New UK Library eBook Lending Restrictions

25 October 2010

New UK Library eBook Lending Restrictions

Earlier this week the Publishers Association (PA) made quite a strong statement (see below) on their new eBook lending restrictions for libraries and this has had quite an impact around the web ( response on the PA statement).

It’s not all bad, with some of these restrictions seeming pretty standard. However, what’s caused the real uproar is this, “library users [have to] come on to the library’s physical premises and download an e-book at a computer terminal…”

This is really an odd thing to want to enforce, in fact, I’m not even sure if it can realistically be done. For instance; we have to presume that at some point Apple users will be able to borrow from libraries. How are you going to connect an iPad to a public computer? Apple products are heavily tied to their iTunes software and I can’t see the library having different copies of iTunes for each visitor. At some point the Amazon Kindle will also support library lending (or have to be supported), how is that going to work?

The PA says that lending for remote downloads without geographical restrictions is a major issue. Although I don’t see why this needs to be an issue. I’ve not been a member of many different libraries, but when I joined Manchester Library in the UK, I had to provide them with my postal address. Is this not enough for them? Sure, people can use fake addresses (although I don’t know how they’d get their library cards), but then again, people can also download pirated versions of a book directly from the internet if they so desire.

The thing to remember here is that most people are actually quite honest. They do want to sign up to their own library and they will give their own postal address. The library system only has to ask for that users ID, and perhaps do a simple IP check to make sure they’re not trying to download outside of the UK. That same IP check could even look for which city the person is downloading from.

The PA’s statement about how the way the old system works was to say, “under this model, who would ever buy an e-book ever again?” That’s no different than saying, “with P2P access to pirated eBooks, who would ever buy an eBook ever again?”  You can even replace eBook with Music album, but hey, Apple is doing a fine business selling music.

I know, and have met many people who actually want to pay for their content. Those people who usually do mass pirating don’t actually read/listen to that content, they just get off on hoarding it on their computers.

Maybe it’s just that they’re scared people will actually stop going to the library itself.

Below you can find the full statement form the PA.

Joint speech by Stephen Page, CEO Faber and Miranda McKearney, Director of The Reading Agency - Public Library Authorities conference, 21 October 2010

Publishers, libraries and the future of the reading service

Stephen Page

You don’t need me to tell you how difficult the times are going to get for the Public Library Service. I am sorry to be standing here today against a backdrop of difficulty of a magnitude the service may never have known before.  As a publisher this seems especially disappointing as the last ten years have seen such an exciting re-imagining of the reading service, giving a strong platform to build on. Libraries are a vital component of the reading industry and the challenge you face is one that must be shared by your partners in the publishing industry. Outside the children’s arena until relatively recently publishers had ceased to see libraries as central to the industry.  The relatively low commercial significance of library book buying (less than 4% of trade publishers’ income in the UK) has meant that the deeper partnership had not flourished as it once had and after the demise of the Net Book Agreement mass market opportunities and global expansion took centre stage. The threat of this new environment, however, brings new focus to what libraries contribute not just to our communities and society, but also to the reading industry and furthermore to its contribution to the creative economy. So what are we doing about it?

The Publishers Association is working hard now to support the lobbying effort to at local and national level, emphasising Public Libraries’ dynamic potential to deliver social change and its role in the creative economy. We are working with The Reading Agency and other library stakeholders to hep to create public awareness of the issue at local and central government, and are backing a number of initiatives with authors, the media, and the trade generally.

It is not only for commercial reasons that publishers recognise the importance of the library service. Publishing remains an industry with an element of vocation. Many authors and publishers believe simply in the good that libraries do, but the role libraries play in the commercial and economic landscape has brought freshness to the partnership recently. Reader development and the hosting and nurturing of audience have, though, brought publishers to the table for a more active and involved conversation with libraries and that’s part of what I want to talk about today. Before I do that I thought it might be useful to give you a brief overview of what’s going on for UK publishers, particularly in the digital arena. It is the crucial context for our involvement with the Public Library Service as we too face a time of unprecedented change.

Ebook sales represent between 6% and 10% of sales for some US publishers. For some books it’s much higher – Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom has sold 600,000 hardbacks and over 300,000 ebooks so far in the US. In the UK the release of the iPad in April and the Kindle in September has fired the starting gun for a proper ebook market for the first time. Predictions suggest that ebook sales will account for 3-5% of the market by this time next year. To make this possible publishers have to make a giant catalogue of books available digitally which requires royalty agreements, conversion of digital files to epub, storing, pricing, creating metadata, distributing and marketing. It’s a giant remaking of the canon and will take a little time - and all this alongside our usual activities, and with negligible extra revenue. However, there are already large numbers of ebooks available, most new titles will be available simultaneously in physical and print editions within the next 6 months, and within a year or so we should be catching up with the US model where Kindle has over 700,000 in copyright titles available. I’ll come to the question of how that canon is brought to the library service in moment.

Creating ebooks is not all publishers have been doing. We have also been transforming our marketing and our attitude to audience creation. Look at the publication of Stephen Fry’s new book. Penguin created 5 no.1s for the first time. Hardback, ebook, enhanced ebook, app, and audio. Their campaign for the book covered online, offline, home and global markets, created events, and made use of social networks as well as performance. Fry is particularly well-suited to this kind of new model but it created a new benchmark for publishers. It requires new skills. Consumer orientated marketing as opposed to trade marketing. You need technological know-how and imagination to make digital products beyond the ebook. You have to learn how to balance price across a range of products. All publishers will have to invest heavily to allow for this new balance to what they make, where they put their investment, how they generate an audience for all these different products, and how they distribute their wares. The days of pile ‘em high aren’t gone, but it only represents one facet of the campaign now.

It is this interest in developing audience away from traditional media and the book trade that has led publishers to think anew about Public Libraries. I have to say that without The Reading Agency this would not have happened. It is perhaps interesting that a small, entrepreneurial charity has achieved such a strategic shift in partnership with the commercial sector, and perhaps in a future where the service loses some central strategic support with the closure of the MLA this kind of model may create a path for support from the commercial side of the industry. Miranda and her team brought publishers back to the service as an interested stakeholder. Publishers have been taking books to readers in an increasingly mass market high street. The gap between the successful books and those described as mid list has widened dramatically recently, and it has become harder for writers to build careers. Commercial pressures have made partnering with the trade often more transactional, with less room for building audiences for writers over the longer term. Witness the demise of Borders, collapse of EUK, and the sale of Ottakars. Times are very tough. This has led publishers to seek a more direct engagement with readers, though not necessarily to sell to them directly.

The Reading Agency created, with championing senior publishers, a partnership scheme called Reading Partners to make this happen and has done so enormously effectively. After 5 years 39 publishers are now engaged with the scheme and work closely with libraries to bring authors into communities. Major authors are willing to do this now. Faber recently held events involving Kazuo Ishiguro. Iain Banks is due to do one next week, Ellen McArthur and Chris Ryan later this autumn; Lynne Barber, Blake Morrison and lots more will participate in a massive readathon for Penguin’s 75th birthday. More broadly Faber has created a series of poetry and crime events, Random House has done excellent online reading group events, there have been a host of readers days,  and imaginative events like Girls Nights In and Historical Readers Panels. Like the growth of festivals from the mid-90s to now I can imagine this network of activities become a perpetual nationwide conversation between authors and local communities. That excites me and other publishers. And going further than that it could also herald the development of the already burgeoning partnership between the high street book trade and libraries. Waterstones are now members of the Reading Partners scheme, and independent bookshops get involved. Connecting the crucial high street stock-holding booksellers to libraries through regular thrilling events could also help the survival of many local bookshops. This may not be your concern, but the survival of an excellent library service and a diverse range of excellent bookshops both seem to me to serve the same goal of a thriving nation of readers which in turn must serve the creative economy, which we know is such a hugely important part of UK plc.

So, publishers are seeking partnership with libraries primarily because it is a place where we can build audience. In doing so we can help bring people to local libraries for events and we can assist reader development programmes. It also gives us a chance to create more awareness around some of our niche publishing areas and audiences including the BME market. There are other things that we can bring – expertise and promotional materials for a start. Publishers create huge amounts of physical and digital promotional materials for their books. Most of this is available to libraries.

When we talk about digital people often jump to the conclusion that we mean ebooks. Well, the first digital revolution for book publishers was in marketing. A few years ago I asked a newspaper editor who his main competitor was. He said CNN. He was having to learn to make moving images, away from text to sound and vision. Similarly publishers are moving from print to moving visuals and audio for their marketing. Our websites are over-flowing with extraordinary content; short films, interviews with authors, promotional videos, samples, audio clips, dramatisations. Our main challenge is populating the internet in places where readers will find this material. Libraries would be an obvious partner in this task. So if you want a website that is rich in content for your library members there is already an abundant amount of material available and working with the Reading Partners scheme I hope that we will be able to get it to you. The Think Tank later this year will be key in deciding best next steps to make this happen.

So what about lending ebooks? For more than a century the author and publishing communities have been in accord with the library service in allowing books to be borrowed from libraries, forgoing any anxieties about lost sales and supporting the central, civilised notion of universal access to learning. This need not change in the digital world, but lending ebooks is a much more complex subject full of greater jeopardy than the lending of physical books. Authors and publishers are already contending with the new challenge of digital piracy and so embracing ebook lending has been slow as authors and publishers have been cautious. Why? Authors and publishers cannot allow a universe in which ebooks can be accessed remotely for no charge without the strictest controls. To do so could undo the entire market for ebook sales. Unfortunately recent activities by some library authorities have only confirmed how potentially damaging e-book lending can be if allowed to operate without controls - some services were lending for remote downloads, without geographical restrictions. This was in breach of contracts between the library and aggregator, and between the aggregator and publisher, and was advertised to the general public as “free e-books, wherever you are, whenever you want”. Under this model, who would ever buy an e-book ever again? Or any book for that matter?

However, Publishers are keen to ensure that lending e-books is possible and want to support public libraries in offering access to e-books on the same terms that apply to printed books. A variety of models and suppliers are emerging and publishers are already working with them. The PA has had useful discussions with the Society of Chief Librarians, The Reading Agency and MLA.  The members of the Publishers Association have now created an agreed base line position on e-lending. All the major trade publishers have agreed to work with aggregators to make it possible for libraries to offer ebook lending.  The following maximum controls were agreed, though I want to stress that some publishers will chose to be less stringent than others. This is merely a base position to ensure that we are able to start to make the complete, vast library of ebooks available for loan:

Firstly the fee paid by a library in purchasing a book covers the right to loan one copy, of one book, to one individual, for a fixed short term period at any given time – various licensing models exist to support this condition.

Secondly, robust and secure geographical-based membership must be in place for all library services, with permanent members required to demonstrate their residence within the locality and with provisions to cater for temporary membership for visitors.

Thirdly, the system works on a download model, whereby library users come on to the library’s physical premises and download an e-book at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, such as an e-reader, laptop or mobile phone.

Finally, a downloaded e-book will expire after a predetermined length of time (e.g. two weeks), after which it will cease to be available to read on the library user’s mobile device.

As I say, some publishers may take a more relaxed view, particularly of remote downloading, but the above criteria allow for a strong beginning that replicates physical lending. It is worth also saying that this may not be the only model. Subscription services are already emerging as in the academic world – Bloomsbury’s Public Library Online being a prime early mover.

We will now work with the digital library suppliers to ensure that this service can be quickly brought to libraries. What’s important is that we have been able to establish the principle of support for lending ebooks, and an environment in which this can be done that will put authors and publishers minds at rest while supporting the notion of universal access.  It’s an important first step along the way and no doubt once underway we’ll work out further developments.

I will now hand over to Miranda. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you. I hope that the increasing closeness of our partnership will continue. One initiative that Miranda will talk about, World Book Night, will give us an extraordinary opportunity to work together in March 2011, and a chance to shout loud about the essential nature of the library service.

I also hope that our support for you over the coming months does something to assist you in your battle to adapt the service to one that continues to be excellent and that supports the major purposes for which it was designed. You may be sure of our vocal support for that.