March 27, 2022

Content at any cost?

Last week, DPLA announced a deal with Amazon Publishing that will make Amazon exclusive content available to libraries through the DPLA Exchange.

Library Futures supports DPLA’s strong track record of working to provide access to a diverse array of content for public libraries (Note: Many members of our Board have worked closely with DPLA over the years). And we recognize that Amazon Publishing is a particularly important publisher for indie and genre authors, often overlooked by the big five major publishers, which control at least 80% of the book market in the United States. A recent report in the Washington Post criticized the tech giant’s unwillingness to sell to libraries, and as the press release notes, this deal marks the first time Amazon books will be available to libraries.

DPLA’s work and commitment to bringing thousands of publishers on board is laudable, but it’s important to remember that equitable access to information means more than serving content at any cost, under any terms. The license restrictions listed in the press release demonstrates the limitations of licensing as a model in the context of preservation, access, accessibility, and ultimately library lending.

As an organization and community, we support forward-thinking and innovative digital library lending that maintains a library’s (and indeed everyone’s) right to own, preserve, donate, and lend legally acquired materials.  

No major publisher currently offers perpetual licenses or ownership rights to libraries despite a trove of data that demonstrates the necessity for alternative models in the digital environment. Recent studies, from the Freckle Report to the Panorama Project’s Immersive Media & Books study, defy assumptions of scarcity around lending and digital content, emphasizing the crucial role that libraries play in the publishing market. Despite many publishers’ assertions, we currently see a pervasive market failure – library budgets stay flat as the price of digital materials increases tenfold. Current agreements result in disastrous results for new and midlist authors, leading to an extreme market consolidation that benefits only a coterie of powerful corporations. Still, this development has the opportunity to transform the landscape in terms of privacy and flexibility. We look forward to the opportunity to work with libraries, publishers, and communities to develop systems and solutions that suit their needs in the service of a balanced publishing ecosystem. Innovations that result in better data to empower libraries to lend digitally are needed, and are needed quickly.

Asserting the rights of libraries to purchase and lend digital content should not be a radical or extraordinary stance.

We now have a powerful opportunity as a community to act collectively and to stand against powerful entities that are prohibiting libraries from exercising their rights. As we continue to build our coalition and community, we agree with Kaitlin Thaney, Executive Director of Invest in Open Infrastructure, who has said that we need to “navigate complexity through collective action.”

Library Futures is committed to equitable access to knowledge in the service of the public good. We will continue to push for digital ownership and promote a research and programmatic agenda that champions the crucial role of digital libraries in society. As a library community, our continued existence depends on it.

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