Memories of Futures Past

“To the Moon, Alice!”

Ever wanted to read some classic Science Fiction yet been unable to find a copy of your favourite author’s work?  I myself have been fruitlessly looking for a copy of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen series for a while now.  Or, say you’re a fan of Murray Leinster.  His works are out there, but few and far between.

Well, someone’s decided to make sure that visions of future past don’t disappear into history. The good people over at engadget have a nice little profile of a bookstore in New York (Brooklyn to be specific) whose proprietors have dedicated themselves to bringing lost and out of copyright Science Fiction back into the mainstream.

Singularity&Co have dedicated themselves to:

Save the SCIFI!

Singularity&Co. is a team of time traveling archivists longing for futures past. 

Each month, our subscribers help us choose a vintage, out of print scifi book to rescue (with the rightsholders’ permission).  We’re bringing forgotten 20th century scifi into the 21st.

They’ve dedicated themselves to scanning rare and classic Science Fiction books into a digital format and then releasing them as ebooks.  If you’re an  aficionado of classic SciFi, these are the people to watch!

(Thanks to Mat Smith at engadget)

Advertisements

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!”

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.

Brother can you spare a dime (novel)?

“Hey guy, can I borrow your copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?”

“Um, no.  I bought it for the Kindle.”

“How about…”

“Nope. Kindle.”

“Well then, what about…?”

“Kindle!”

“Alright, I’ll be at the Library talking to that cute girl.”

I’ve had a Kindle for about eight months now.  I love it, it’s handy, and certainly saves a lot of space around the home office.  However, something has always annoyed me about their product.  You see, I love reading, talking about what I’ve read, and loaning out my favourite books to friends so they can enjoy them too.  Hard to do with a Kindle though.  At least ’til now.

Amazon has finally jumped on the bandwagon and relaxed their proprietary rules (somewhat).  Was it pressure from Google books?  Are they feeling the heat from Sony’s eReader?  Honestly, who cares?  It’s just nice to know that Kindle readers can now share content with their friends. As an aside, it’s also a great marketing tool for Amazon!

For their part, Amazon has made lending an book very similar to the library experience.  The lender can send an eBook to a friend for a period of two weeks, after which the recipient can no longer access the book.  Also, the lender of an eBook cannot access that book on their Kindle during the same time frame, just as if you were to physically loan out a book to a friend.

How does the recipient access their friend’s book?  Just download the Kindle app to your digital product of choice, whether iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry or PC/Mac.  The lender goes through a relatively simple process on their Kindle, and voila, they’ve loaned a book.

There are a couple of caveats:

  • Not all books are eligible to be loaned.  Amazon has left it up to the individual publishers to decide whether their material can be lent.
  • To read a loaned book, you must have the Kindle app.  (However, since it’s free, it shouldn’t be a big deal to download to whatever device you choose).
  • As of right now (January 2011), the lending option is only available in the United States. 

 Apparently the rest of the World will have to wait a bit longer.  Hmmph!