Hello, ALA? Open-mindedness and an e-book ecosystem would be the best responses to prices increases from Random House—and other challenges

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imageI’ve warned libraries they’ve got too little to bargain with. Publishers have the upper hand despite the sales that libraries can drum up through exposure of titles from various houses. Notice that most of the biggest publishers have backed off from the public library scene—and now Random House has jacked up e-book prices as much as 300 percent?

The best solution for libraries in their relations with publishers? A mix of carrots and sticks. Specifics:

1. Librarians and publishers both need to spend much less time fighting each other on business and legal matters and more time creating a Library-Content Providers Complex to increase useful library spending at all levels of government to the benefit of both groups. They need to consider the once-unthinkable. In the interest of rewarding actual performance of titles over the years, libraries perhaps could be not be so vehement about the first sale doctrine. Publishers and other content providers, in turn, need to consider shorter copyright terms, both in law and in effect practice (at least in arrangements with libraries); and they might join libraries toward lobbying for an endowment for a national digital library system so libraries’ fiscal plight was less severe. Guess which people are leading sources of campaign donations? Hint: It isn’t librarians!

2. At the same time libraries could bringing in experienced editorial professionals and others to help create and promote their own best-sellers rather than relying so much on publishers who, for now, don’t appreciate their business. Produce books and other items so compelling that publishers will pick them up and give the libraries breaks in other areas. No mystery about how to to do this—with zillions of editors out of work and their past track records often well known. An example of the possibilities? Well, The Great Gatsby didn’t just become a classic on its own. Academics and librarians helped make this possible through their belief in the book. Now they need to unite to discover and otherwise encourage future Fitzgeralds—by educating and developing a wide range of writers in local communities. Not just “literary” writers but also the commercial variety. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Meanwhile let me emphasize the need for librarians to let the editorial types go about their business with sufficient resources and without improper interference; otherwise we’ll see the same mediocrity or worse that we do in current library Web sites.

3. Also, libraries should venture fearlessly into retail and rental businesses while also offering links to commercial sites, so consumers have a choice. Here’s to a genuine library ecosystem with library patrons and ten “musts” in mind. An OverDrive purchase by libraries, or a nonprofit run on their behalf, would help immensely.

A little outside the stereotyped visions of librarians’ roles? Definitely. But then who’d have thought that publishers should stop selling a whole category of books—notably digital—to libraries or jack up prices to the extent that Random House has? It’s a new world, ALA. The usual dialogue with Random House and the like isn’t enough to cut it.

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