Forbes Wants to Close Libraries

I just read Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription, a Forbes article written by Tim Worstall. It’s a poorly-researched opinion piece about … well … what the title says. Getting rid of libraries and giving everyone a Kindle Unlimited subscription instead.

Yes, Forbes posted this. Thanks, Forbes!

Who is Tim Worstall? He’s a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a UK-based think tank. Working at a think tank, you’d “think” that Tim would get his facts straight, or at least do a bit of research first… apparently  not the case, which makes me wonder about the quality of research done at the Adam Smith Institute. Tim also has a blog, where he apparently likes to cuss. Alot.

I left a comment on the Forbes article – here’s what I said:

Tim – you say that it’s “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all.” Then you claim (but don’t cite) that only 8% of people buy more than one book a year.

Three things:

1. If you think no one reads, why would you want to shift tax payer dollars from a known, traditional institution (the local library) to a global corporation? That seems silly – you’re still paying tax dollars for something you don’t think anyone does.

2. I challenge your statistics. I’m not sure about UK stats, but I know American stats. According to Pew Research, in January 2014, 76% of American adults ages 18 and up read at least one book in the past year. So that trumps your “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all” statement.

And the average number of books people read over the past year is 5. I do believe an average is larger than 8%, no?

3. The larger problem isn’t lending books though – you actually want to get RID of local libraries altogether. You say this – “Let’s just close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription.”

That argument, for starters, could also be said this way: let’s buy everyone garden hoses. Then we could get rid of the local fire department! Brilliant, right? Wrong. Because the local fire department also has quite a lot of knowledge about what they do – they are professionals.

The same goes for your local library. Yes, they still lend books – both print AND ebooks. They also work really hard to buy the BEST books for your community (having access to 600,000 ebooks from Amazon doesn’t mean they’re all readable books).

And the library does a lot more than that.

So – you mentioned that you have a local library. Instead of someone providing a plane ticket for you [he suggested in the comments that someone buy him a plane ticket so he could visit their library], why don’t you simply get in your car and visit your own local library for starters, and see what they do?

At least when you write your next opinion article, you’d actually know something about libraries :-)

A couple of other things to point out from this very obviously uninformed article:

Tim says this – “The first being that paid subscriptions is exactly how lending libraries started out.” He mentions WH Smith as an example of a fee-based lending library.

WH Smith is a UK bookseller. They operated a circulating library service from 1860 to 1961, and even created ISBN numbers (who knew?) – got this from Wikipedia.

But Tim is missing a HUGE fact – libraries have been around for centuries, and … I know it’s hard to believe – weren’t actually created by good ole WH Smith. Again from Wikipedia – “The earliest reference to or use of the term “lending library” yet located in English correspondence dates from ca. 1586…” Most of those have NOT been subscription-based libraries.

Tim also says this: “ the stock of books available [from the Amazon Kindle thingie] is far larger than any physical library (other than copyright depositaries like the British Museum) has available to readers. 600,000 titles is, at a guess, some 550,000 greater than the library system of my native Bath and North East Somerset purchases with its share of my council tax (that is a guess by the way).”

Again, quite wrong. First of all, my library has 450,000 titles – already coming close to that number that Tim thinks is unreachable by all but the British Museum (I think he really meant the British Library).

The larger issue with the Kindle service is this – just because Amazon’s Kindle service is offering 600,000 ebooks doesn’t mean they’re all actually GOOD books.

Amazon’s service focuses heavily on classics, some popular series, and their self-published ebooks. Read more about it at the Washington Post.

Most libraries are much more choosy than that, and work really hard to buy the best books, and the books our customers actually want to read. Unlike Amazon.

So there you have it! Go read the article and see what you think!

 

Nice Chicago Tribune article about Using the Digital Library

I was recently interviewed by Greg Karp at the Chicago Tribune about digital libraries – ebooks, streaming videos, downloadable music, websites, etc.

Karp’s angle with the story is that a modern library can save people money. Why buy when you can borrow?

It’s an interesting read, and could have a couple of uses for you:

  • Different marketing angle (saving money, using free stuff, etc)
  • Showcasing the different types of offerings at a modern library (3D printers, ebooks, downloadable music, and … cakepans!)

Best part of the article? At the end, Karp mentions the value of librarians:

Perhaps the most valuable resource in any library is a librarian, who can help you find what you need. Nowadays, you might get that help electronically, via email, chat, text message and, increasingly, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Anyway – enjoy!

Logo from the Chicago Tribune

LibraryBox 2.0 Kickstarter Project!

Have you heard about Jason Griffey’s LibraryBox project? It’s pretty cool … and it’s time for the next phase of the project – LibraryBox 2.0!

Jason has set up a Kickstarter project for LibraryBox … and it’s already funded. The main goal ($3000) was funded in like 2-3 hours.

But there’s 29 days left to go on the Kickstarter project, and Jason and LibraryBox have some really cool plans they want to develop to flesh out the LibraryBox project more, and YOU can be a part of that.

So watch the video, visit the pages, and think about funding Librarybox!

Ebooks in Libraries – #BEA2013

Before I give you my two cents on this particular session, here are links to two articles that describe the session pretty well:

Panelists included:

  • Ginger Clark, Moderator – Literary Agent, Curtis Brown LTD
  • Jack Perry, Owner, 38enso Inc.
  • Maureen Sullivan, President, American Library Association (ALA)
  • Paul Aiken, Executive Director, Authors Guild
  • Steve Potash, President and CEO, Overdrive
  • Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster

I have to admit – I didn’t really take notes for this session (but probably should have). Mostly, I just sat, listening in amazement as someone on the publisher side of things would say something silly, and then Mareen and Steve would correct that person. Then during Q&A time, the moderator would blow off questions by answering them herself, then quickly moving on to another question. It was that kind of session.

The thing that got to me the most was this: Carolyn Reidy, CEO of a huge publishing house, sounded like someone who was attempting to talk knowledgeably about ebooks in libraries … but hadn’t ever actually used a library card to download an ebook (which was kinda funny, since she was sitting right next to Steve Potash of Overdrive).

At one point, Carolyn basically said the danger of ebooks in libraries is that a customer can sit at home and download every book they ever wanted … huh? She and Paul Aiken seemed to think that’s how the library ebook check-out process works.

That’s simply wrong, of course. Steve and Maureen corrected them. As did a few people in the audience.

Carolyn also said that her publishing house was doing the ebook pilot project because … no research has ever been done about ebooks in libraries. Again, huh? Someone please introduce Carolyn to Pew Internet and their major research project on … um … ebooks in libraries. And of course, Steve mentioned that he has 10 years of data (Overdrive’s been in the ebook business for at least that long).

I heard a similar thing at last year’s Book Expo conference, too. Executives at more than one major publishing house think libraries give ebooks away to anyone who wants them, willy-nilly, and we let them keep the ebooks forever.

And … these people aren’t stupid – they are running large, successful publishing houses.

So – here’s my question. Where is the disconnect, and how can we fix this?

Argh.

ebook photo by shiftstigma

The Big Six – where we stand at the moment

I’m headed to BEA next week (I’m on the conference advisory board for the BEA Bloggers part of the conference), and will have a good three days of listening to publishers talk about ebooks (and hopefully libraries).

So I thought it would be a good idea to see where we stand right now with ebooks, the Big Six, and some of our current ebook vendors.

Here’s a list of the major ebook vendors, and what they offer in relation to the Big Six publishers:

3M, Baker & Taylor Axis 360:

  • Hachette
  • Simon & Schuster (but only if you’re a large NYC-area library – they’re still in pilot project mode)
  • Macmillan
  • Penguin
  • HarperCollins
  • Random House
  • … and No Kindle formats.

OverDrive:

  • Hachette
  • Macmillan
  • HarperCollins
  • Random House
  • doesn’t have Penguin or Simon & Schuster
  • … OverDrive has Kindle versions of some titles (and that’s probably why they don’t have Penguin).

What does each publisher offer?

  • Hachette: Full catalog, released simultaneously with print, ebooks will cost 300% more than the print book. Unlimited number of checkouts, one copy per user model.
  • Simon & Schuster: started a 1-year pilot project on April 30 with New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library. Full catalog, a one year purchase/lease, unlimited checkouts, one copy per user model.
  • Macmillan: 1,200 backlist ebooks from its Minotaur Books imprint. Two year, 52-lends lease model. Ebooks cost $25. I’d say they’re still in pilot project mode too.
  • Random House: Our ebook friends, for a price – entire catalogue available for “perpetual access” at a higher price to libraries (upwards of 300% over the print book cost).
  • Penguin: all titles available, one-year licenses. Except if you’re OverDrive.
  • HarperCollins: 26 checkouts per title lease model.

So – at this point, we have all Big Six publishers willing and able to sell [at least some] ebooks to [at least some] libraries. With wildly varying models and price points:

  • Checkout models include: unlimited use, 26 checkouts per book, or 52 checkouts per book.
  • Time limits include: No year limits, one year limits, and two year limits per book
  • Title availability includes: All titles available, some titles available, hardly any title available.
  • Pricing: an even $25, a variety of more normal pricing. And two publishers who markup ebooks by 300%. If this was gasoline, we’d call it price gouging.

Pic by pazca