Doing Your Part in the Library Ebook Wars

ebookWhen talking to librarians about ebooks and econtent, I often hear things like this: “we can’t do anything – we’re just a small public library going up against Amazon/Apple/Barnes & Noble/fill in the blank.” Or “we don’t have the right connections” or maybe “we don’t have the resources we’d need to do something.” Etc.

I think we CAN do something. Many somethings. From my library alone, here’s what we’re currently doing:

  • Our Ebooks for Libraries campaign – going for 10,000 signatures on a petition that will be mailed to the big six publishers, asking for books in all formats for libraries.
  • Our community novel project – our community is writing a serialized novel, and we plan to publish the finished novel in print and in ebook formats. This is a small step in teaching our community that they can “do it themselves.”
  • We have two staff members on the Library Renewal board – we’re giving time and expertise to organizations that are trying to make a difference.
  • We have staff members on ALA boards – this one is indirectly related, but it gives us a say at the table when ebook-related issues get raised. And again, it’s giving time and expertise to organizations that have the potential to make a difference for libraries.

Other libraries and organizations that are trying to make a difference?

  • Douglas County Libraries – you might have read about they are purchasing ebooks directly from publishers, and serving them back out to customers? Here’s an article with more info on that.
  • Califa, a California-based library consortium, is doing a similar thing.

And those are just six examples – I’m guessing there are many others out there (and please – if I missed a major one, share the details in the comments!). My point? You CAN do something about it. Whatever “it” is to you and your organization, there are definitely ways to start successfully tackling the issue.

Why tackle this particular issue? Read Jason Griffey’s recent post about Amazon’s Lending Library. Amazon wants your customers to borrow from THEM. For free (well, after the purchase of a Kindle and an Amazon Prime subscription, anyway).

Sound like a challenge to you? Let’s meet that challenge head-on, folks!

ebook pic by nikkorsnapper

Amazon, Overdrive, Ebooks … and YOU.

You all read Sarah’s blog, right? (if you’re not, you should be). For those of you that don’t – check out her video rant about Amazon, Overdrive, Kindles, and ebooks (embedded above). There’s a bit of “language” in it … so you have been warned if that bothers you.

Great video, great content. And here’s the deal – Overdrive has basically allowed Amazon to sell their books on YOUR PATRON’S KINDLE. Via the Overdrive Kindle ebooks deal. And you and your library’s tax dollars are … paying for that privilege.

Did Overdrive tell us about that? Nope. Is that cool? Nope. Watch Sarah’s video for the details. And this is besides all the user data/privacy issues that I haven’t seen addressed yet (also discussed in Sarah’s video).

I’m not pointing the finger at Amazon – it’s not their fault. I’d guess they have been planning that functionality for months. Overdrive surely knew about this (I’m guessing here, but we’re talking about normal business practice too). Why didn’t they mention that?

What can you do about this?

  1. For starters – read your contracts/licenses, etc. You don’t have to automatically agree to everything written there – you can actually change things. Or you can try, anyway.
  2. More importantly – if you don’t like what Overdrive “allowed” Amazon to slip in (ie., direct selling and marketing to YOUR PATRONS without your permission) – let them know!
  3. Or … simply don’t buy it.

Overdrive – no more secrets, please! Or if you DID share that and we somehow missed it – could you kindly point out where? Thanks!

Internet Librarian 2011, Day 2: Ebook Panel

Panelists: Bobbi Newman, Sarah Houghton, Amy Affelt, Faith Ward


12% of US population own ebook readers. So it’s a very important issue, but one for a (right now) small population.

Barnes & Noble told people to get a Nook, then go to the library. In reality, they also needed a PC that connected to the web and could run Adobe Digital Editions. Not everyone who bought a Nook had access to that.

Kindle/Overdrive thing works easy. That puts us in a weird place – because the Kindle works better with Overdrive.

But it’s a bad deal, because Amazon has a lot of great data … Amazon now knows how many of our users read library books, what books, etc – guess how much of that we got? None of it. That’s a problem.


We are so greedy, we’ll take whatever the publisher gives us.

It’s important to provide this content for our users … but we need to look at the fine print.

Call out to Kansas librarians for standing up to Overdrive. Woo too!

Overdrive’s terms of service – they give us a license to access content, instead of owning it.

We need to read the license and not just sign them blindly.

More on Amazon getting stats and info on our patrons – this might violate intellectual freedom, and our official library policies.


With her job, she usually never needs to buy a whole book – she needs a table, a chapter, etc. This is really hard in ebook formats.

She needs to buy the Kindle book, but put it on a colleague’s Kindle – she can’t do that. She wants to pay a license to read, the right to read across all platforms

Faith Ward:

looked at how children read differently on ebooks. Found that more students made mistakes when reading ebooks

But they were more willing to read on a tablet than a print book

Discovered that she needs to work with parents to get kids to read more in this environment

She won’t teach a book that’s not in an ebook format.

She did a “bring in your own device” thing … found it was hard with so many different formats, but wouldn’t go back – they have embraced the new technology.

Q & A:

HP person – they can relate. She has to pass something along, but can’t. So she makes a copy or a screenshot or prints them out, then scans them, and turn them into PDF files so she can pass them along (my friend Edward does the same thing).

We pay more for digital editions than the customer does, even though in print we can buy in bulk and get 40% off.

Interesting – the teacher – purposefully choosing content that is available in ebook format. That means she is not choosing good content that isn’t yet available electronically. It’s a conscious decision for her.

Here is no unified voice that speaks for libraries on this topic? Bobbi says no… (I’ll interject that that’s what Library Renewal is working towards).

Lending ereader devices: Buffy Hamilton’s school library did this, but ran into trouble with Kindles so switched readers.

Sarah – difference between content and container – we have to subscribe to both. Bobbi – if you are loaning out a certain device, you are in essence saying that’s the best format. Is that what you want to say? (not sure I agree with that – need to think more about it)

One woman stood up and said “Jeff Bezos has never lied.” Just wanted to say … really? You can prove this? I seriously doubt it … just saying.

Bobbi gave a great plug for Library Renewal. Yay!

Two Pieces of Ebook Silliness

Just came across a couple of posts from The UK Publisher’s Association and from the CEO of Overdrive. Gotta say, it’s very interesting to watch and listen … but it’s a bit disappointing, too. Here’s a couple bits of what each of them said:

From Richard Mollet, Chief Executive, The Publishers Association, in his PA statement regarding our position on library e-lending post: “Ultimately, the activities of selling and lending have to be able to co-exist with neither unduly harming the other. If ebook lending were untrammelled (as some comments seem to propose) it would pose an extremely potent threat to the retail market which in the long-term would undermine the ability of authors, and the companies which invest in them, to see a reward for their creativity.  This would be hugely a negative outcome for everyone, including libraries and their communities.”

What? Did Mr. Mollet just say that if library patrons could download ebooks in an “untrammeled” way (which for them, I think means being able to check it out and download it from home), it would be a huge threat to the retail ebook market. Really? I’d love to see your numbers to back that up.

And how in the world would patrons checking out ebooks remotely “undermine the ability of authors … to see a reward for their creativity” ??? Come on.

Translation – We think ebook lending, if made too easy, will put us out of business. And, he very obviously doesn’t know how the whole checking out an ebook thing actually works (see below for a little more on that). Explains a lot, I think.

Next up: Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, with A statement on the Publishers Association’s position on eBook lending, writing in response to the silliness above: “OverDrive licenses eBooks under a “one-book, one-user” lending model … This model has successfully worked for years around the world, providing libraries with access to premium content while generating revenue for publishers.”

“Successfully worked” – if that means that libraries subscribe, then ok. But if it means our customers get it, then not so much. This statement sorta reminds me of the automotive industry CEOs, when they say “going to the gas pump is a time-honored tradition.” Hmm…

And I found this statement weird – maybe I’m not understanding it: “In 2009, visitors to OverDrive-powered library websites viewed more than 401 million pages. Among unique visitors to these download library pages, 80 percent did not check out a digital title, yet still visited 13 pages on average.”

Is he really saying that lots of people visited Overdrive’s service … but a whopping 80% didn’t check anything out??? Cause that’s what it sounds like to me. And if so … Well, that’s because Overdrive is SO VERY HARD TO USE.

Here’s an example from my library that happened last week. Topeka is currently participating in the Big Read, a grant-funded community-wide reading program. We picked The Maltese Falcon as our Big Read book – it’s available in paper and in a digital audiobook version from Overdrive. One of Topeka’s library customers (who happens to be the general manager of a local TV station) decided to checkout the digital audiobook version … on his Mac. After an hour of frustration on his part, he called the library for some help.

Were we able to help him? No, not really. For some reason, his web browser didn’t like the Overdrive website (he tried Google Chrome and Apple Safari). He wasn’t able to download the “unlimited use” version of the digital audiobook, because it was in the Microsoft Windows-based wma format. Although he could download the Mac-friendly mp3 format, it was checked out and therefore unavailable … which of course didn’t really make much sense to the patron.

Our library customer ended up frustrated at Overdrive, at the library (and told us so), and had a bad experience with our digital content.

Overdrive, Publisher’s Association guys, etc – you can do better than this.

Pic by Dick Rochester