ebooks, libraries, and the discount rate

Evolution of Readers
Creative Commons License John Blyberg via Compfight

The other day I was listening to a Planet Money podcast episode, and they were talking about a new-to-me financial term: the discount rate. As they described it, this is “the rate you use to size up future costs.”

This morning I read a blog/essay by cartoonist Dave Kellett (who draws the nerdy-fun comic Sheldon) which argued that ebooks in libraries would be the death of the traditional publishing industry. As he put it, “The internet has shown, again and again, that the average consumer always tends toward the cheaper, faster solution. And all things being equal between delivery systems, there’s no debate which one is more advantageous for the individual: The borrowed copy.”

Not long after reading this essay, I attended a training session by one of our ebook vendors, during which at one point they mentioned that the cost for MUPO books (multiple simultaneous user access; essentially a site-license) as being only 150% of list price, which in their words is a good deal. I held my breath for a moment, as I knew the cost of MUPO had been contentious in internal discussions in the recent past. However, the moment passed without comment.

All of these bits and pieces began churning in my mind until finally I reached a rather shocking to me conclusion: 150% of list price for unlimited simultaneous user access is an amazing deal, particularly now that these ebooks are becoming more functional for the users.

Think about it — for the cost of half of a second copy, any number of our users can view, download, print, copy, and even read the same book at the same time. In the print world, at best you might get four people reading the same copy a book at the same time if you could smoosh together close enough and the font size wasn’t too small. Or, you’d buy multiple copies for class reading assignments that would then end up being discarded when the curriculum changed.

How could I go from thinking that ebooks shouldn’t cost more than print to thinking that MUPO pricing is a good deal? Well, my discount rate changed. When I thought about it from the perspective of copies saved rather than prices increased, it made the cost difference seem less heinous.

NASIG 2009: Informing Licensing Stakeholders

Towards a More Effective Negotiation

Presenters: Lisa Sibert, Micheline Westfall, Selden Lamoreux, Clint Chamberlain (moderator), Vida Damijonaitis, and Brett Rubinstein

Licensing as a process has not been improving very much. Some publishers are willing to negotiate changes, but some are still resistant. It often takes months to a year to receive fully signed licenses from publishers, which can tie up access or institutional processes. Negotiation time is, of course, a factor, but it should not effect the time it takes for both parties to sign and distribute copies once the language is agreed upon. One panelist noted that larger publishers are often less willing to negotiate than smaller ones. Damijonaitis stated that licenses are touched at fourteen different points in the process on their end, which plays into the length of time.

Publishers are concerned with the way the content is being used and making sure that it is not abused (without consequences). Is it necessary to put copyright violation language in licenses or can it live on purchase orders? Springer has not had any copyright violations that needed to be enforced in the past five or six years. They work with their customers to solve any problems as they come up, and libraries have been quick to deal with the situation. On the library side, some legal departments are not willing to allow libraries to participate in SERU.

Deal breakers: not allowing walk-ins, adjunct faculty, interlibrary loan, governing law, and basic fair use provisions. Usage statistics and uptime guarantees are important and sometimes difficult to negotiate. LibLicense is useful for getting effective language that publishers have agreed to in the past.

It’s not the libraries who tend to be the abusers of license terms or copyright, it’s the users. Libraries are willing to work with publishers, but if the technology has grown to the point where it is too difficult for the library to police use, then some other approach is needed. When we work with publishers that don’t require licenses or use just purchase orders, there is less paperwork, but it also doesn’t indemnify the institution, which is critical in some cases.

Bob Boissy notes that no sales person gets any benefit from long negotiations. They want a sale. They want an invoice. Libraries are interested in getting the content as quickly as possible. I think we all are coming at this with the same desired outcome.