ALA Meets with New York Publishers

Opportunities loom for pricing models and preservation

December 9, 2014

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In the first week of December, a delegation of leaders from the American Library Association (ALA) met—in separate meetings—with executives of Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Hachette Book Group to discuss the current state and future of library ebook lending. This delegation was led by ALA president Courtney L. Young and the cochairs of ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG), Carolyn Anthony and Erika Linke. Also included in the delegation were President-Elect Sari Feldman, immediate Past President Barbara Stripling, Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, and Alan S. Inouye, the director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy. Several publishing executives made explicit note of the strong ALA presence, reaffirming ALA’s commitment and priority to library ebook and digital content issues.

“We discussed key issues both from the publisher and library perspectives, and engaged in frank, open, and direct conversations,” said Courtney Young. “Publishers did not immediately concur with library thinking, but agreed to receive and give ALA proposals serious consideration. Thus, we have an opportunity for making further progress in 2015 and beyond, building on the past success of the DCWG.”

Carolyn Anthony said, “Two of the critical issues that we discussed with the publishers are pricing models and digital preservation. Each publisher has a different pricing model, but no single model will suit all libraries—libraries and librarians need choice. Digital preservation was acknowledged as an important issue, with diverse responses from among the companies. With both issues, ALA was invited to further engage with these publishers.” Other key issues, such as accommodations for people with disabilities and privacy, were also discussed.

“The DCWG will be focusing on the development of specific proposals in the next few months,” said Erika Linke. “We will draw upon the full membership and staff of the DCWG, and look to receiving input from ALA members and the library community at large. Thoughtful and strategic ideas, yet practical and realistic for both the publishing and library communities, are needed. We will also consider how ALA can help libraries improve the effectiveness of their engagement with publishers, such as hosting author events.”

Those attending the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago are invited to the DCWG’s public session “Libraries and ebooks: Where do we go from here?” to discuss and provide input on these issues. Join us on Sunday, February 1, 10:30 a.m., in Room 196B at McCormick Place West. This session will feature the DCWG cochairs, Steve Potash of OverDrive, and Matt Tempelis of 3M.

In separate meetings, the delegation also met with senior staff of the New York Public Library and the members of the board of trustees of the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). In these meetings, we focused on digital content issues, the state of Big 5 publishers, and New York institution-based initiatives (for example, the Library Simplified project). ALA appreciated our productive exchanges with both organizations, and the Association looks forward to further developing our relationships on digital content and other library matters.

Finally, in other meetings, I met with representatives of the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild to provide updates on ALA directions. Integral to these discussions was future thinking on how authors, publishers, and libraries could work more closely in areas of common agreement. As with the delegation meetings, there was generally goodwill and optimism towards this end and a willingness to collaborate.

“Much work remains for ALA and the library community,” said Young. “Considering that ebooks became a mass-market phenomenon less than a decade ago, we are still in the early stages of their development and adoption. We look forward to ALA’s role in helping to shape what is to come, in partnership with publishers.”

ALAN S. INOUYE is director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and program manager of the ALA Digital Content Initiative.