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A Well-Stocked National Digital Library [was Re: Electronic Resources]

Pat McNees is correct here. Traditionally writers sold rights to newspapers
just for one-time use, then could recycle the articles elsewhere. Now the
New York Times and other wealthy publications want to buy all rights
forever, and writers have taken the Times and the rest to court. You would
not believe how miserly the press has been in paying freelancers. One
prestigious national paper forces writers to surrender all rights to
900-word columns and pays them just $100. Keep in mind that a freelancer
like Pat McNees or me is rather different from a staff writer who receives
a steady salary no matter how great or small the demand for individual
articles. If a newspaper demands, say, $1.50 for an article, it's only fair
that Pat should get at least 75 cents rather than zilch.

Now, as long as we're on the topic of interlibrary loans, other shared
electronic resources, and underpaid writers, let me push here for a
well-stocked national digital library. I've got the quixotic notion that we
would be better off not replicating the famous Savage Inequalities online.
One library system in California was spending $34 per citizen each year on
books, magazines, and other materials, last time I checked, while another
was shelling out just 25 cents. A decent national digital library could
reduce such inequalities while increasing the supply of materials for
everyone. Even Bill Clinton's czar of intellectual property, Bruce Lehman,
the ex-copyright lobbyist, has blessed the idea of voluntary licensing. And
I don't think his Green or White Paper said, "Only at the state or local
level." While I am gung ho on fair use--writers are among its biggest
beneficiaries--I don't see a well-executed library idea as preempting or
jeopardizing it. The present national digital library at the Library of
Congress is hardy the solution; it isn't a well-stocked library in the
Carnegie vein, just a wonderful collection of exhibits and research
materials. I doubt that Pat, I, or Doubleday can exactly rely on the
Library for the serious income needed to create good "content."

The digital library I have in mind could buy old newspaper and magazine
clips and academic articles, and it could include all media. Just the same,
I myself would like to see books the main focus, given the extent to which
the Net threatens the medium. Books don't lend themselves to ads as well as
articles do. Piracy of long e-text is a serious threat, and so is a
diminished attention span from all that Web-hopping. Bear in mind, too,
that books will compete with the glitz of two-way audio and video and
existing diversions such as, gasp, mailing lists like this one. Atop that,
remember how wonderful book sales have been lately; Harper Collins just
killed 100 books in one swooop. "Sales of hard-cover and paperback adult
trade books--the chief moneymakers for publishers--fell by 5.3 percent
between 1995 and 1996 to 459 million copies, the second consecutive year
that the drop in sales topped 5 percent," the Times reported. They will go
back up eventually, but not nearly as much as they should be, and you can
bet that the Internet is one reason, all the online bookstores

A library model on the Net, then, actually could be friendlier to writers
and publishers than would a system providing simply for pay-per-read
charges for electronic books. And there are ways to justify the cost of the
library model. What's more, screens of portable computers are about to grow
much sharper. Beyond that, the same hardware optimized for reading books
and articles would be terrific for electronic forms, which could save tens
of billions. A transaction may cost a bank ten cents or less on the Net, or
one-tenth the cost of doing business at a branch. That's just one example.

Yes, the library could start small and grow as demand and
cost-justification grew. In the grand scheme of things we're not talking
that much. Bill Gates' stock appreciated more within the past year than all
the writers in American earned from book royalties. I'm not proposing that
we tax Gates' wealth out of existence, just that society should promote
literacy and help writers and publishers turn out good books in the Net
age. At least for commercial works, they could be paid by access and have
the right to gamble money up front on individual properties to enjoy more
income later on. For details, see:

--A Washington Post op-ed on the TeleRead plan
<>. The Post paid me all of
$200 despite all the research that went into the piece. To its credit the
paper bought only first rights.

--The TeleRead area <>.

--The TeleRead chapter of Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier
(The MIT Press and the American Society for Information Science, 1996).
I've added some new wrinkles to the TeleRead idea since then. Too bad that
the finished chapter could not have been on the Net for updates. Oh, I've
got a pre-publication version of the TeleRead chapter at teleread.htm, but
it'll be awhile before I can afford the time to revise this early draft.
After all, no one paid me for my work.

David H. Rothman | | 703.370.6540(o)(h)

At 07:08 PM 7/10/97 -0400, Stephen M. Hayes wrote:
>A most interesting concept. This message below strikes me as if authors
>wished to be paid "by the read". I, as a newpaper subscriber, buy the
>paper and compensate the paper for its costs (including paying authors). 
>Is it being suggested that I and other readers now need to compensate the
>author directly? 
>If so, society seem to be approaching a time when everyone wants to be
>compensated for everything everytime.... 
>Business Service Librarian
>NOTRE DAME IN 46556-0399
>VOICE: 219-631`-5268
>On Thu, 10 Jul 1997 08:12:42 -0400 (EDT) Pat McNees said:
>>While the electronic/ILL future is being discussed, please do not ignore
>>the rights of authors (which many publishers do).   Remember that while
>>"scholarly publications" do not share their income with authors, more
>>general publications (including The New York Times and the Boston Globe)
>>should be, and are trying to get away with not doing so.  It would be
>>very helpful if librarians on this listserv would include the issue of
>>"rights grabs" from authors when they are figuring out the right thing
>>to do.  If you would like more information about this, I'll be glad to
>>provide it.
>>Pat McNees
>>member, board of American Society of Journalists & Authors
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