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Dear Publishing Partner

This is a second document (the other is here) that the Douglas County Libraries hopes can be broadly adopted by the library community as a guide to the purchase of digital content.

Dear Publisher Partner:

Thank you for your bold willingness to invest in the future of publishing and readership. Libraries and publishers have a lot in common: we connect writers with their audience, we promote literacy, and in the process, we grow the whole market for literacy. Our goal is to replicate the current print-purchase model libraries have had with publishers like you for centuries with e-content. We invite you to participate with us.

We want to buy e-content from you. In the past year alone, my library redirected 10% of our $3.5 million collection purchasing budget for e-content. We suspect that our e-content purchasing will reach 20% next year. We are encouraging and supporting other libraries to join us in supporting our new publisher/partners.

We need to own the files. Douglas County Libraries has built an industry standard platform (using Adobe Content Server) that enables us to smoothly integrate e-content with our catalog, providing a seamless experience for our patrons that replicates our print check-out model. But that requires us to have possession of the content. We are not asking for the copyright, or the right of exclusive distribution. We only want possession of the file on our own servers, just as we traditionally had possession of a copy of a book within our facilities. The Library may index the eBooks to better enable patrons to locate materials of interest. However, this index will only be used for that purpose, and will not be provided to any other organization.

We have already teamed up with a few other publishing pioneers, among them the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, Gale/Cengage, Lerner, Marshall Cavendish and IPG. For some of those publishers, we wrestled through a contract-writing process that wound up being both expensive and time-consuming for both parties. In the interests of getting more content sooner, I’d like to streamline things while still letting publishers know what they need to know.
Douglas County Libraries represents the following to you:

• We will buy a copy for each simultaneous user. That is, if we buy one copy, one person can check it out from us at a time. That loan period will be for 3 weeks, although our system allows people to return a book early, making it available for another patron. Note that this is precisely what we do with print titles. For virtually all e-content, we intend to purchase an additional copy for every four “holds” (people waiting for the title to be available) in most cases. Our users will be able to read the ebooks either through a browser on a private cloud (hosted by the library), or through a device capable of reading Digital Rights Management (DRM)-protected ePub files.

• We will attach DRM when you want it. Again, the Adobe Content Server requires us to receive the file in the ePub format. If the file is “Creative Commons” and you do not require DRM, then we can offer it as a free download to as many people as want it. DRM is the default.

• We will promote the title. Over 80% of our adult checkouts (and we checked out over 8.2 million items last year) are driven by displays. We will present e-content data (covers and descriptions) on large touch screens, computer catalogs, and a mobile application. These displays may be “built” by staff for special promotions (Westerns, Romances, Travel, etc.), automatically on the basis of use (highlighting popular titles), and automatically through a recommendation engine based on customer use and community reviews.

• We will promote your company. See a sample press release, attached. [Note: not attached to this blog post.]

• If you provide a link to enable this, we will enable our patrons to directly purchase the title. Some of our patrons don’t want to wait!

• We may remove your content from our catalog if it is not used. But we will not resell or transfer ownership of the file to any other person or entity. But see Concerns below.

What we need from you: a discount. Libraries are volume buyers. For print, we typically get a discount of 45 percent. Our goal is to buy as much content as possible, and to demonstrate to our community the value of the cooperative purchasing agreement that is the public library. We also understand that the pricing for e-content is in flux. This discount can be negotiated annually.

Concerns for the future: many book buyers got their start by picking up used books. The library contributes to that market significantly: we give books to schools, churches, thrift stores, and active veterans. Used books are a significant part of the larger reading ecosystem, and they promote both library use and new book purchasing.

But there are no used ebooks at this time. At some point – not now – I hope that publishers and libraries can come back to this issue. Again, we assure you that anything we buy from you will NOT be resold or transferred to any other person or entity. But we’ll want to talk with you about this further down the line for new materials.

I hope that this letter clearly delineates the terms of engagement between the Douglas County Libraries and you. Again, this understanding closely mirrors the terms between libraries and publishers for over a hundred years. We think it greatly benefits both of us.

Would you be willing to accept this letter instead of a more formal contract?



Hamish said…
Would you be willing to accept this letter instead of a more formal contract?

In UK, I'm pretty sure this would constitute a contract anyway. Have the legals had a look at it?
Jamie said…
Yes they have. But this is a "contract" that's less formal, less expensive, and in far clearer language than many typical contracts. More to the point, we present it to them as our usual practice, rather than a point-by-point negotiated agreement. That makes it MUCH simpler to remember just what our responsibilities are - as opposed to having to memorize a different set for each publisher.
Stapleit said…
What if all econtent was available to libraries through a cost per use model (at a reasonable cost) where they didn't own the content? If that became the operating norm, could that be a better fit for library customers as they wouldn't have to wait for the individual copy? I wonder if that could be a more palatable model for publishers and also work better for libraries. Perhaps the model could then be expanded to encompass movies, music, ... (again at a reasonable cost for libraries - less expensive than say Freegal right now). I do understand the criticality for such a model to have some teeth, otherwise, losing access to all econtent is a risk. Thoughts?
Stapleit said…
Another thought - perhaps a blend of the two concepts. Pay per use for the first year (or defined period of time) then puchase to own and lend after....
Jamie said…
Whoops, I missed these comments! Sorry. I suspect that somewhere down the line we'll wind up with a mixed model. I think the library should still buy and own some archival copies of content. But we might well supplement popular titles with short term, per-use leases.

The problem with lease-only is that it leads to monopoly: one company owns the content, and keeps driving up the cost. Multiple copies of things not only help to keep them cheap, but also serve important archival purchases, providing public access even when a company goes under.

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