By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
In an effort to expand dialogue about e-book lending and libraries, the American Library Association will seek to enter into talk with organizations representing authors, including the Authors Guild and the PEN American Center.
The ALA hopes to arrange for meetings by mid-May, said Maureen Sullivan, the ALA’s president elect.
“We want to extend the conversation to the people who actually produce the books so they understand the situation libraries face, particularly when libraries are denied access to purchasing e-books,” said Sullivan.
The ALA also wants to understand the new issues that authors face as a result of the rise of e-books and for authors to understand why their e-books may not be available through libraries.
In recent months, the ALA has sought conversations with publishers and publisher organizations in order to address the issue of e-book library lending. Many publishers, including four of the largest – Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster – are not making new e-books available to libraries.
Early in 2012, the ALA engaged in direct talks with Random House, the world’s largest trade publisher, about its e-book library lending policies. On March 1, in the midst of these talks, Random House raised the prices it charges libraries for e-books by as much as 300% to the dismay of many librarians. The ALA then called on Random House to reconsider the price increase.
“I don’t know how it came about that they increased the price when and how they did it but we’ve continued to have cordial relationships [with Random House] in pressing the issue,” said Sullivan.
The ALA has also engaged the Association of American Publishers, a trade group that represents many U.S. publishing firms, in talks on e-book library lending. In September 2011, Tom Allen, president and CEO of the AAP met with Molly Raphael, president of the ALA. In March, at the AAP’s annual meeting, a panel of librarians, including Raphael, discussed the issues surrounding e-book library lending in front of an assembled crowd of executives representing the largest U.S. publishers.
This is the extent of the AAP’s participation in this issue, according to Sullivan.
“For legal reasons, AAP cannot be involved in publishers’ individual business activities, which is what the publisher/library commercial relationships are. This was explained at a meeting in September where ALA was interested in having AAP take a role that wouldn’t be legally possible for us. But we are able to help advance the conversation in a public setting, which was the idea behind the library panel we produced as part of the AAP annual meeting last month. This gave ALA a chance to speak to the publishing industry at large and from all we’ve heard, the session was really successful,” said Andi Sporkin, head of communications for the AAP in an email.
In the ALA’s 2012 State of America’s Library report, released today, the organization quoted Hachette chief executive David Young as saying, “Publishers can’t meet to discuss standards because of antitrust concerns. This has had a chilling effect on reaching consensus.”
According to Sullivan, a consensus solution may not be the answer.
“I’m not sure what a standardized solution would look like,” she said. “I do appreciate the situation they’re [publishers] in with the Justice Department. We’re all in a time with very complex change.”
A lack of understanding between publishers and libraries has been central to conflict surrounding the issue of e-book library lending. The ALA hopes to foster more understanding between the two parties.
“The best solution right now is for parties involved to understand what the needs and expectations are of each other,” said Sullivan, adding, “Libraries first and foremost want to provide materials to people who need them but absolutely to play fair with publishers.”
Dialogue between publishers and libraries is the key to solving the issue, said Sullivan. The ALA’s agenda in the coming months will be to continue and expand that dialogue.
Sullivan, the ALA’s president elect, is an Annapolis, Md.-based library consultant and volunteer member of the organization. She will become president of the ALA at the association’s annual meeting in June, succeeding Raphael, the current president.
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