How Kansans Made Ebook Inequity Go Viral on Facebook

December 18, 2012

After years of being on the receiving end of unfair ebook prices and library lending restrictions from some of the world’s largest book publishers, leadership at the State Library of Kansas has had enough.

To bring the public’s attention to libraries’ ongoing ebook conflict with some publishers, the state library created a Facebook page that lists ebook titles that publishers refuse to sell or license to libraries, as well as ebooks currently offered to libraries only at sky-high prices. Candace LeDuc, communications coordinator for the State Library of Kansas, says that the library specifically chose Facebook because the site can serve as an interactive forum for the community; the platform allows the library to build a large, public audience of library users and community supporters.

Since the webpage’s launch in early November, almost 1,200 Facebook users have liked the page, and more fans continue to support the website every day. One recent Facebook post about Simon & Schuster received 56 shares and 114 likes. Lianne Flax, the state library’s online services and programming librarian, provides the ebook titles listed on the Facebook page.

As part of the library campaign strategy, social media managers for the Facebook page regularly publish posts that either detail exorbitantly high ebook prices or list publishers that refuse to sell e-books to libraries. One popular post, for example, informed Facebook fans that publisher Random House sells copies of the ebook Notorious Nineteen (by bestselling author Janet Evanovich) to libraries for $84 per ebook.

The campaign was created by Kansas State Librarian Joanne Budler, who took a stand last year by questioning ebook publishers’ licensing terms. She now seeks to bring the library and the community together so that patrons can better understand why they are finding gaps on the digital shelves of libraries.

“We needed a platform of our own to come together with the public and really take a look at the content not available,” said Budler, who added that data indicates that libraries support the ebook industry. “It’s really a missed opportunity for these publishers. Why are they seeing this as a threat and not an opportunity? This is a gain-gain for all parties—the libraries, the publishers, and the readers.”

So far, the Facebook community page has been well-received by library supporters across the state. The page has received a number of comments from supporters expressing their disappointment with publishers. In one comment, Lisa Casullo Pereira vented: “This is so disappointing to read. I have published to my Facebook page and have encouraged others to look at this and to become proactive in fighting this.” In another post, Beth Dailey Kenneth wrote: “Thank you so much for creating this page and bringing awareness to the general public. It is a struggle to meet library customers' needs without the availability of all books electronically.”

The webpage received a visibility boost after the state library issued a press release November 7 about advocacy-campaign efforts. Five days later, the Wichita Eagle profiled the social media effort, and soon after the Associated Press followed suit. LeDuc says that the media attention for the Facebook page is helping to further the campaign’s ultimate goal: to make publishers more accountable for unfair ebook pricing practices toward libraries.

“We are trying to build a community, and the content that we’re sharing is purely informational,” said LeDuc. “We want to reveal what [publishers] are doing to libraries and the titles affected. We want to show library users that it’s not the libraries that are not getting these titles for them—it’s the publishers not allowing it.” She added that the library also plans to use its Big6ebooks Facebook page as a vehicle to promote library-friendly publishers and authors.

For more information on ebook advocacy efforts in Kansas, visit the Facebook page or the library website, or view the webinar hosted by the State Library of Kansas about the issues involved. Visit ebooks for libraries to learn about ebook-fairness campaigns elsewhere.

JAZZY WRIGHT is press officer of ALA’s Washington Office.