Gaining Ground


Related to first sale, do you agree with the blog post that said we have lost a lot of ground and can that ground be retaken?

I do believe that libraries have lost a lot of ground due to the differences in first sale for print and e-books. Publishers have long disliked the library lending model: one book sold for X number of readers as opposed to selling one book to each reader. The advent of e-books allowed publishers to exert some control over the traditional ways libraries acquire and allow access to books. A cap on checkouts per title, the inability to donate e-books, and cost restrictions are just a few examples of this. Some publishers have chosen to ignore libraries altogether by refusing to even sell us digital content. Further, the protection offered to libraries through the Copyright Act for print books are superseded by e-book vendor licensing terms that favor publishers and are extremely difficult to negotiate.

In order for this ground to be “retaken,” libraries and publishers must find a way to work together. The act of borrowing print books from a library never threatened the publishing industry, and I don’t believe that e-books do either. According to a Pew Internet Study, “Libraries, Patrons and E-books,” readers are more likely to buy a book as borrow it from a library: “55% of the e-book readers who also had library cards said they preferred to buy their e-books and 36% said they preferred to borrow them from any source—friends or libraries” and “Among those who read e-books, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book” (

In the interview with DPLA Founding Executive Director Dan Cohen, he says that his family’s “extensive” use of their local library “has also led us to buy hundreds of electronic and printed books.”

Palfrey points out in his blog post that Congress has the ability and authority to “reform” copyright law to “ensure” that libraries can “lend, archive, and preserve ebooks.” On a larger scale, changes in copyright law protection can better support the library’s responsibility to provide access to information that enhances scholarship and opens up opportunities to discover a wealth of cultural heritage.

The process toward cooperation between libraries and publishers, as well as amending copyright law, will not be easy or seamless. Large organizations such as the DPLA are exploring how libraries can provide access to a wide range of digital content, and leading a movement for change in the digital content arena. Hopefully, this leadership will inspire many of our nation’s libraries to “become more actively engaged in building the digital commons, through open source code, open access approaches to publishing, and innovative means of making in-copyright digital materials to readers.”


3 responses to “Gaining Ground

  1. I like what you said about libraries not threatening publishers. I know that this is the angle the ALA is taking with publisher and Overdrive, in an effort to get greater understanding between all three groups. However, it seems like publishers are looking out over the landscape and realizing if they do not try to sculpt it in their own image now, they will never get the chance again.

  2. drummergirl40, I like the depth that you lent to the topic of e-books, publishing, libraries,and lost and retaken ground opportunities. It was useful to consider the Pew research about how patrons are most likely to purchase an e-Book for the convenience, rather than seek them from a library’s offerings. Regretfully, so much of publishing’s concerns with profit supersede them accepting the very real possibility for promotion and enhancing sales libraries have always offered. Libraries are uniquely situated to help promote authors, literacy, and a publisher’s catalog. If only they realized that by freeing up libraries to lend their content with fewer restrictions they are bound to build a stronger long-term relationship with active readers that probably wouldn’t detract from their bottom-line profit potential.

  3. (cont.) Oops! Comment posted early inadvertently.
    This isn’t exactly analogous, but it was recently revealed that HBO wasn’t concerned with pursuing litigation against the countless users of torrent sites who download their content, because they could build see evidence that those users, while not leading directly to profit from paid subscriptions, undoubtedly supported the popularity of their programs. They connected these pirates with the increased popularity and were thankful for both types of viewers. Would that big publishing had the same confidence in libraries to promote and build
    interest and gave back some of the restrictions they’ve placed on e-Book lending.

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