25 votes

E-books at libraries are a huge hit, leading to long waits, reader hacks and worried publishers

12 comments

  1. [12]
    kfwyre
    Link
    I can confirm that having multiple library cards is great. I won't go as far as faking an address, as that feels unethical to me, but I have several from libraries in my state that give cards to...

    I can confirm that having multiple library cards is great. I won't go as far as faking an address, as that feels unethical to me, but I have several from libraries in my state that give cards to state residents, as well as one from an out-of-state library that I pay an annual fee for. When looking for a book, I "shop" the different libraries to see first if they have it in circulation and second who has the shortest hold time.

    At any given moment, on my Libby app, I have my holds list filled with books that won't check out to me for a long time. I put them there, forget about them, and then get an email when they've checked out to me. You can track your place in line, so I can see that I'm currently, for example, 48/219 for Rachel Maddow's Blowout. I won't get it for another couple of months, and I put it on hold almost two months ago.

    This also happens with physical books. I remember when I was tutoring a student in a small local library near me, and I overheard a man come in who wanted to get Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, which had just released. The librarian told him he'd have to put it on hold, so he agreed to, and she then informed him that he was 144th in line. The guy thought the librarian was joking but she was very serious.

    I guess what's frustrating for me is that publishers are artificially recreating this poor experience with digital books, which we know are infinitely replicable. In fact, the library currently has 9 digital "copies" of Blowout to meet the demands of the 219 people in line, and will likely order more, as that's a huge line length (most of the time they're in the double digits, or low hundreds at most).

    I get that publishers want to protect their revenue, but it feels silly for 219 people to wait in a digital queue when all 219 of us could easily have the same book at the same time because we're not trading off a physical item with physical limitations.

    7 votes
    1. [4]
      Sahasrahla
      Link Parent
      I agree it's absolutely ridiculous. Adding to this, we have the technology now to make every book available to everyone with an internet connection. We could build the best and most complete...

      I guess what's frustrating for me is that publishers are artificially recreating this poor experience with digital books, which we know are infinitely replicable.

      I agree it's absolutely ridiculous. Adding to this, we have the technology now to make every book available to everyone with an internet connection. We could build the best and most complete library in the history of the world with infinite copies of any book available globally. In fact, this library arguably exists already in the form of Google Books (and their scanning/OCR efforts) but the doors of that library are locked.

      That being said, though, I don't disagree with the publishing industry here. Why would I ever pay for an ebook when I could always get it for free from the library without limitation? (You could say the library pays for the ebook but that's the system we have now, including a digital copy expiring after a certain number of loans, i.e. forcing that a library pays more if an ebook is lent more; incidentally, physical books can wear out surprisingly quickly as well and aren't a "buy it once" investment for a library either.)

      Authors and others (editors, illustrators, the person sweeping the publishing office's floor, etc.) need to get paid to make a living. Sure, many authors enjoy their work and do it out of passion and have day-jobs, but that's a situation that should get better not worse. If we take advantage of their passion to not pay them it's no better than, say, the exploitation in the gaming industry of programmers who are expected to work unpaid hours because of their love for what they do. There's also the practicality that writing takes a lot of time and relying on full-time employment unrelated to writing limits this, especially in the case of non-fiction writers that have to do a lot of research and travel. At least now a popular enough writer has the option of taking their writing full-time (albeit for pretty low wages in most cases).

      So, I don't know what the solution is, short of a post-scarcity society where everyone can just do what they want anyway. Making all books free and paying authors with a pay-what-you-want patron system would be worse than our current system because many authors are already on Patreon and similar systems, and taking all their revenue from book sales wouldn't help. Only paying authors (and publishers, etc.) for physical books would severely cut into their livelihood. Even saying "the problem is capitalism" and replacing that with something else would run up against the same problems of how to decide which authors get supported and how to get them that support and how much.

      I guess my point is it's a ridiculous and maybe even a sad problem, but while the technological issues are easy to solve the social "how we organize our collective labour and distribute the product of that labour" issue is a much more difficult one to figure out, and both solutions are needed to solve this problem and enact the obvious technological solution.

      14 votes
      1. [2]
        Greg
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I agree with pretty much everything you've said, I just wanted to highlight the line that surprised and concerned me most from the article: The publishers clearly aren't acting in good faith here....

        I agree with pretty much everything you've said, I just wanted to highlight the line that surprised and concerned me most from the article:

        A library typically pays between $40 and $60 to license a new e-book adult title, which it can then loan out to one patron at a time, mimicking how physical loans work. Each publisher offers different payment models. Under one, a library only has an e-book for two years or 52 checkouts, whichever comes first. Another agreement covers 26 checkouts per book.

        The publishers clearly aren't acting in good faith here. Mapping the physical restrictions straight onto the digital world would be frustrating but arguably fair, exactly as you laid out above. Jacking up the price by a factor of 5 is a transparent and unreasonable cash grab. Doing that and then having the books self destruct after a period where physical copies could easily still be repairable and doing the same for less popular titles after a couple of years on the shelf is unconscionable.

        14 votes
        1. Greg
          Link Parent
          Thinking about it further, it seems as though charging the libraries a per-lend fee of maybe 1/75th of the print copy price could solve a lot of problems in a way that's fair to everyone. It maps...

          Thinking about it further, it seems as though charging the libraries a per-lend fee of maybe 1/75th of the print copy price could solve a lot of problems in a way that's fair to everyone. It maps reasonably to the actual lifetime cost of the hard copy and ensures everyone in the supply chain gets compensated without gouging the libraries.

          On top of that, it allows us to take actual advantage of the benefits of digital distribution: no up-front cost and essentially free storage means every book can be in the collection; paying per use rather than per copy means they can lend 250 simultaneously on launch week without having them sitting on the shelves unused six months later; the libraries make more efficient use of their budgets because they're paying for what readers actually use rather than guessing up front; even the publishers benefit from having a revenue stream from esoteric books that aren't popular enough to be bought at cover price.

          I doubt it'll ever happen, as the publishers have all the leverage, but it seems a nice option for how things could look.

          8 votes
      2. wirelyre
        Link Parent
        I'm pretty sure I read that the original intention was to freely provide complete access to every scanned book. I'm not really sure how to source that, but: [1] The project was started in secrecy...

        We could build the best and most complete library in the history of the world with infinite copies of any book available globally. In fact, this library arguably exists already in the form of Google Books (and their scanning/OCR efforts) but the doors of that library are locked.

        I'm pretty sure I read that the original intention was to freely provide complete access to every scanned book. I'm not really sure how to source that, but:

        [1] The project was started in secrecy in 2002, well before communication with publishers. Google partnered with multiple libraries and started digitizing immediately.

        [2] The policy of only showing excerpts of the book reads like an afterthought. "How many users will find, and then buy, books they never could have discovered any other way?" The whole final paragraph is a real stretch of logic.

        [3] One of Google's aims was to "provide copies of the digitised books to participating libraries which held the hard copies".

        [4] Google intended to mediate access to both out-of-print books and "to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries" (i.e. regular books) via subscription.

        I claim that Google's policy at the outset of the project was "it's easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission".

        6 votes
    2. [7]
      nahkoots
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      You can download Blowout from Library Genesis here (edit: link removed at Deimos's request, but it's not difficult to find). I’ve tried checking out e-books from my university’s library and never...

      You can download Blowout from Library Genesis here (edit: link removed at Deimos's request, but it's not difficult to find).

      I’ve tried checking out e-books from my university’s library and never bothered reading more than a page or two before downloading the book elsewhere, because even if it’s immediately available, the library usually requires me to access it through a slow web interface or by downloading proprietary software, either of which are both irritating to use compared to viewing an epub with dedicated software on my computer and not really practices I want to support anyway. The whole issue is yet another example of DRM only hurting paying customers. You go out of your way to abide by the arbitrary restrictions imposed by publishers and get a time-consuming, frustrating experience for your troubles while anyone who pirates their books gets to sidestep those hassles entirely. Until we as consumers show publishers that we won’t accept their inane practices, nothing will change, so I encourage everyone to pirate their books (and digital media in general) until it becomes the less convenient option.

      Of course, if you do want to support the current system, you can still download the book in good conscience. The publisher will never know that you were able to read it a few months before they were going to let you.

      4 votes
      1. [5]
        Deimos
        Link Parent
        Please don't link to pirated content. The rest of the post is fine and I will un-remove it if you remove the link.

        Please don't link to pirated content. The rest of the post is fine and I will un-remove it if you remove the link.

        8 votes
        1. [4]
          nahkoots
          Link Parent
          Link removed. Is that requirement listed anywhere in the terms of use? I checked before I posted and didn't see it, but I might've just missed it.

          Link removed.

          Is that requirement listed anywhere in the terms of use? I checked before I posted and didn't see it, but I might've just missed it.

          4 votes
          1. [3]
            stu2b50
            Link Parent
            Not to be snippy, but isn't not posting pirated content kinda... obvious?

            Not to be snippy, but isn't not posting pirated content kinda... obvious?

            6 votes
            1. [2]
              nahkoots
              Link Parent
              Definitely, and I certainly wouldn't ever do that. "No copyright violations" is already in the terms of use though, so whether or not it's obvious is irrelevant. Posting links to pirated content,...

              Definitely, and I certainly wouldn't ever do that. "No copyright violations" is already in the terms of use though, so whether or not it's obvious is irrelevant. Posting links to pirated content, on the other hand, doesn't violate copyright law (at least I hope not, otherwise Google's in a lot of trouble right about now), so unless a website owner doesn't indicate in their terms of use or in their replies to comments that it's not allowed, there's no way to know.

              Of course, banning legal discussion isn't anything new or unusual. For example, Tumblr bans nudity and adult content and Reddit bans discussion of dark web marketplaces, neither of which are illegal but both of which (apparently) look bad to advertisers. There's nothing wrong with Deimos doing the same, and he's already said he doesn't intend for Tildes to be a bastion for free speech. I didn't want to make assumptions for Tildes based on those sites, though, since Tildes is different in that it doesn't need to cater to advertisers.

              Side note: Deimos, does that link to the image of Google linking to pirated content also break Tildes's rules (and would your answer change if, instead of displaying the link as "thepiratebay.org > torrent > Frozen 2", Google included the actual link in text in the search result)? I'm not trying to be intentionally obtuse, but I'm not entirely sure where to draw the line.

              7 votes
              1. Deimos
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                Like you said, the terms say not to violate copyright, but there's a ton of gray area. You're right that technically linking to external sites probably shouldn't be considered a violation, but in...

                Like you said, the terms say not to violate copyright, but there's a ton of gray area. You're right that technically linking to external sites probably shouldn't be considered a violation, but in reality the copyright holders can still cause a lot of trouble over it. I worked at reddit for years and saw the volume of DMCA and other complaints they had to deal with over links to content that was actually hosted on external sites.

                Whether it's "correct" or not, it's a stance that's based more on realism than idealism. Tildes doesn't have millions of dollars like Google, reddit, etc. to be able to dispute copyright issues. If I need to pay a lawyer for one day it could wipe out around a month's worth of the current donation goal. Overall, the benefits of you linking directly to it are negligible, but the potential downsides are huge.

                15 votes
      2. kfwyre
        Link Parent
        I'll stick to getting it through the library. I don't mind the wait too much, and I'd rather go through the proper channels, even if it's more hassle.

        I'll stick to getting it through the library. I don't mind the wait too much, and I'd rather go through the proper channels, even if it's more hassle.

        4 votes