Turns Out When Random House Said Libraries 'Own' Their Ebooks, It Meant, 'No, They Don't Own Them'

from the words-have-meaning dept

Earlier this week, we talked about how publishing giant Random House had very explicitly stated that when libraries buy their ebooks, the libraries “own” those ebooks, rather than license them. They left no doubt about it. Skip Dye, Random House’s VP of library & academic marketing and sales was explict: “when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them… this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.”

This raised some questions, such was whether this was true of everyone else who purchased Random House ebooks. Peter Brantley asked a bunch of questions and finally got Dye on the phone for a discussion, where he learned that when Random House says “own,” they mean “not own.” In fact, at best, when they say “own” they mean “if you fit into this limited category, you have the right to move your ebooks from one approved platform to another approved platform.” This is, contrary to Dye’s claim, a license. It is not ownership.

As many surmised, the key phrase in Random House’s communications is “authorized library wholesalers.” In the context of the LJ article, Random House was using a definition of “ownership” that you won’t find in Webster’s dictionary, conveying rights where none exist. In fact, Random will not sell directly to libraries or library consortia, although Mr. Dye reiterated that they continue to evaluate many alternative library business models. RH’s approach in the library market is to vet potential library market distributors for auditing, accounting, security, and other business functions, and then permit libraries to acquire titles from that short list of approved bureaus. In Random’s view, libraries “own” the titles they purchase to the extent that they should be able to migrate their ebook catalogs from one platform, such as Overdrive, to another, such as 3M.

That’s very nice. It’s just not ownership. It’s licensing, with benefits. Library customers of RH titles do not have the ability to transfer their titles to an unapproved platform, such as Califa or Open Library; they cannot resell or donate their ebooks; and there is no mechanism for libraries to receive ebook donations directly from consumers. All that libraries “purchase” from Random House is a verbal commitment to assist libraries in moving their Random House ebooks from one approved commercial platform to another. This is the kind of “perpetual license” that academic libraries have traded for ownership. Academic libraries now employ licensing specialists, and see the world through the lens of contracts. In consequence, faculty have begun to develop open access models that revolutionize scholarly communication from within.

In other words, Random House’s claims were a load of bull. That’s not surprising, but still disappointing. Brantley goes on to say what kind of ownership should be allowed for libraries when it comes to ebooks:

Public libraries seek a different kind of ownership – the kind that appears in the dictionary. The Internet Archive, Douglas County Libraries, Califa, and a growing number of other library systems are running their own ebook platforms, providing their own auditing, accounting, and security. We want to keep ebooks in our communities, run our own services, safeguard the privacy of our users, and be free from overreaching licensing regimes that threaten our services. And increasingly, we are finding publishers who are willing to sell to us directly, seeing the benefits of handing management of digital titles to libraries. Libraries can market e-books to the people that want them, and gather usage statistics in a privacy-protecting manner to help inform other libraries – as well as publishers – about what titles are popular, and where. These are rights and responsibilities that publicly funded libraries should not hand over to commercial distributors that must navigate between the Scylla of publishers and the Charybdis of Amazon. Readers First is an example of the larger movement articulating libraries’ desire to re-forge a partnership between publishers and libraries.

Of course, I’d also argue that this goes way beyond just libraries. Users want to own their own ebooks as well, just like they own physical books. That means they don’t want to worry about having the company they bought their books from suddenly lock them out of their collection for reasons they won’t explain. It means they want to be able to move those ebooks from platform to platform without permission. It means they want to be able to lend those ebooks to a friend. Some smaller publishers get this, provide DRM free ebooks, and make it easy for this to happen. Random House, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand the issue at all.

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Comments on “Turns Out When Random House Said Libraries 'Own' Their Ebooks, It Meant, 'No, They Don't Own Them'”

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anon says:

Re: Re:

When they stop playing there little power games they might just realise that it does not matter to those that are serious readers. I will never ever buy another ebook, ever. I would rather go back to paperback books from the second-hand book stores, there are more and more newer books being found there every day due to people getting rid of there bookshelves of books. I just got rid of over 200 books a few weeks ago.

I refuse to be a part of this game they are playing, where there profit is more important than education and bettering the population. I would suggest that nobody buy and ebooks, go on your own personal boycott like me. And if they don’t like it they can go suck and egg for all I care about there profits, and I dont care about the authors, if the authors go together and demanded that books were priced at a fair price I would support them but they want more control over there books and they want to charge way more, at a time where sales of books is exploding, with more books sold each year than the year before, where records are being broken every month. No they are making way too much money of of people that are working 9-5 while they laze around writing one book a year or two.

Greed is a two way street, and i believe overpricing an ebook is just as wrong as someone sharing it online, both wrong but one done in retaliation to the other.

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re: Re:

I bought a Terry Pratchet ebook that was released before I saw a paperback version a couple years ago. Since then I’ve enjoyed more public domain books on the (still the first version *shrug*) kindle than I would have otherwise.

I have to say that being able to point at some of the various odd middle english words in The Canterbury Tales made reading it again a much nicer experience than the first time I did.

Which makes me think that publishers are just sitting thing dumbfounded that they could do anything new. I’ll even pitch this idea for free. I’m feeling spiteful though, so I just ask as a favor that as a publisher you fire you’re ‘New idea’ guy for failing so badly.

Why is there not special features in E-Books like there are in movies? A random notation that would quickly and easily bring up the authors opinion or thoughts about a section or point like what’s in the commentary tracks for a movie. If I don’t want to bother with it, I could simply ignore it because it was an unobtrusive option, but it would certainly add more value to the ebook for some people.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

here is a comment i just cut/pasted from slashdot that is all too typical of how the greedy bastards shoot themselves in the foot *AND* we end up paying for their medical bills :

I live in Denmark, and recently spent 30 minutes to try and buy an english e-book online.

Found it at 3 different retailers (US, UK, Australia), that refused to sell it to me (add it to the basket), because of my location.

Then found it at 2 additional retailers, that allowed me to add it to a basket, then accepted my credit-card information, before refusing to actually sell it to me.

Then I got sort of mad and decided to break a 15 year old principle on not pirating stuff. Went to google, and had the ebook literally 30 seconds later! 10 seconds later on my device, and I could start reading.

What on earth are they thinking!

Oh, and I then later wrote the agent for the writer in question here in Denmark, and in the UK to offer payment. I have not heard a word from the UK agent, and the Danish one just confirmed that they do not sell the english language version of that writer in Denmark as an ebook.

Fools, really. And, they are probably, as I write this, banging on the door to the parliament, requiering stricter copyright laws.


art g again: and the MAFIAA creates another pirate, congrats, dingleberries…

Zos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

in the future? the future is now mate. The days and weeks after demonoid went down saw dozens and dozens of people who’d never uploaded a torrent in their lives, suddenly joining new communities and uploading their libraries.

To ensure that it wasn’t lost. To ensure that anyone who wants a book can find a book. I’m a bibliophile, and happened to be in the right place at the right time to watch it happening, but i’m quite certain the same thing plays out every time a community gets disrupted.
All they’ve done is create a few more people that have gone from ignoring their business model, to detesting it, and being willing to fight against it.

The wife says:

Just had this conversation

with the wife when I asked her if she wanted a kindle or other e-reader. She said no thanks, because I really love to share my books with [name withheld] and I cant easily do that with e-crap. (Yes she calls it e-crap) If I cant take them to donate to our local library, then they are of no use to me. So she will get a $200 gift card to Amazon instead.

She is the polar opposite to me when it comes to tech and of course I know where to get DRM free copies. I could even strip DRM’d copies. Its just not worth my time or hers to go through the bullshit. So she will keep buying a boat load of used books, reading them, sharing them, then donate them. I am happy with that process.

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

I’m going to summarize out_of_the_poo’s position on this article:

Mike, y u make article supporting Random House, then make article not supporting Random House?!!?!


Frankly, why can;t these companies just be honest, do they really think the public is stupid enough not to realize they’re being disingenuous?

Chris Brand says:

Quite an insight

This tells you an awful lot about the way the execs at publishers think. They hear “libraries want to own, rather than license, ebooks” and they think “they want to be able to transfer them from platform to platform – we can do that!”.
It probably never even occurred to them that there might be other aspects of “ownership” that are important to their customer base. Myopic.

Anonymous Coward says:

the best thing would be for everyone to stop ‘buying’ ebooks, games and everything else when all they are actually getting is a license to use the item until the distributer decides otherwise. as long as there isn’t a return to buying physical things as used to happen, i wonder how long it would be before the cries of ‘you are ruining our business. you have to help us, Mr Vice-President. take money straight out of pay packets and unemployment benefit and send directly to us or we will die!!’ just do whatever it takes to hold back progress! bunch of greedy, self centered wankers!!

DannyB (profile) says:

The real problem of course is DRM

This problem of “owning” your music once existed.

Now I can go to Amazon, buy a track or an album, download DRM-free mp3 files. I own those. I have them permanently. I can (and do) put them on my computer at home, my phone, my netbook and my computer at work.

A decade ago it would have been unthinkable that you could buy DRM-free music.

The publishers will come around. It just takes time.

out_of_the_blue says:

Mike snookered yet again. -- Though he'll claim wasn't.

It’s clear that you fell for it, Mike: “Either way, it’s good to see a company like Random House take such a clear position on this matter”.

ANY little doubts about corporate statements ever disturb your Pollyanna view? Will THIS make you take statements from corporations with suspicion? Hmm? Come on, where’s your emotion over being TRICKED and now looking like a gullible FOOL? Where’s your outrage over flat-out LYING? Your academic calm is becoming quite remarkable.

Okay, I looked at that closely as possible, and yeah, SEEMED nailed down, so I was tricked too. But I still didn’t believe it. At least I learn from my mistakes: I’d like to think that you will too.

out_of_my_ass says:

Re: Mike snookered yet again. -- Though he'll claim wasn't.

“It’s clear that you fell for it, Mike:”
“Okay, I looked at that closely as possible, and yeah, SEEMED nailed down, so I was tricked too.”

“and now looking like a gullible FOOL?” Um that would be 2 gullible fools so Mike & you will have company.

Can you ever not be such a fucking asshole? Rhetorical no need to answer.

I have a great one for you:

“At least I learn from my mistakes:” Um… no ya dont.

BIg D (profile) says:

When I was gifted a kindle I didn’t think twice about purchasing ebooks, and I’ve since converted all of my book buying to electronic format. The difference? The very first thing I do when I buy a DRM’d book is download it to my computer, crack the encryption, and back it up. I don’t share it, and it’s strictly for my own personal use. Last I checked when I go to any of the ebook storefronts they all say “buy”, not “license”.

Gregg says:

All the more reason to walk away from Digital

I’ve never bought an ebook and now most likely I never will. I’ve purchased a number of music albums and movies from iTunes and now more than ever I am walking away from it. I’ll cut my loses with the few albums and movies I’ve purchased and go back to actually owning the physical copy. let them come to my house and tell me that I can’t play my “Sony” owned movie in my “RCA” DVD player and I’ll show them my middle finger and big fat grin.

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