The 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair wrapped up last Sunday, and as always, I learned a lot about what’s going on in the global book business. But perhaps the most surprising thing I learned is that when it comes to library e-books, the world is watching events in the U.S.
This year’s CEO talk featured Macmillan CEO John Sargent, who addressed a wide range of issues in a 45-minute interview in front of a standing-room only audience. But it was a question from French journalist Antoine Oury in the audience Q&A period that caught my attention—he asked Sargent to explain Tor’s controversial decision to test a four-month embargo on new e-book titles for libraries.
Here is Sargent’s full response to Oury:
“We look at the reads of e-books as opposed to looking at unit sales. We look at who is reading them, where they are, how many units they’re reading. And, we have seen a corresponding—almost 1 for 1—growth in library reads that goes along with the decrease in the sale of e-books. So it becomes a matter of concern for us. And we’re looking at it, we’re testing, to try to get some good numbers and figure out what’s going on in the marketplace. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing.
I think we were pretty clear we weren’t going to say anything until we got our testing done, until we analyzed our figures, and we weren’t going to make any new decisions on how we sell our books and where we were going to sell them until we were done with the analysis. And it’s about a three month testing period and then we’ll make some decisions.”
Indeed, until this point, Macmillan has said virtually nothing about the Tor embargo on library e-books, and Sargent didn’t say much here either. But a few things do stand out in his response: First, Sargent alludes to a “three month" testing period. If that’s true, then the test should be concluding, given that it began on July 1, and assuming you can really test a four-month embargo period in just three months.
And of course, there's the claim that the publisher is seeing an “almost 1-for-1 growth in library reads that goes along with the decrease in the sale of e-books.” I'm not sure what means, exactly. But the data librarians and vendors have collected and shared with me about Tor e-books in libraries raises some questions about that claim.
And what I am still not at all clear on is, if print books and e-books function virtually the same way in the library—that is, one reader/one copy—why should it matter what format a reader chooses? High e-book pricing and other barriers for libraries mean e-book readers must already endure long waits on holds lists for popular titles. What's the point of further punishing e-book readers (who make up a small, although growing, percentage of library readers) with an additional embargo period?
We've asked Macmillan for some clarification on Sargent's comments, and will report back when we get a response.
Meanwhile, on the subject of libraries and book sales, OCLC has posted an interesting item suggesting the data shows library users are publishers’ best customers. Not only are Amazon and libraries "complementary, not competitive," OCLC’s analysis shows that “library use supports commercial book sales,” as well as other “social and retail” activities. “In short: if you want to look for more customers for your online book business, look in libraries.”
From Inside Higher Ed, a report on MIT and the University of Michigan presses selling e-book collections direct to libraries rather than through third party services. “We determined that the MIT Press brand was prestigious enough, and that the collection was large enough, that we could go it on our own," said Amy Brand, director of MIT Press.
The U.S. Copyright Office is seeking input on modernizing the nation's copyright registration system. The announcement was made in the Federal Register this week. "The U.S. Copyright Office is building a new registration system to meet the demands of the digital age. As the Office develops a new technological infrastructure for this system, it is considering several legal and policy changes to improve user experience, increase Office efficiency, and decrease processing times."
Is it getting harder to find time to read? From The Guardian, a look at "the lost art of concentration." The report cites research from the U.K.’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, which found that "people check their smartphones on average every 12 minutes during their waking hours, with 71% saying they never turn their phone off and 40% saying they check them within five minutes of waking."
Over at InfoDocket, Gary Price shares a few links celebrating the 10th anniversary of the HathiTrust Digital Library. "Ten years ago, HathiTrust was launched jointly by the 12-university consortium known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the 10 university libraries of University of California system," notes a post from the California Digital Library. "Today the HathiTrust corpus includes 16.7 million volumes of which over 6 million (or roughly 38%) are in the public domain."
From The New York Times, a collection of writers share their thoughts on libraries. Yeah, they love you, they really love you! "Those of us launched from bare-bones schools in uncelebrated places will always find particular grace in a library, where the temple doors are thrown wide to all believers, regardless of pedigree," writes the great Barbara Kingsolver.
Also from The New York Times, a piece that looks at how anti-tax fervor and a tough economy killed off the library in one Oregon county, and how residents are trying to bring the library back. "The tiny library in Drain, population 1,000, scheduled a grand reopening party this fall after more than 18 months of darkness, but party planners had a problem as the date loomed: The library didn’t own any books."
From The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a report on how a librarian and a bookseller created 'alibis' for missing Carnegie Library rare books in a massive book theft scheme.
From the Denver Post, a report on two parents in Colorado who have "filed a lawsuit claiming pornography was distributed to their children by a national scholastic network and the Colorado Library Consortium." The suit was filed with the support of a group called "Pornography is Not Education" on behalf parents Drew and Robin Paterson. A spokesman for the law firm representing the Patersons said in a statement: The real issue here is straightforward: Pornography is available on EBSCO databases and the library consortium brokers it to school children.” The Colorado Association of Libraries has blasted the lawsuit as "a blatant attempt to erase all electronic material the group does not like from local and school libraries."
From GovTech: "New York City is holding its first library privacy week this month, which includes a series of more than 30 free public workshops aimed at teaching residents better data privacy practices.". Topics covered range from "how to use available digital privacy tools to what to expect from emerging issues of digital privacy in the future." Protecting your data while using public Wi-Fi networks is also a major point of emphasis.
From Wired, comes this fascinating look at how our free speech values are being used against us. "Particularly in the United States, an aversion to anything that resembles censorship has resulted in a sustained reluctance to reckon with the implications of mass manipulation on our public discourse."
We close with sad news this week: Todd Bol, who started the Little Free Library movement, has died at the age of 62. “If I may be so bold, I’m the most successful person I know,” Bol told the Minnesota Star Tribune, “because I stimulate 54 million books to be read and neighbors to talk to each other. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the very definition of success...I wouldn’t switch my existence for Jeff Bezos or any of it.”