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Monday, March 14, 2011

Random House E-Book Policy: Not A Friend Of The Library Anymore!

Random House Publishing has decided to pull a number out of a hat to set the limit of how many times a library can loan out a "copy" of one of their digital titles to patrons. That magic number happens to be twenty-six. Which is baffling to a veteran librarian such as myself. It seems that Random House no longer wants to do business with libraries when it it comes to e-books. If that is the case one has to wonder why? Do the publishing executives believe that once every book goes digital, libraries will cease to exist? Do they believe that profit are more important than customer loyalty? Or is this a case of being short sighted about the topic? Whatever the reason, Random House has definitely gone where no publisher has gone before. It seems as if the executives have become short sighted in their attempts to protect their "services." If Random House and other publishing companies want to "punish" the libraries for purchasing their product, they should remember elementary psychology. Punishment can lead to unwanted behavior patterns. In this case, instead of the desired increase in e-book sales, it may lead to the opposite.

The concept of forcing a library to purchase a "new" digital copy of a book after twenty-six checkout is foolhardy. The logic just is not there. Why would a library want to spend more than they have to on a product that never gets torn, yellowed or damaged? The benefit of a digital copy of a book is that it is like a new book each time it's loaned out. If a librarian has to make the decision to spend $25.00 on a hard copy book with the knowledge that a book may have a longer circulating life than twenty-six times versus the digital copy that will require to spend more budget dollars, than why go digital? Most publishers are betting that the libraries will answer that question by acknowledging that the patrons want this service and it is a necessary evil. However, they just might find that libraries may be forced to follow the route of getting more bang for their bucks.

Publishers have long had a love-hate relationship with libraries. While they love the fact that libraries purchase their titles, they hate the fact that libraries loan out their products with no costs to the borrower. In a CEO's world this is a kin to robbing them blind because in their eyes they are losing money every time a single title is loaned out. If this were true, then explain why Harry Potter series has sold millions of copies worldwide? Libraries do not hinder sales of books. It can be argued that they spur sales. Many avid readers often purchase favorite titles after they have borrowed the books from the library. Why? They have made an emotional connection with the book and now want to own their very own copy.

At a time when the economy is not at it's best, to see a big corporation take this action in order to make more money is foolish. Consumers will view this as a "greedy" act. Publishing executives need to remember that the money to purchase books at public libraries come from the Taxpayers otherwise known as the Average Joe who occasionally go to bookstores to buy books. In essence they are overcharging their own costumers in ever city that has a library. Keep in mind also that most people do not have as much discretionary funds as they use to have in previous years. This is shutting out consumers who would have bought your titles, but since times are tough they turn to the library for the title they want and need. Shouldn't Random House want to continue to be seen as a partner with libraries in providing books in all its formats to those who can't afford it at the present time? One would think so, but it appears that the publishers are determined to shoot themselves in the foot.

At the moment, libraries are Random House's target to increase revenue. Who is next on their hit list? Judging on the road that digital music took, it appears that the next direct target will be the consumer. If publishers follow Random House's lead, the consumers will have to be careful about how they share, load and protect their purchased books. Nook currently allows their e-readers to share books with friends. How long will it be before publishers begin to belly ache that profits are being lost due to this practice? In the world of corporate greed, I suspect they are already planning this out and will explain that they are doing this in the name of protecting the artist's intellectual property. I hope I'm wrong, but something tells me differently.

In the long run, Random House will be clipping the wings of the e-book natural rise in popularity with their current policy. Every opportunity to get a product into the consumers hands is a positive in any industry. E-book lending will allow patrons to discover a new way of accessing information. The more consumers use it, the odds increase that they will want,need, and buy it. It's that simple.

With Random House's current policy of twenty-six check outs, there are many losers that come out of the ill thought of plan. The first obvious one, are libraries whose budgets are shrinking each year. The patrons who want the e-books and would like a economical way to obtain them. Finally, the publishers themselves, who are now perceived as greedy, short sighted and impossible to work along side. Librarians are reasonable people. It is understood that it takes time and resources to create a product. With this in mind, Publishers should stop treating libraries as "robbers" who want the publisher's product for nothing. There needs to be a win-win situation for all involved.
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