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Re: eBooks in Libraries a Thorny Problem, Says Macmillan CEO

I haven't spoken with John Sargent about this particular item,
but there may be some context for his remarks to bear in mind.

First, let me mention that Sargent came up through the ranks in
children's books.  I was in a meeting with him in the 1980s where
he talked about the importance of the public library market for
his program.  (For some segments of the children's market,
libraries are half the business--unlike adult trade, where
libraries are perhaps 3-4% of the business, though it all depends
on who is counting.) He was then, and I assume he is now,
attentive to the needs of constituencies beyond his shareholders
(but if you forget them . . . ).

For consumer publishers, "libraries" almost always and
exclusively means "public libraries." Academic libraries are not
on the radar screen.

The context of library discussions among trade publishers today
is, How can we sell ebooks to public libraries without destroying
our consumer sales?  This is a very real problem, and if there is
a good solution, I have not yet seen it.  If an ebook is sold to
a library and if it can be checked out remotely by anyone with a
library card and an Internet connection, AND if there is no
limitation as to the number of simultaneous users, then why would
anyone buy the book instead of simply getting it from the

One solution that is being kicked around is for public libraries
to purchase/license ebooks for their districts, with compensation
based either on population (the equivalent of FTE pricing) or
varying with usage ("this ebook carries no charge to the library
until it is checked out; each check out will result in a charge
of $____").

I don't know how this will play out, but Sargent is someone
librarians can work with.

Joe Esposito

On Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 2:19 PM, Rick Anderson
<rick.anderson@utah.edu> wrote:

> Sargent's comments are intriguing, in particular the quote that
> Chuck pulled:
>> "If there's a model where the publisher gets a piece of the
>> action every time the book is borrowed, that's an interesting
>> model."
> I anticipate that many of my colleagues will bristle at this
> suggestion, mainly because we don't like the idea of any
> corporation getting a "piece of the action" when the action in
> question is a patron borrowing a book. But of course, the word
> "borrow" becomes immensely complicated in the ebook realm --
> "lending" can mean anything from (at one extreme) outright
> distribution of unlimited copies to all comers at one extreme, to
> (at the other extreme) time-limited read-only access to text
> through a single handheld device passed from patron to patron.
> Then there's the question of what "a piece of the action" might
> actually mean in this context. What's the action, and how big a
> piece does Sargent want? What if the library's "acquisition" of
> the ebook in question amounted only to provision of a gateway
> into the book's content, and the library gets microcharged with
> every access?
> There are enormous opportunities here, in part because the
> potential number of models is limitless. I hope the forces of
> reaction (on both sides of the library/publisher divide) don't
> stymie the innovative possibilities.
> Rick Anderson
> Assoc. Dir. for Scholarly Resources & Collections
> Marriott Library
> Univ. of Utah
> rick.anderson@utah.edu