Cake
  • Log In
  • Sign Up
    • Read article on EmergentWeb.org

      An Essay by J. Paul Duplantis

      As of November 1st, 2019 McMillan Publishing, one of the largest print publishers in the world, placed an 8-week embargo on libraries purchasing more than one copy of new release eBooks limiting an entire branch to loan out one eBook at a time to library patrons. This coupled with the publishing community beginning to limit perpetual access to eBooks and audiobooks, in general, should serve as a warning for what is about to come with the continued siloing and commoditization of information. A new reality favoring publishers and aggregators over creators and consumers closing in not only on the expressions of authors but the reportage of journalists, songs of artists, and the visions of filmmakers.

      As much as I like my Netflix subscription and my son likes his Spotify subscription, I have to wonder what the future will bring when important news stories and creative expressions are fenced-in through subscription models and exclusive content deals priced out of reach of the average wage earner. Is there any doubt the total cost of information consumption will rise as more information providers climb on board the gravy train of the subscription model? Consumer choice limited to which silo to choose rather than which creator of information to choose. The flow of information limited at the expense of the consumer. Sound familiar? 

      So when a top-five international book publisher picks a fight with 138,000 librarians over an 8-week release window, one has to wonder if this is the canary in the coal mine warning of what is to come. In an open letter to librarians, McMillan publishing CEO John Sargent offered, “We believe the very rapid increase in the reading of borrowed e-books decreases the perceived economic value of a book,” and “To borrow a book in those days required transportation, returning the book, and paying those pesky fines when you forgot to get them back on time. In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market.”

      Apparently perception and friction are the drivers aligning authors’ hard work with the interests of consumers in this new era of connectivity? Not to discount the necessity of profitability but when profit begins to step on discovery how will the consumer and the publishing industry not suffer? Yes, there is a scalability issue for publishers in consumers checking out a free eBook through a library portal online rather than physically picking up a book from a local library but is this the fight to pick to prove a point? A fight with a community of highly engaged readers who have shown in studies to purchase books after reading at the library.

      (“50% of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library.” Patron Profiles, 2011)

      I don’t believe this is a fight that will be won by either side. Maybe a better use of resources and time would be for publishers to spend more time experimenting with rental models, previewing sections based on reader interests, and better ad models to capture the interest of the reader against native content. It would be hard to argue growth in eBook sales over the years has met industry expectations but is the stagnation more about pirated content or a lack of innovation? This push by publishers to squeeze libraries over eBook sales leads me to believe the issue is with the latter which is also a reflection on the current information ecosystem as a whole. 

      Reality Is Closing In On Netflix

      A system incorporating conventional tactics of provider controls over a rapidly evolving connection allowing the user to expect more. This dissonance between publishers/aggregators and creators/consumers is what we are facing today limiting the reach of information to positively impact the whole of society. Will the Macmillan publishing companies of the world continue to talk or begin to listen to help right this ship? The Titanic missed the enormity of a situation as most of the threat was hidden from plain sight from a distracted crew. Are information publishers/aggregators about to make the same mistake?

      Additional reading on this subject:

      https://ebooksforall.org/index.php/get-involved/

      https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/81596-macmillan-ceo-john-sargent-we-re-not-trying-to-hurt-libraries.html

      https://d1x9nywezhk0w2.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/29160131/A-Letter-from-John-Sargent-.pdf

      https://www.panoramaproject.org/news/2019/7/26/macmillan-announces-library-ebook-embargo-new-lending-terms

      Photo by Pauline Loroy on Unsplash

    • I added the topic of “business” to this conversation since it makes for an interesting case study. I’ll also call out @Chris to this conversation since I believe he has a deeper understanding of the economics of the publishing world.

      As I understand it, the embargo of only one ebook per library is to increase the waiting time for someone at the bottom of the request list to the point that the someone buys a copy instead.

      It’s an interesting idea, but with any type of unilateral move for an industry there’s always the possibility that the competition won’t follow their lead. Meaning that the competition could see an increase in their library sales by choosing not to embargo.

      Or, if the competition follows suit, library patrons may choose alternatives to reading instead. Meaning a long-term loss of book buying customers.

    • Is Macmillian that desparate that they are concerned about losing revenue from e-book access in libraries? Do I have this right?

      Remember the class action lawsuit in 2012 United States v. Apple Inc.? The suit alleged that Apple, plus Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, conspired to raise and fix the price for e-books in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Apple had to pay $450 million (that's not that much to them) but I wonder if the other publishers had to kick in anything. Maybe it's changed now, but at the time, e-book sales accounted for a very small portion of their revenues.

      I can't keep up with how these two are intertwined but there was a Macmillan/McGraw-Hill educational brand at one point. After years of copyright infringement litigation by photographers and their agents, in 2018, McGraw-Hill eventually admitted liability for excessive publication of photographs in their textbooks. Their excuse: "[they] apparently did not have any internal controls to regulate the quantity of textbooks that it was publishing containing photographs subject to payment of licensing fees…"

      Hey, I've worked for and with all the big publishers and understand that they are looking towards their bottom line. But are they really thinking about the content creators as their reason for doing anything here?

    • I don't know if it is they are desperate or trying to draw a line in the sand for a future marketplace that will continue to not play by the rules they are comfortable with. What happens when apps start to layover passages of books onto objects that surround us through our AR glasses. They don't have a model that could monetize this scenario so as opposed to building for the future they are building walls to protect their present. Believe me I hope the experience of paper bound books never become irrelevant as it still remains my favorite means of long form reading but it just seems to me publishers are stuck in old top down models that just don't play well anymore. I personally believe innovation in the space could even re-invigorate sales of paper bound books. Might be a topic of a future article the more I think about it.

      And no I do not believe publishers are thinking about the content creators or the consumer just the same as big pharma doesn't think about the doctor or the patient when they are pricing their drugs for consumption. I wrote an article about this recently titled Free Market Parity that I am rewriting to help convey this issue more clearly.

      I did not know about the 2012 lawsuit you mentioned and very grateful you shared this. Always amazed at the depth of the commentary on Cake. Thank you for sharing!!!!