RE: Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System

Posting to NCG4LIB

Karen Coyle wrote (Concerning David Rothman’s Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System

So… where would revenue for the publishers come in? He
thinks that some kind of monolithic fee system would satisfy the
publishers, but where would the money for a tempting fee come from?
Libraries manage because they *don’t* pay a per-use fee. He somehow
thinks that “magic will happen” that will make all of this
economically feasible. In fact, he thinks this would save libraries
money. I think he engages in utopian thinking.

While this may be true, I think that utopian thinking is critical at certain periods of time, to open up thinking toward genuinely new possibilities. If someone had said to me 20 years ago that there would be millions or more worthwhile materials available online at the click of a button, I would have deemed it “utopian,” if indeed, not crazy, but now the possibilities of the Internet Archive, Google books, youtube and so on are nothing less than science fiction come true–and in an incredibly short time. Google audaciously started scanning books and now, they may be available to everyone very soon, but in any case, I’m sure they will be sooner or later.

The publishers cannot stop it forever, but they would apparently like to. (See: the Guardian’s “Stars fall in Amazon protest about ebook prices” where it turns out that people are angry with the *authors* because the *publishers* raised prices on the ebooks based on the “agency model” sometimes even higher than the hardback price. To me, this shows they cannot deal with the ebook model yet) If I were an author, I believe this would make me very uncomfortable. Occurrences such as these demonstrate that the interests of publishers and their authors are not necessarily the same, although the publishers want to say that they are.

Publishers still have a vital role to play so long as there are printed books distributed in the traditional manner: i.e. physical items created and printed in one geographic area and sent around to different retail outlets, perhaps locally or around the world. This is not, and has never been, a very efficient model but in an entirely physical world, it was difficult to come up with anything else.

As this model changes through the gradual acceptance of ebooks and/or local print on demand, such as the Espresso Book Machine, it wouldn’t surprise me if the actual functions of publishers gradually pass on to sites such as Google and/or Amazon since it makes more sense. When we discuss scholarly publishing, the situation is changing even faster.

It’s clear that copyright will have to change since it cannot deal with the fundamental difference with today’s technology which is based on sharing files: the way the internet works is by placing a copy of a file from one machine on another machine. Even though this is the way the internet has functioned since the 1970s or so, publishers still cannot deal with it. Publishers have been trying to deal with these changes by restricting the consumer’s rights to the use of their materials through incredibly long agreements you are forced to click on and accept without the chance of any discussion or negotiation. And then it turns out there are many things you cannot do with your electronic book, while you can literally do *anything* with your printed book except to make a copy of it.

So, I see the situation with copyright as stuck in time and serving almost nobody’s needs: not the authors, the public, or even the publishers themselves. Changing it will be a fight however, and libraries will only be spectators on the sidelines.