What Does Fire and Fury Tells Us About the Library E-Book Market?

On Monday, Michael Wolff, author of the blockbuster book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House appeared on The Last Hour with Lawrence O’Donnell for an interview. At the very end of a rollicking opening segment, O’Donnell asked Wolff a cringe-worthy question: “When will people be able to buy this?” Wolff didn’t have an answer.

As PW reported earlier this week, the book remains largely out of stock, and has caused holds lists at public libraries across the country to hit levels not seen since the days of Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Grey. Macmillan CEO John Sargent told reporters this week that the initial print run was 150,000 copies but that the publisher has received over a million orders. Yeah, that’s not exactly how you draw it up in the boardroom—a point I am sure Wolff’s agent has made to Macmillan executives.

Indeed, the initial publication of Fire and Fury has been a perfect storm of dissatisfaction. Because it was embargoed, many libraries and booksellers were largely unaware of it and were thus caught flat-footed when headlines thrust the book to popularity. And because libraries and bookstores were largely unaware of it, the publisher, based on orders, underestimated demand and quickly ran out of stock. Wolff, meanwhile, was out there dutifully doing his publicity (a window that likely won’t stay open much longer) as libraries and booksellers were turning away readers in droves.

Except of course, for e-book readers. Last weekend, my local bookstore had no print copies, and no real idea when they would have them (Macmillan officials said today that it has now shipped 700,000 copies with about 1.4 million total on order). When I looked to buy the print book on Amazon, I was told my copy was expected to arrive between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2. But, the Amazon page implored, don’t wait—buy the Kindle edition now! And it appears many readers have done just that.

For libraries, however, the e-book option is more complicated. Under the library e-book model currently used by Wolff’s publisher, an e-book license costs $60 and must be repurchased after 52 lends or two years. That cost, as you can imagine, is prohibitive for any library, thus leading to limited e-book copies and long wait times.

When the media frenzy over 'Fire and Fury' dies down, I hope the post-mortem will include a serious look at how the library e-book market worked—or did not work.

I am currently on the holds list at the New York Public Library, and my current wait time is about three months. Which, of course, is absurd for a book that in three months could very well be old news. In fact, I’ll eat my hat if we’re still talking about this book in April.

In a recent survey of member libraries, the ReadersFirst collective delivered a clear message to publishers: please give us more flexibility when it comes to licensing e-books. And it seems to me that with Fire and Fury, such flexibility could have made a difference.

For example, what if Holt had enabled libraries to utilize a streaming, pay-per-read model like hoopla? Or, what if Holt enabled libraries to use all of its 52 lends for a licensed copy simultaneously, rather than one user at a time (as HarperCollins now does on some backlist e-book titles) even if just for a short, limited window, while demand was peaking and there was no print stock available?

Sure, budgets would still come in to play for libraries. But such flexibility would at least ensure that Holt was capturing every reader and every dollar available to be spent while the book was hot, and would help libraries ensure they wouldn’t be stuck this summer with 500 licenses of a $60 e-book that is no longer of interest.

I understand that in some sense, Holt (and publishers in general) may not want libraries to work too well—after all, they want users to buy the book, not borrow it. But in Wolff’s case, the current delays are serving to drive readers to their Kindles (as if Amazon needs more power in the e-book market), to one of those pirated PDFs so easily found online, or to give up on the book altogether. After all, there is no guarantee that someone who walked into a store or a library two weeks ago after hearing about the book will come back.

On the other hand, with a little flexibility, libraries could have helped mitigate some of the damage done by having the book go immediately out of stock, just as the author is burning through his 15 minutes.

When the media frenzy over Fire and Fury dies down, I hope the postmortem will include a serious look at how the library e-book market worked—or did not work—in the case of Fire and Fury, and what that might mean for the library e-book market overall.

Association of Research Libraries Names Mary Lee Kennedy Executive Director

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Board of Directors has appointed Mary Lee Kennedy executive director of the Association, effective April 1, 2018.

Most recently, Kennedy served at the New York Public Library (NYPL), where she held the position of chief library officer (2013–2016). Prior to NYPL, she served at Harvard University as senior associate provost for the Harvard Library (2011–2013) and executive director of Knowledge and Library Services, Harvard Business School (2004–2011). Before going to Harvard, she was director of the Knowledge Network Group at Microsoft (1998–2004).

“I am thrilled to have been selected to be the next ARL executive director, particularly given the significant moment in history in which we find ourselves, and the many opportunities for research libraries to make a difference,” Kennedy in a statement.

IMLS Presents Its New Strategic Plan

The Institute of Museum and Library Services this week released its new Strategic Plan for 2018-2022. Dubbed Transforming Communities, the document “frames how IMLS will advance, support, and empower America’s libraries, museums, and the communities they serve.”

The new plan outlines four strategic goals that will underpin the agency’s programs and services:

  • Promote lifelong learning.
  • Building the capacity of museums and libraries to improve the well-being of their communities.
  • Increasing public access to information, ideas, and networks through libraries and museums.
  • Achieving excellence.

Agency officials now want to hear from you. You can offer feedback on the plan in a variety of ways, including three Twitter chats (January 17, 24, and 31). Please see the IMLS website for more details.

The mere release of the new plan, meanwhile, is encouraging. Earlier this year, the Trump Administration had proposed eliminating the agency entirely, and cutting all federal library funding.

Sally Yates Will Keynote the Opening Session at the Public Library Association Conference

Now this should be good: the Public Library Association has confirmed that former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates will keynote the upcoming Public Library Association conference, set for March 20-24, in Philadelphia.

Yates of course shot to national prominence as a symbol of resistance to the Trump administration, after she was fired by Donald Trump last year, for refusing to enforce Trump’s travel ban. She also was the lawyer who informed the White House that then-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn was compromised.

If you haven’t made plans to attend PLA, you can do so here. Yates will speak at 2:00 p.m. on March 21 in the main auditorium.

Hey Churlish Librarians: This Is Why Elsevier is Good for You

Over at the Scholarly Kitchen, Joe Esposito has a provocative post on why Elsevier is great for libraries, and why the publisher’s infamous 30% profit margins are well deserved.

“This is the basic trade-off: libraries have won administrative efficiencies in exchange for the negotiating leverage of the largest publishers,” he writes. “...Elsevier has saved libraries millions of dollars, perhaps more. It is churlish to resent them for being good at what they do.” As you might expect, there is a bit of pushback in the comments.

What are your thoughts? Bonus points for anyone who can explain what “efficiencies” Elsevier delivered to the LSU libraries when the publisher reportedly blocked IP addresses at the LSU Vet School library last year.

As Senate Support For Net Neutrality Builds, Will Congress Move to Block FCC Repeal?

A report in The Hill this week noted an important milestone in the Net Neutrality debate: A Senate bill to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality received its 30th co-sponsor this week, ensuring it will receive a vote on the Senate floor.

The bill, which is being pushed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would use Congress’s authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to reverse the FCC’s rollback of its popular net neutrality rules. However, observers tell PW, it is not clear whether the Congress will actually pursue a repeal, or whether the bill is an effort to pin down lawmakers’ positions on the issue ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Meanwhile, the ALA Washington Office reports that ALA is “working with allies to encourage Congress to overturn the FCC’s egregious action. At the end of last week, the report notes, the FCC released its final 539-page order. “We will continue to update you on the activities and other developments as we continue to work to preserve a neutral internet,” ALA officials said. “For now, you can email your members of Congress today and ask them to support the CRA to repeal the recent FCC action and restore the 2015 Open Internet Order protections.”

LC Approves "Gender-nonconforming people" as Subject Heading

In these fraught political times we often focus on the big battles, but the small battles matter. And this week, via Jessamyn West, comes news of a small but important victory. The term “Gender-nonconforming people" has been officially approved as a Library of Congress subject heading. West congratulates Minnesota-based librarian Violet Fox for her work on the issue.

American Libraries Lists Its Top Library Stories of 2017

Yes, 2017 was quite a year. If you need a reminder, check out this fascinating list of the year’s top library stories from American Libraries, the ALA’s member magazine.

At PW, we have our own list each year of the top stories in the library world, which often cut more toward the publishing side (for obvious reasons). There is some crossover between our two lists, of course, but the American Libraries list includes a lot of fascinating topics that fall out of our purview—such as libraries efforts to battle the opioid crisis. Check it out.