Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wait, just a darned minute... the sky isn't falling!

I was flipping through the May 1, 2012 issue of Library Journal, when I was amazed to see a very short item in News Desk (page 11 in print) about the Libraries Online Incorporated (LION) a consortium of 25 Connecticut public, academic and school libraries boycotting new purchases of e-books from Random House. There is actually a fuller story online at Library Journal's Digital Shift. On March 2, Digital Shift covered a huge price increase, of as much as 300%, imposed by Random House on libraries buying their e-books. An e-book that cost $40 one day jumped to $120 the next, while the print version remains at $20 with the library discount! Random House is the only large publisher to make its e-books available to libraries without onerous restrictions, according to the article, but this is their rationale for the price increase:

“We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles,” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesperson. “Understandably, every library will have its own perspective on this topic, and we are prepared to listen, learn, and adapt as appropriate,” he said.

“Simultaneity” here means that Random House’s titles are available to libraries on the same date the retail edition is put on sale. It is not referring to simultaneous, multiple user access. The model remains one book, one user.
The reader can see the entirety of the Random House spokesperson's statement at the end of the Digital Shift article linked above.

To return to the boycott. The LION boycott was voted unanimously by its members on March 20, and communicated to Random House by LION president Richard Conroy. This boycott follows a similar boycott by a consortium of public libraries in Nova Scotia the South Shore Public Libraries, which voted to boycott purchases of new e-books from Random House by April 3, when this article ran in the The Chronicle Herald News. I think the issue is nicely put by the chief librarian Troy Myers:
"I don’t want to pick a fight with them, but their pricing’s unfair and I think they need to change it," chief librarian Troy Myers said Monday. (snip)"It’s public money we’re talking about here, and for us as a board to be good stewards of that money, we can’t justify paying these prices,"

Library board member Alan Wilson ... fully supports the boycott, saying it's important to take an early public stand.

"If this is a trend and not a single publisher, it’s something to be very concerned about," Wilson said.

"It’s a question of equity and fairness," he said, for both the authors and readers, and the publisher should have discussed the issues with the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Canadian Publisher’s Council.

"It seems ill-considered, it seems ill-timed and unilateral.""
I was quite surprised that these 2 groups were coming out as consortia, organizing a boycott against a publisher because of a pricing issue. Because, you know, we've always been told by our professional organization that if we acted as an organized group of librarians to act against a publisher on any issue of pricing, for instance, or other consumer issue, for instance, we might be accused of ...


That we, the consumers would somehow be organizing as a trust or bloc to somehow illegally manipulate pricing.

And that's why we, as AALL members, for instance, are supposed to sign some sort of agreement before we go on the AALL lists, right? That we won't discuss

THINGS that might violate ANTITRUST

or wait...

is that really just about

making some really big publishers


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