June 25, 2016

Report from ALA's OITP eBook Task Force Meeting With HarperCollins by Peter Brantley

During the just concluded ALA 2011 Conference in New Orleans the ALA OITP (Office of Information Technology Policy) eBook Task Force talked with senior HarperCollins staff*** about a number of important issues.

The discussion came about after the HarperCollins team suggested that both groups get together during the OITP eBook Task Force Business Meeting.

What follows is a report about what was discussed during the meeting. It was written by Peter Brantley and shared with INFOdocket.

Brantley is a member of the OITP task force. He’s also the Director of the Bookserver Project for the Internet Archive and a former executive director of the Digital Library Federation.

We would like to thank Peter for sharing the report with INFOdocket.

ALA OITP Meeting Report by Peter Brantley

The meeting between the ALA OITP eBook Task Force and HarperCollins was a welcome and important opportunity to begin discussions between major trade publishers and libraries. We noted that while libraries have ridden out multiple format changes in other media, this transition was meaningfully different, with broader ramifications, than those in the past.

The meeting was initiated by a comparison of estimated per circulation costs for different types of print books versus digital in different kinds of libraries, such as public or school. This discussion highlighted the pitfalls in assuming that every kind of published work could be suitably described in a common revenue model.

At that point, various ways of re-conceptualizing how the book catalog might be acquired and utilized were arrayed: this became the heart of our conversation, and while it discussed current service models and providers in the library market, it definitely did not assume them.

We discussed ways it might be possible to differentiate acquisition and circulation models for blockbluster or heavy selling titles from normal frontlist or midlist material; or whether it might be possible to acquire a complete set, or obtain a subscription to, all backlist titles from any given publisher by a library consortia.

(Interestingly, there was no discussion of Google’s proposed GBS settlement-based Institutional Subscription; the apparent value proposition given both the academic source material and the gaps its holdings would reveal due to the Publisher Partners program opt-outs may have rendered it inconsequential to both the publisher and library parties at the table.)

The task force raised the possibility of libraries providing their own digital book services without relying on intermediaries by forming library-operated digital book consortia, modeled on the recommendation of the COSLA report; perhaps even a single national library-controlled service with a new governance model might be generated. Since it is inherently possible to split the service layer from the revenue vector, we observed that new extra-local consortial models need not imply a diminution of income for publishers; it’s conceivable they might streamline accounting for both parties in a cost-saving manner.

We also discussed the conundrum of digital ownership versus licensing, and how to ensure adequate compensation while endorsing continuity of of the core library function of holding titles for preservation, and whether it was feasible to generate acquisition models that permitted libraries to own copies of digital books in a traditional sense, while specifying revenue models for publishers, perhaps on a tbd per-circulation basis, or a capitated basis for a service area, that did not leave them holding the digital bag. Since service models and revenue models can be differentiated, this is another example of how traditional library services need not inherently threaten publisher goals.

We closed with early discussion of the ways that publishers and libraries, communicating more deeply, might be able to share with each other various types of high level usage data that would augment both library and publisher positions, such as interest in certain types of titles, or geographic distributions of readership, and so forth. These new models of data sharing, while remaining cognizant of and protecting the critical value for libraries of reader privacy, are made possible by the digital transition and might indeed be best delivered by entirely new models of both acquisition and provision of digital books.

All sides of the table were very open to further discussion of these opportunities, and indeed we recognized that the process of clarifying the goals for each party – answering the question: “what do publishers (or libraries) want out of a digital world?” is not an easy one, but it is one that we must answer together.

*** The Senior Members of the HarperCollins Team Who Met With the OITP eBook Task Force Were:
Virginia Stanley, Director of Marketing, Josh Marwell, President of Sales and Adam Silverman, Senior Business Manager.

See Also: American Library Association E-books Taskforce Continues Open Dialogue With HarperCollins (via ALA; June 28, 2011)

See Also: ALA’s Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) Website on E-content Issues

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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