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Kansas State Library’s Facebook campaign targets top publishers’ e-book policies

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, at 10:29 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, at 10:29 p.m.

The Kansas State Library has launched a social-media campaign against what it says are unfair practices to keep bestselling electronic books out of the hands of libraries and their patrons.

Library officials have started a page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/thebig6ebooks, “bringing attention to the titles publishers are refusing to sell (as) e-books to libraries, price gouging or limiting checkouts per copy purchased.”

The site names six large publishing firms, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster; and Random House and Penguin Group, which recently announced that they are merging their operations. The companies publish most of the popular bestsellers in the country, the librarians said.

“Writing to publishers and complaining to each other about the publisher/library e-book conflict wasn’t enough,” State Librarian Jo Budler said in a statement. “We needed a (social media) platform of our own to come together with the public and really take a look at the content not available.”

E-books have become an increasingly popular way for library patrons to check out books, which they can read on computers, tablets or phones.

The books can be obtained through state and local library websites, allowing patrons to read a book without having to check out and return a physical copy.

So far, the State Library’s Facebook page lists 11 titles from Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster that are not available to libraries as e-books.

The books range from “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s new novel, “The Casual Vacancy;” to New York Times forecaster Nate Silver’s nonfiction work, “The Signal and the Noise,” which is in high demand due to his success in closely projecting the outcome of the presidential elections in 2008 and this year.

The facebook page lists a number of other e-books that are available to libraries, but at prices as high $85 a copy, much more than the cover price of a regular book.

Of the six companies named on the Facebook page, only HarperCollins immediately responded to The Eagle’s requests for comment.

HarperCollins does sell e-books to the library market, but places restrictions on the number of times a book can be checked out before the library has to pay for another electronic copy.

According to the State Library’s facebook page, one Harper Collins title, “The Master of Disguise” by Antonio J. Mendez with Malcolm McConnell, costs $13.99 for 26 checkouts.

Assuming a two-week checkout period, that would be up to a year’s worth of use. As with physical books, the price generally comes down once a book has been out for a while.

The company provided The Eagle a copy of a 2010 “open letter to librarians” explaining its policy.

From 2000 to 2010, the company sold its e-books to libraries without a checkout limit. But in 2000, e-books were in their infancy and few people used them, the letter said.

By 2010, more than 40 million e-reading devices had come into service, necessitating a change, it said.

“We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors,” said the letter, written by Josh Marwell, the company’s president of sales. “We are looking to balance the mission and needs of libraries and their patrons with those of authors and booksellers, so that the library channel can thrive alongside the growing e-book retail channel.”

Lianne Flax, the state’s online librarian, said the books are checked out for a specific period of time — usually two to four weeks — just like regular books.

To prevent piracy, the computer file containing the book is active only during the checkout period and becomes corrupted and unreadable or disappears entirely from the user’s device when it expires, she said.

When the book times out, it becomes available to the next user who wants to check it out – pretty much the same as any other book would, she said.

“These are people using the library,” she said. “They want to use the book for a short time. They don’t want it forever.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527.

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