Monday, May 7, 2012

Drawing the line on eBooks

Publishers refusing to sell eBooks to public libraries? Really? Granted publishers are now in the same pickle as medicine, much of the industrial sector, and even higher education. Times change, technology accelerates that change. You don't want to change, but you have to change. 

Publishers love eBooks when it means a new, increasing readership. But they want it all, don't want to seriously imagine their own change, and are getting especially greedy where public libraries and those who NEED our libraries are concerned. 

Most Americans can now buy a Kindle for as little as $79 and easily access the public library eBooks, free Google and public domain books, massive online help downloads, etc available via this new technology. eBooks offer unprecedented value to the home-bound, to busy workers, to those with limited transportation, to those working odd hours, or just someone looking for a just-in-time read when they finish their last book. Our libraries are moving rapidly to understand this affordance and leverage it for the public good. 

And the publishers? They want it all, as much as they can shove into their pockets, and are beginning to deny public libraries the right to lend e-Books. I wish I knew what to recommend to stop them. Don't buy their books? I can't do that, can't say that, can't go there. Cut out the public library middlemen and steal e-books? I can't say that either. I love writers and they are caught in the cross-fire. But, here's what Salley Shannon, the president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors has to say: 

"Denying public libraries eBooks is so mean-spirited, so unreasonable, so against the grain of American tradition, that it will surely backfire if anywhere near a majority of publishers do it. Stealing eBooks will become a laudable way to fight back, done with no pang of conscience whatever."

Yikes! Here's her full letter. 

When writers believe stealing books will become a laudable act, we know the system is broken. And who has the tools to fix it?  There's no Amazon, Apple or Google to enforce muscle in keeping a bridge across the digital divide the way they have with music and personally-owned e-literature (Apple: .99 cents or we shut iTunes down; Amazon: control the cost or you don't Kindle-book here; Google: digitizing the literary public domain for all and fight in court anyone who tries to stop them.)

I do understand how frightening it is to see your industry change. As we move from an industrial to a digital age, we are all - everyone - facing challenges and fears. But the trend of turning on backs on people of need to keep our own customs and habits? Too many (medicine, higher education, industry going off-shore) have taken that path and it's time to back up, and go down a new road. Publishers, back up. Right your path or you will be creating a rebel nation of book thieves. Consider yourself warned. 

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