at Library Journal)

So, where should we start?  How about here:

“We are striving to find the best model for all parties. Guiding our decisions is our goal to make sure that all of our sales channels, in both print and digital formats, remain viable, not just today but in the future. Ensuring broad distribution through booksellers and libraries provides the greatest choice for readers and the greatest opportunity for authors’ books to be discovered.”

 Well, fair enough.  It is a business, not a charity.

“We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.”

Also fair.  While I don’t have access to their financials, publishing has never been a business with a high profit margin.  And perpetuity is certainly a long time.  Although…I have never heard of libraries placing “additional” (or any, frankly) pressure on physical bookstores.  People either use libraries or they don’t.  The real pressure on physical bookstores will come with the continuing rise of sales of ereaders and ebooks.  Several large chains have already noted this pressure and responded by marketing their own ereaders.  See Barnes and Noble’s Nook, or Chapters Kobo as two examples.

As for royalties to authors, I highly doubt that library copies of their books are the bread and butter of their existence.  In fact, they’re a great marketing tool.

“Twenty-six circulations can provide a year of availability for titles with the highest demand, and much longer for other titles and core backlist. If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book’s life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price point. Our hope is to make the cost per circulation for e-books less than that of the corresponding physical book. In fact, the digital list price is generally 20% lower than the print version, and sold to distributors at a discount.”

Okay, here’s where I take real issue with HarperCollins position.  It’s great that they will offer a significant discount on repurchases, but their arbitrary “26 reads and you’re out” does not reflect the physical value of a book.  How many times have you been to a library and grabbed a hardcover that dates back to the 60’s?  Hardcover books have a significantly longer shelf life than HarperCollins is asserting, unless they’re farming out production to some sketchy suppliers.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, my thoughts on the subject are to take the circulation limitation off the table and offer up these licenses for a realistic time period.  That would be up to the publisher and their counterparts in the library world to work out amongst themselves, but a fair (to my mind) limitation would be somewhere between three and five years. 

It’s interesting that this issue has finally come to light.  I’m not sure if the general public is aware that ebooks are sold as licenses, rather than a product that’s your own to do with what you will.  In the same article, Hadro links to an ebook user’s Bill of Rights, as a consumer’s defense against constant and arbitrary revision of rules of use.  With the ebook industry still in its infancy, a bill of rights would go a long way to protecting consumers from misuse (such as gouging libraries) of ebook licenses.