Libraries and Publishers Strengthening the E-Reading Ecosystem

September 27, 2012

The following is a summary of remarks ALA President Maureen Sullivan is delivering today at the Association of American Publishers Fall Meeting in New York City:

We must build on the long-standing, successful partnership between publishers and libraries.
Through our common goal of bringing authors and readers together, publishers and libraries have worked with each other for many decades. In varied ways, libraries serve as marketers of books in all their forms. For example, libraries promote the discoverability of works by recommending titles, hosting author talks, displaying titles in library buildings and on library websites, and hosting book clubs.

Libraries also contribute to the publishing ecosystem by teaching and encouraging literacy (including digital literacy), reading, and lifelong learning. Libraries and the American Library Association (ALA) also use the bully pulpit to help communicate the importance of literacy and reading in society.

Ebook strategy: We must focus more on the future.
Advances in technology have enabled new forms of digital connection, such as social networking and mobile apps. New services, new delivery mechanisms, and new companies abound. How can publishers and libraries leverage technological advances to develop services that will best meet the future needs of our communities? How can publishers and libraries work together in this essential quest? No one has all the answers, but ALA now is considering all aspects of these questions. This is a key priority and a matter of urgency for ALA, our 60,000 members, and the communities we serve.

We must address immediate needs. Libraries serve people now, and ebook growth is explosive.
The number of libraries that offer ebooks has doubled over the past five years, and libraries report double- and triple-digit growth in circulation of these e-titles. ALA acknowledges that hundreds of publishers do make ebooks available to libraries in a landscape that is evolving rapidly. We very much appreciate those publishers that sell ebooks to libraries at reasonable prices and terms.

The policy of some publishers to prohibit ebook sales to libraries is unacceptable. ALA soon will undertake heightened advocacy efforts to persuade these publishers that selling to libraries is in their—and everyone’s—best interest. Publishers engaged in active proposals or pilots will be encouraged to accelerate these preliminary steps.

On balance, libraries tend to see current ebooks as providing less functionality and value than print books. While some features may be superior, there are considerable disadvantages in terms of constrained basic access, the rights to make accommodation for people with disabilities, patron privacy, ability to integrate ebooks into other library resources, and the rights to ensure long-term archiving and preservation. As a result, increased prices do not make sense. Libraries certainly agree to pay reasonable prices and to adhere to the contracts that we sign. We want publishers to remain in business; we want to continue to be their customers! ALA, however, doesn’t accept the proposition that an ebook price that is a multiple of the print price is justifiable or fair.

ALA urges strategic action.
There is tremendous strategic opportunity. The advances in technology should enable many more possibilities for publishers and libraries than we recognize today. If publishers and libraries don’t figure it out, some other entity will. Librarians nationwide are increasingly impatient and dissatisfied with the status quo, and the ALA will take more aggressive steps to address these pressing concerns. We want to work with publishers. How can ALA and libraries work with publishers and better support efforts to create a better future for our readers?