Category Archives: Reaching Readers

Authors Alliance Submits Reply Comment in Copyright Office Press Publishers’ Right Study

Posted January 12, 2022
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Last week, Authors Alliance submitted a comment to the U.S. Copyright Office, responding to its new study about establishing a new press publishers’ right in the United States which would require news aggregators to pay licensing fees as part of their aggregation of headlines, ledes, and short phrases of news articles. Our comment, made in the second round of comments on this study, also responded to an initial round of comments from other stakeholders. Authors Alliance opposes a new press publishers’ right because it is contrary to the interests of our members and small press publications and moreover is inconsistent with longstanding principles of copyright law. 

A New Press Publishers’ Right Would Not Help Many Authors and Publishers

In our comment, we explained that Authors Alliance does not support the adoption of a new press publishers’ right. As a policy matter, making it more difficult for news aggregators to enhance the availability of news articles means that those articles will likely reach fewer readers. Authors Alliance represents the interests of authors who have among their highest goals seeing their works reach wide audiences, and takes the position that this new press publishers’ right would not serve the interests of these authors. 

While some commenters argued that news aggregation has led directly to a decline in author and publisher incomes, other commenters, such as the Copia Institute, publisher of the publication TechDirt, pointed out that news aggregation serves its interests by helping its news articles reach readers. As a small publisher, Copia’s business model depends on news aggregation to see its work make an impact, and making it harder for news aggregators to do this would thus not serve its interests. While larger publications may be able to extract licensing revenue under a new press publishers’ right, smaller publishers lose out on both licensing revenue and the wide audiences they can reach through news aggregation. And authors who publish in press publications are not a monolith: while some authors may prefer to prioritize maximizing licensing revenue from onward uses of their work, other authors, such as many of our members, instead prioritize seeing their works reach broad audiences. Reaching wide audiences can help authors accrue reputational capital and advance their careers, which are some authors’ primary goals. Authors may also themselves aggregate press publications for research and collaboration purposes, and depending on the contours of the proposed right, it could create liability for these authors.

A New Press Publishers Right Would Run Afoul of Copyright Law

To make matters worse, a new press publishers’ right threatens to undermine important exceptions and limitations to copyright, like the free use of uncopyrightable subject matter such facts and ideas, and the doctrine of fair use. Yet several commenters argued that aggregating headlines and ledes should require a license and corresponding payment. This was the case despite the fact that the Copyright Office stated in its Notice of Inquiry that titles and short phrases are not protected by copyright, a longstanding principle in copyright law. In fact, the idea that reusing snippets of copyrighted works for a different purpose than the original—such as to preview news articles from different publications on a given topic—has been affirmed in numerous court cases, notably Authors Guild v. Google. Proponents of a press publishers right attempted to avoid the issue of titles and short phrases not being copyrightable by arguing for a novel “qualitative vs. quantitative” inquiry as to whether these short excerpts are subject to copyright protection. Under such a theory, if a title or short phrase is extremely creative, it should be protected. But there is no basis for such a theory in copyright law, which instead establishes that short phrases and titles are not protected—full stop.

Similarly, proponents of a new press publishers’ right skirted the issue of requiring licensing for excerpts containing predominantly facts and ideas. Facts and ideas are not protected by copyright for reasons of public policy: these types of information are instead treated as “building blocks” of knowledge, free for others to use and build on. Because snippets of news articles tend to be quite fact-heavy, a new press publishers’ right could also undermine this important principle. 

Other Arguments Against A Press Publishers’ Right

In our comment, Authors Alliance also explained that a new press publishers’ right could be unconstitutional. If it were to require mandatory licensing for information which lacks the requisite originality for copyright protection, establishing this right could be beyond Congress’ authority. Yet some commenters argued that there should be no originality requirement for protecting headlines and ledes under a new press publishers’ right, which would be an improper expansion of the scope of what copyright protects.

Furthermore, we pointed out that establishing this right could violate U.S. treaty obligations under Article 10 of the Berne Convention. Often referred to as the “fair quotation right,” this provision requires all signatory countries to permit authors “​​to make quotations from a work which has already been lawfully made available to the public, provided that their making is compatible with fair practice, and their extent does not exceed that justified by the purpose[.]” This means that mandatory licensing for short excerpts could violate this obligation. 

Other opponents of the proposed press publishers’ right presented a variety of compelling arguments that it should not be adopted. Many echoed Authors Alliance’s sentiments, and also emphasized the important First Amendment protections for the press which preserve press publishers’ and authors’ right to speak and make editorial decisions about their content. A new press publishers’ right could also stifle innovation and chill journalistic speech, requiring more legal review of headlines and ledes in order for publications to avoid legal liability.

Read our full comment below:

Authors-Alliance_Press-Publishers-Right-Comment

The Consolidation of Publishing Houses, Past and Present

Posted December 8, 2021

Last month, after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to stop the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, we wrote about the intersection of antitrust law and publishing. The antitrust lawsuit is responding in part to a longtime pattern in publishing—the consolidation of publishers over time. In today’s post, we will discuss these consolidations, explaining how they can affect authors and contextualizing them historically.

Publishing Mergers and Acquisitions Today

Just last week, it was announced that a newly formed investor group had acquired Open Road Integrated Media—one of the largest standalone e-book publishers founded by former HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman. And Open Road itself purchased a UK-based publisher, Bloodhound books, just a few months back. This pattern is nothing new, but it shows how rapidly publishers can merge and change hands. It is not clear what will happen to Open Road’s operations in the wake of the sale, but the unpredictability of these transactions can work to authors’ detriments in a number of ways.  

When publishers merge or acquire other publishers, a key question is what degree of independence each entity will have within the new one. For example, in the recent proposed Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger, concerns emerged almost immediately about whether the various imprints under the Penguin Random House banner, which will include Simon & Schuster’s imprints if the merger goes forward, will be allowed to bid against one another for book deals. If not, the fewer competitors in the space to drive up bids for books might mean that authors receive lower advances. Publishers do allow intra-house competition in some cases: following the 2013 merger of Penguin and Random House, the new firm opted to allow its imprints to compete against each other, provided there was a publisher other than Penguin Random House involved as well.

Historical Patterns in Publishing Mergers and Acquisitions

While the proposed Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster merger has generated significant controversy, mergers between trade publishers and publishing conglomerates have in fact been quite common over the past 50 years. According to a study published in Publishing Research Quarterly last year, purchasers tended to be corporate conglomerates in the 1960s and 70s, diversified media companies in the 1980s, financial buyers in the 1990s and 2000s, and other book publishers in today’s market. 

Moreover, alarm over accelerating mergers within publishing is also nothing new. In fact, a 1977 New York Times article discussed the contemporaneous “merger fever” within publishing and even mentioned an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. Acquisitions like Bertelsmann’s purchase of a majority share of Bantam Books drew attention at the time, but these moves were just the beginning: Bertelsmann came to fully own Bantam in 1988, then merging it with Doubleday (a large conglomerate in its own right in the 1970s) before separately acquiring Random House in 1998 and reconfiguring Bantam and Doubleday as imprints within Random House. 

Tracing these mergers can be dizzying, and moreover it can make it more difficult for authors to obtain reversions of rights when their works are no longer in print (rights reversion refers to the process of formally reclaiming rights that were formerly handed over to a publisher under a clause in the publication contract). For example, an author who published a book with Dutton Books in the early 1970s who wanted to contact her publisher in order to exercise her contractual right of reversion would have to trace the ownership of the publisher from to Dutch publisher, Elsevier, which bought Dutton in 1975, to a buyout firm, Dyson-Kissner-Moran, which purchased Dutton in 1981, to Everyman Library, which acquired Dutton in 1985, to Penguin Books, which purchased Everyman in 1986, and finally to Penguin Random House after Random House merged with Penguin in 2013. The author in this example would then have to contact Penguin Random House to obtain a reversion. 

Despite these downsides of publishing mergers for authors, there is some evidence that the practice has benefitted the quality of trade books published. In a 1988 article on the topic, the New York Times argued that some mergers, such as Random House’s acquisition of Alfred A. Knopf in 1960, “strengthened both houses, thereby benefiting authors . . . and readers.” In fact, by the late 80s, the trade publishing industry was already dominated by a handful of major players, though the names and ownership structures have shifted over time.

Alternatives for Authors

It is important to keep in mind that there are now, and always have been, small and medium sized trade publishers, “boutique” publishers, and academic presses to fill some of the gaps left by consolidations among the largest trade publishers. Moreover, new and innovative publishers are emerging all the time: in 2020, Astra Publishing House was established as a literary-minded U.S. publishing house. Funded by Chinese media conglomerate, Thinkingdom Media Group, the firm is staffed with several trade publishing veterans. Similarly, this year, podcast host Zibby Owens announced the future launch of Zibby Books, which will publish just 12 books a year to start and feature an innovative profit-sharing program between authors and the firm’s employees.

While there are undoubtedly downsides for authors when trade publishers merge, it may also be that the latest transactions are simply part of a trend that has continued for years, albeit with different players and in different forms. In addition to the other types of publishers discussed above, open access publishing and self-publishing platforms have also risen in popularity in recent years, giving authors still other options when the trade publishing conglomerates are not appropriate for their works and goals. 

Q&A with Peter Kaufman: Open Access Publishing and Access to Knowledge

Posted November 30, 2021
Photo by Ellen Bratina

In today’s post, as a part of our series of open access success stories that spotlight noteworthy openly accessible books and their authors, we’re featuring Peter Kaufman of MIT Open Learning. Kaufman made his new book, The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge, available for free under a CC-BY license upon its publication by Seven Stories Press. In the book, Kaufman discusses “the powerful forces that have purposely crippled our efforts to share knowledge widely and freely.” By releasing his work under an open access license, Kaufman has pushed back on these forces while also ensuring that his work reaches a wide audience. You can find the open access edition of the book here.

Authors Alliance: Can you tell us why you opted to make The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge openly available?

Peter Kaufman: My book is about the forces that have constrained our access to knowledge in the modern world, some of the angels that have fought to increase that access, and some of the monsters that continue their efforts to suppress it.  The book was made available from the very date of publication as a downloadable free edition – and under a CC-BY license, to boot, which allows for the broadest use and reuse possible.  My publisher, Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press, is a progressive deeply committed to releasing “works of the radical imagination,” as he puts it – and to media experimentation of the kind we all support. 

AuAll: Did your audience or the subject matter of your book influence your decision to publish openly?

PK: Yes, beyond the history in the book – it opens in the 16th century – and the contemporary debates that I cover from the 20th century on, I’m addressing progressives who benefit from encouragement and example, and those on the fence about the many advantages – social, cultural, economic – of open access.  I have been a long-time OER advocate and work at MIT Open Learning – the pearly gates for open access in higher education. 

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

PK: Because of the subject matter but also because of the license, the book launched with public online discussions at law schools, book stores, libraries, universities, and other organizations at the cutting edge of the freedom-to-know, including the Internet Archive and Creative Commons.  A program with Wikipedia is forthcoming.  I believe that the progress resulted in numerous social media impressions that otherwise we would not have seen – and postings by advocates in media reform, copyright reform, and free software. 

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned or other suggestions for authors?

PK: Do it.  My book makes the point that in the end – in the long term, as John Maynard Keynes used to say – we all wind up in the public domain.  Accelerate that process.  Gain new readers.  Get the right kind of attention.  Find like-minded advocates.  Contribute knowledge freely to the world a little faster than you otherwise would have. 


Happy 25th Anniversary to the Internet Archive!

Posted October 19, 2021
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

This month, the Internet Archive is celebrating its 25th anniversary. At Authors Alliance, we regularly partner with the Internet Archive on projects around preservation of digital works, controlled digital lending, and other issues in copyright policy. In today’s post, we will share some things we love about the Internet Archive and how the resources it provides can support authors and help them reach their writing goals.

Library Lending

The Internet Archive lends out e-books through its digital library. Many of these loans require readers to obtain a library card from the Internet Archive, but these library cards are free and available to all internet users. The Internet Archive’s digital lending program enables authors to reach readers who are not able to access physical libraries containing the books they are interested in reading. Several Authors Alliance members have expressed enthusiasm about seeing their books on the Internet Archive’s virtual shelves because it helps them reach wide audiences. 

But the Internet Archive’s digital lending program is also a boon to authorship itself: as part of the writing process, authors often need to access other works for research purposes, and the Internet Archive’s lending program can make this significantly easier. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many libraries have reduced physical services, digital library services like those the Internet Archive provide can fill the gap. The Internet Archive’s library has facilitated research on genealogy, mythology, and historical texts that has been integral to creating new works of authorship.

Digital Preservation

The Internet Archive’s library also serves the important purpose of preserving books that might otherwise vanish into obscurity, helping authors’ legacies live on past the commercial lives of their books. For example, in July, a New York Times article dove into the search for an obscure dating advice book pseudonymously written by bestselling author, Dan Brown, which the reporter was unable to track down. The piece lamented that readers were unable to find the book since it was out of print, and errors in ISBN assignment complicated efforts to obtain used copies. Though the article did not mention it, it turns out that the Dan Brown book in question is available to borrow on the Internet Archive’s digital library. The short commercial life of most books mean that many books fall into obscurity once they are out of print, languishing unseen on library shelves or in personal collections. But the digitization work the Internet Archive has done ensures that out of print books and other cultural ephemera are preserved for future authors, historians, and cultural scholars.

Public Domain Works

Outside of its collection of modern e-books which patrons can borrow, the Internet Archive maintains a collection of thousands of public domain works that are free for users to read online or download. The public domain—the body of works of authorship which are not subject to copyright protection, often because copyright has expired—is an important resource for authors and readers alike. Once a work is in the public domain, authors are free to use it in whatever way they wish, such as creating adaptations, retellings, or musical or film versions. This being said, it is not always easy to acquire free and accessible copies of public domain works. Free e-book editions of public domain works can sometimes be found on e-book retailer platforms like Amazon, but this is not always the case, and these e-books might still be accompanied by technical protection measures and licensing terms that curtail the uses authors can make of these works. Many of the most well-known contemporary stories are in fact derivative works based on works in the public domain, and the Internet Archive’s trove of public domain works can make it easier for authors to produce this type of new creative work. 

Similarly, public domain texts are rich sources for text data mining (automated analytical techniques aimed at analyzing digital text and data in order to generate information that reveals patterns, trends, and correlations in that text or data). For now, text data mining researchers interested in studying literary works are mostly limited to public domain texts because of the technical protection measures placed on modern e-books (Authors Alliance and others have asked the Copyright Office to grant an exemption to DMCA § 1201 to allow for text and data mining on modern e-books, though the Office has not yet made its decision). This limitation on text data mining makes the free, accessible public domain works available on the Internet Archive all the more important for authors and text data mining researchers alike.

Library Lending, Author Incomes, and Controlled Digital Lending

Posted August 17, 2021
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In the debates around controlled digital lending (“CDL”), much has been said about whether and how CDL affects author incomes. Recently, the Internet Archive requested 10 years of sales data during the discovery phase of its ongoing lawsuit with several large publishers, seeking to support its argument that its digitization projects did not negatively impact book sales. As an authors’ group that represents the interests of authors who care deeply about their works reaching broad audiences, Authors Alliance is a unique voice in the conversation around the impact of different types of library lending on authors’ livelihoods. In today’s post, we will discuss the intersections between author income, traditional library lending, and CDL. 

How Do Authors Make Money from Library Sales?

When an author signs a publication contract for her work, she is agreeing to be compensated by her publisher pursuant to the terms in the contract. The two main ways authors are paid are through an “advance against royalties”—an upfront payment or payments made when the contract is signed, the manuscript is delivered, and/or when the book is published—and through royalty payments. Once any advance paid to the author has “earned out” such that author royalties from sales exceed the advance paid to the author, the publisher pays the author a percentage of each sale. When a consumer purchases a book, the author then will receive a percentage of the sale based on the royalty rate set in her publication contract. 

Like members of the public, libraries purchase books, and when they do so, authors are entitled to royalties on those sales. Importantly, libraries have purchased and lent books to patrons since time immemorial. In fact, in the mid-20th century, public libraries were the most reliable market for new books. But changes in the publishing ecosystem and widespread reductions in library budgets over time have led to a reversal of this pattern—in 2015, public libraries were responsible for just over 1% of book sales. 

Once a library owns a physical book, the library is permitted to lend it out as many times as it likes, based both on public policy and what is known as the “first sale doctrine.” First sale doctrine is based on a provision within U.S. copyright law that allows the owner of a physical copy of a copyrighted work, like a book or DVD, to sell, lend, or otherwise dispose of that copy however she wishes, provided that it does not infringe any of the copyright holder’s exclusive rights. For example, the owner of a copy of a book can lend it out to her friend, lend it out to another friend after the first friend has returned it, and then give it away to a third friend. On the other hand, the owner of a copy of a book cannot make multiple copies to share with her friends simultaneously without infringing on the copyright holder’s exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution. Because of public policy favoring libraries’ roles in the knowledge ecosystem and the first sale doctrine, libraries can lend out copies of books they have purchased as many times as they are able.  

How Does Traditional Library Lending Impact Author Income?

As discussed above, library lending results in author income when the libraries buy books in the first instance. But the effect of library lending on consumer book sales, has, perhaps surprisingly, not been the subject of extensive researchas of 2019, there had never been a major study on the impact of library lending on the publishing industry as a whole, but there has long been evidence that library patrons also purchase books, and may even do so more frequently than non-library patrons. In a 2020 survey, nearly a third of consumer respondents reported purchasing a book that they first found in a library, a number that was even higher for avid readers. 

Library advocates have long championed the ability of libraries to bring attention to authors and their works, which often results in increased income for those authors. Many libraries host author events in which an author’s books are available for sale to attendees, and these events often result in more demand for that author’s books at the library, leading the library itself to purchase more copies, resulting in more author income. Libraries are also known to increase discoverability of books, both through author events and by exposing patrons to new books and new authors in other ways. In the 2020 survey mentioned above, 30% of respondents reported that, when a book they wanted to read was unavailable at their local library, they purchased the book, either online or at a local bookstore. 

How Does Controlled Digital Lending Impact Author Income?

Controlled digital lending is a lending model many libraries across the country have implemented in recent years to increase access to works in their collections. CDL involves a library scanning a physical book it has purchased and is already in its collection, and then lending out this scanned copy in lieu of the physical book. Under the CDL model, libraries are not permitted to lend out more digital copies than they have physical copies at one time. This so-called “owned to loaned ratio” ensures that CDL stays within the bounds of what the first sale doctrine permits: each copy may be loaned out to only one patron at a time. Because libraries have already purchased the physical copies, authors have already received any royalty income they were entitled to from the sales. 

Similar to interlibrary loans, CDL makes works available to readers who cannot access the physical spaces where the books are held. In this way, CDL operates as an analogue to traditional print lending: rather than a library patron having to physically travel to a library to check out the book they want to read, they can receive a digital copy loan instead, which comes with the same controls as print lending—limited check out times and a maximum number of loans at one time based on the number of copies the library has purchased. CDL seeks to replicate digitally what is difficult to achieve with physical books: sending a book to a reader who is interested in reading it, wherever she may be located, within the confines of limited library budgets. Many have also argued that CDL also constitutes a fair use, further bolstering the legal basis for the practice. 

The role of CDL in the library ecosystem has taken on a new prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, when libraries have reduced hours or shuttered physical spaces altogether. Over the past year and a half, CDL has served as one important way to bridge the gap and ensure readers can still access library books despite these limitations. And importantly, due to the requirement that a library purchase a print book in the first place and the limitations put in place to ensure that each loan is discrete and temporary, CDL does not hurt author incomes. In fact, due to libraries’ roles in increasing the discoverability of books, particularly when they are digitized, CDL may even result in more sales for authors whose books have been made available in this way.

Authors Alliance has long supported CDL as a way to help books reach readers. Many individual authors also support CDL, as it helps works reach readers who otherwise could not access them, bringing reputational benefits and the potential to increase book sales to consumers. 

Update: Library E-Book Lending Legislation and Partnerships

Posted July 27, 2021
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

It is no secret that Authors Alliance loves libraries, and we support policies that help libraries fulfill their essential role of making knowledge and culture available and accessible to all. In recent months, several states have proposed and in some cases passed legislation that requires publishers to license e-books to libraries under “reasonable terms.” Similarly, bookselling and publishing giant Amazon has taken steps to make its content available to libraries, following years of refusal to license e-books to libraries altogether. In today’s post, we will share some of the details of these exciting developments. 

State Legislation

Over the course of the past year, three state legislatures have introduced legislation that would impose limits on a publisher’s ability to sell e-books to libraries at a high cost. Under the current licensing model, libraries can pay as much as $60 per title for an e-book license, which often have very restrictive terms, whereas consumers can purchase an e-book license for the same title at a fraction of the cost. The first of these bills was passed in Maryland, and the New York state legislature has also recently approved the New York bill. A bill in Rhode Island is currently pending. Additionally, groups in Connecticut, Texas, Virginia, and Washington have reportedly begun advocating for similar legislation. 

Maryland’s Library E-Book Lending Law

Maryland was the first state to enact legislation requiring publishers to offer libraries e-book and digital audiobook licenses on reasonable terms. The Maryland state legislature unanimously passed the bill in March, but before it was approved by the governor, it faced last-minute opposition from the Association of American Publishers (“AAP”), who claimed the bill was unconstitutional. Despite these challenges, Governor Larry Hogan announced that the bill was enacted into law in late May. The law will go into effect in January 2022, and requires publishers who license “electronic literary products” (which may be broader in scope than “e-books”) to the general public to “offer to license the product to public libraries in the State on reasonable terms that would enable public libraries to provide library users with access[.]” It remains to be seen what will constitute “reasonable terms” under the new Maryland law, but the Maryland Library Association has recently issued a statement providing guidance on what might constitute reasonable terms and how these might be developed.

Despite the tough opposition it faced from publishers, the Maryland law has been described by its proponents as “fairly mild.” This is because it does not fundamentally change the e-book licensing scheme employed by publishers, whereby e-books are temporarily licensed to libraries, who remain unable to actually own these digital copies. Instead, the law simply requires publishers to offer e-book licenses to libraries on terms they can afford in order to allow libraries to perform their essential function of serving patrons: readers are not served when libraries cannot afford e-book licenses. This problem took on particular salience during the pandemic, when many readers were unable to access physical books at all. The new Maryland law takes aim at this issue without disrupting the traditional e-book licensing model that publishers are reluctant to abandon. Nonetheless, the AAP has since affirmed its opposition to these legislative efforts, maintaining that the Maryland law and other state legislation like it are inconsistent with federal copyright law.

New York’s Library E-Book Lending Bill

Last month, the New York state legislature passed a bill similar to the Maryland bill. Just as in Maryland, state legislators voted unanimously in favor of the bill’s passage. The New York bill also requires publishers to offer libraries e-book licenses on “reasonable terms” if those e-book licenses are also available for purchase by the public. The New York bill proceeds from the premise that “[p]ublic libraries provide equitable access to information for all.” Because many New Yorkers (like many readers writ large) prefer digital books over physical ones, whether due to print or mobility disabilities or for ease of access, the bill takes aim at “discriminatory practices” such as e-book embargos, whereby libraries must wait months to purchase licenses for new e-books.

The New York bill has not yet been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature, but advocates are “cautiously optimistic” that he will sign once it has been sent. The bill must be sent to the governor by the end of the calendar year, and once signed, will take effect after just 19 days. This means that while the New York bill is not yet law, it may well take effect before Maryland’s new law if sent to and signed by Governor Cuomo. 

Rhode Island’s Library E-Book Lending Bill

In Rhode Island, the analogue bill to the Maryland and New York bills was re-introduced in April of this year after a similar bill last legislative session failed to gain momentum. The 2021 bill, which, like the Maryland legislation, includes digital audiobooks, was then recommended for further study by the House Corporations Committee, with no further updates since late April. Former Rhode Island state senator, Mark McKenney, penned an op-ed voicing his support for the bill, pointing out that “libraries lending books to patrons hasn’t put publishers out of business,” and calling out Amazon specifically for its policy of refusing to sell or license e-books it publishes to libraries and schools altogether.

Amazon and the Digital Public Library of America

In December 2020, Amazon announced it was in talks with the Digital Public Library of America (“DPLA”) to make thousands of books it publishes available to public libraries via the DPLA exchange. The long-awaited deal between the organizations was signed in May, and is set to go into effect sometime this summer. The partnership contemplates several different licensing models, including flexible “bundles” of lends and more traditional models involving time limits and restrictions on how many patrons can check out an e-book at a time. Librarians have applauded Amazon for offering the less restrictive “bundle” models, which provide additional flexibility for libraries. Unlike the state library e-book lending legislation, the Amazon-DPLA partnership will offer an alternative to the traditional licensing scheme.

Library advocates are cautiously optimistic about the Amazon-DPLA partnership, but also note that how much it will help libraries will depend on how Amazon prices its e-books for libraries, which is at this point unknown. Unlike the state library e-book lending legislation discussed above, the Amazon deal makes no mention of how library e-book licenses will be priced. Moreover, not all Amazon-published titles will be made available through the partnership—self-published Kindle originals and Audible audiobooks are not included in the program, for example. Another limitation of the Amazon-DPLA partnership is that it requires libraries to participate in the DPLA marketplace, and will make the e-books readable with the SimplyE reading app, an open source e-reading platform developed by the New York Public Library. Many library patrons today access e-books via more popular marketplaces such as OverDrive, and both iBooks and Kindle are much more popular e-reading platforms with which patrons are likely to be more familiar. Yet the Amazon-DPLA partnership is undoubtedly a step in the right direction towards ensuring greater access to books published by Amazon. Moreover, the deal is not exclusive, meaning that Amazon could develop similar partnerships in the future in order to make its e-books even more accessible to library patrons. 

Libraries, COVID-19, and E-Book Lending: One Year Later

Posted March 30, 2021
Photo by aNDy on Unsplash

This is the second in a two post series on how libraries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, one year after the American Library Association recommended that libraries across the country close. Last week, we discussed the ways in which libraries have supported communities and readers through expansion of traditional services and new initiatives aimed at preservation. 

On March 17, 2020, the American Library Association (“ALA”) recommended that public libraries across the country close in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. That same day, publishing conglomerate Macmillan (one of the so-called “Big Five” publishers that dominate much of the trade book market) announced it would end a controversial embargo on sales of e-books to libraries, also stating its intention to temporarily lower prices on some library e-book licenses “to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times.”

One year later, many libraries remain shuttered or have scaled back their hours, services, and capabilities. Yet e-book lending has skyrocketed, as e-books can be checked out by patrons from the safety of their homes. Libraries have adapted to this increased demand in a variety of ways despite limited resources and budgets. By increasing digital offerings with a special emphasis on making e-book lending available to patrons, libraries have pivoted to serve the needs of a community forced by external circumstances to turn to the internet for information, culture, and human connection.  

Library E-Book Lending in the “Before Time”

Prior to the start of the pandemic, a dispute between publishers and libraries on the subjects of e-book pricing and availability to patrons had been quietly simmering. Between 2018 and 2019, four of the Big Five publishers changed licensing terms and raised prices of e-books for libraries. And the bookselling giant Amazon, which has launched its own publishing operations under the name “Amazon Publishing,” has taken an even harsher approach to e-book library lending: it refuses to sell its titles to libraries altogether. In a statement to the Washington Post, a representative from Amazon Publishing stated that it was “not clear to us that current digital library lending models fairly balance the interests of authors and library patrons[.]” 

In general, libraries are able to loan out e-books because they acquire licenses to do so. Typically, a copy cannot be checked out by more than one patron at a time and only for a set number of times (with 26 and 52 checkouts being most common), and the licenses may also be limited duration, typically one to two years. Moreover, libraries pay up to five times more for e-books than consumers do. This custom reflects the fact that a library lends each e-book out multiple times, with multiple end readers rather than the single user who buys an e-book from Amazon or the iBook store. But libraries are typically charged the same price for physical books as are consumers, creating an imbalance in access across the two formats. This imbalance has become all the more salient during the pandemic due to the limitations on access to physical books and the budgetary constraints that are felt around the country. 

By 2018, 90% of American libraries offered digital loans. As e-book library lending increased in popularity, publishers argued that the popularity of library e-book lending led to reduced profits. In 2019, Macmillan revealed that its revenue per library e-book read was down to “two dollars and dropping,” apparently “a small fraction” of what it makes on consumer purchases. Macmillan and other large publishers complained that the “frictionless” nature of e-book lending means that readers can acquire e-books with the same relative ease as purchasing those e-books. But there is reason to believe the fear that library e-book lending hurts e-book sales is ill-founded—in the first 10 months of 2020, when library e-book checkouts began to increase dramatically, the American Association of Publishers reported that e-book sales had increased by over 16% rather than dropping as more readers turned to library e-books. 

Library E-Book Lending During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, library e-book lending increased manifold across the country. In April 2020, the Congressional Research Service reported that demand for e-books (both from libraries and readers who purchased e-books) had increased significantly, and that libraries and organizations were searching for lending models to address this increased demand. OverDrive, the nation’s leading e-book lending platform and maker of the “Libby” library lending app, saw checkouts increase by over 50% during the early months of the pandemic, and many individual library systems similarly saw large increases in e-book checkouts. New library partnerships with hoopla, another leading lending platform, have resulted in a 20% increase in membership for the platform. At the most basic level, this uptick in demand is not difficult to understand: without access to physical library spaces, e-book lending became for many patrons the best option to continue to access works at their local libraries. 

To keep up with the increasing demand for e-book loans and better meet patrons where they are, libraries have adapted their programs and procedures to make e-book checkouts more accessible. Libraries began by investing in more e-book licenses and increasing spending on “digital resources.” As the pandemic progressed, libraries around the country began allowing patrons to apply for and obtain library cards online so that new patrons could access e-book offerings. Library systems have also increased investments in new e-book licensing models, such as the “concurrent use model,” which allow libraries to license a “bundle” of loans to meet high demand that do not expire. This model is particularly attractive for public school students, and it has been used to facilitate access to texts during remote learning. Another lending model that has increased in popularity during the pandemic is the deployment of “skip-the-line” or “lucky” copies of new and popular titles. This system allows patrons to choose to check out an e-book for a shorter checkout window, but to avoid long waitlists that can plague popular titles available for regular check out. And this summer, libraries worked to support patrons grappling with racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd and protests across the country by working with OverDrive to offer extended checkouts for books on anti-racism.

Publishers have also adapted their e-book license terms to be more library- and reader-friendly, recognizing the importance of library lending for the American public. By the end of March 2020, all of the Big Five publishers had announced relaxations of their e-book license terms, reducing prices on e-books for libraries by up to 50% and developing “cost per circulation” catalogues that allowed libraries to pay fees per e-book loan for certain titles rather than requiring an upfront payment for a license of limited duration. But these measures were largely intended to be temporary to help libraries struggling to meet their patrons’ needs during the pandemic, and where library e-book lending will go from here is uncertain.

An Uncertain Future for Library E-Book Lending

While progress has been made towards making knowledge and culture more accessible through relaxing barriers to entry for e-book library lending, it is unclear whether publishers and other intermediaries will return to the state of play prior to the pandemic. 

Recognizing the need for fair and balanced license terms for library e-books, several states have introduced legislation mandating that publishers must offer libraries e-books that are available to retail consumers, and must do so on “reasonable terms.” And, in Maryland, such a bill was recently approved unanimously by the state legislature, and is currently awaiting final approval by the governor. Amazon Publishing, which until recently refused to budge on its ban on selling e-books to libraries, is reportedly in talks with the Digital Public Library of America to make Amazon Publishing titles available to libraries across the country through DPLA’s lending platform. ReadersFirst, a library organization that advocates for library users’ ability to use loaned e-books in the way they use print books, is optimistic that other publishers may follow suit and work to make their e-books more accessible to libraries and their patrons. 

Libraries and COVID-19: One Year Later

Posted March 23, 2021
Photo by aNDy on Unsplash

This is the first in a two post series on how libraries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, one year after the American Library Association recommended that libraries across the country close. Next week, we will discuss the ways in which libraries have expanded digital services, and notably e-book lending, for their patrons, and how this has served authors and readers. 

On March 17, 2020, the American Library Association (“ALA”) recommended that libraries nationwide close in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. One year later, many libraries remain shuttered or have scaled back their hours, services, and capabilities. But, as always, libraries have persevered. By adapting existing services to the needs of their communities during this extraordinary time, libraries have supported patrons struggling to cope with fallout from the pandemic despite physical spaces being limited. And by increasing virtual offerings and launching new preservation initiatives, libraries have supported authorship and preservation of knowledge, helping authors to meet their goals of seeing their works reach broad audiences—even when in-person audiences remain a distant memory.

Supporting Communities

After the ALA recommended that libraries close their physical operations, many library systems sought to branch out to continue to serve the needs of their communities even without being able to provide physical access for patrons. Libraries across the country have expanded wifi access to parking lots, sent out “bookmobiles” to deliver physical books to patrons, and offered curb-side check out. Since the effects of the pandemic have been felt to different degrees across the country, local libraries have worked to tailor these expanded services to the needs of the communities they serve. In Santa Monica, CA, a library has begun offering “seed libraries” so patrons can experiment with gardening, and in Columbus, OH, libraries adapted a longstanding program that provides free lunches to students during the summer into a “grab and go” format consistent with public health guidelines. Libraries in dense urban areas, such as the New York Public Library, have also adjusted their “curbside” offerings to reflect the needs of non-driving communities. 

Supporting Authorship

Libraries have also supported authorship during the COVID-19 pandemic by connecting authors to their readers and launching initiatives to collect and preserve new creations. Virtual book clubs and other events for patrons have helped connect readers with books in the absence of in-person events. These book clubs also foster community, replicating (albeit imperfectly) the human connection library patrons previously relied on physical library spaces to provide. 

One of the major ways libraries have elevated authors’ voices during the pandemic is through organizing and hosting virtual author talks. These events are in many ways more accessible to readers than in-person talks, as patrons can view them without the time and expense of traveling to the library. The nature of the internet also means that virtual author events are in many cases not limited to patrons of a particular library, but open to all. Moreover, author talks can be recorded and preserved online permanently, helping authors reach more readers over time. The Library of Congress— the United States’ library—moved its 2020 National Book Festival online, and have made the author talks and other events at the book festival available online for all to view. The Free Library of Philadelphia has a podcast dedicated to author talks and other lectures. While this podcast pre-dated the pandemic, it has taken on a new salience as a means to connect authors with readers. The Brooklyn Public Library hosts a wealth of author talks for children and adults, occurring multiple times a week, and anyone can register to attend its upcoming author talks for free. The State Library of Massachusetts also moved its monthly author talk series online in early 2020, making recorded author talks freely available online and allowing anyone to register for upcoming talks

Another method libraries have used to support authorship during the pandemic is the development of “quaranzines.” Quaranzines are a form of the “zine” publication, and have served as dedicated platforms for community members and authors to contribute creative expression made during the pandemic and help their works reach readers. Libraries, universities, historical societies, and other institutions have launched quaranzines of their own and made these available online. 

The East Flagstaff Community Library in Flagstaff, AZ developed a quaranzine project for children in which five picture book authors worked together to develop 20 separate writing and drawing prompts for public school students. Students responded to the prompts, and the collected writings and drawings of the students were bound together in books. These children’s quaranzines are available online under a Creative Commons license so they can be shared and distributed for non-commercial purposes, with the intent that they be used as educational resources in the future.

In Arlington County, VA, the public library system has released weekly quaranzines documenting community members’ experiences during the pandemic. The City of Monona Library in Monona, WI also has an ongoing quaranzine project, and the St. Mary’s County Library system in St. Mary’s County, MD has an upcoming edition of its quaranzine planned to revisit the experience of living through the pandemic now that a year has passed since in-person operations were shut down. These initiatives give voice to authors and elevate voices of new or unpublished authors and writers, helping make authorship available and accessible to all. 

Supporting Preservation

In addition to producing and preserving quaranzines and recorded author talks, libraries have taken other approaches to ensuring the preservation of knowledge and of the history of this extraordinary time. One such approach is creating archives of experiences of community members during the pandemic. 

The New York Public Library has launched a “Pandemic Diaries” project that collects personal recollections of the past year to preserve a record of this pandemic. And libraries and other public institutions across the country have launched preservation initiatives to create a snapshot of this time in history: the University of Nebraska Omaha academic library has undertaken a similar project to the NYPL’s, with a focus on preserving the experiences of “the diverse voices of our community . . . that have previously been ignored in archives and the historical record.” The White Plains library in Westchester, New York is developing a new “Documenting COVID Collection” to remain part of the library’s permanent collection after the pandemic is over. And the Indiana Historical Society has launched a state-wide initiative to document Indianans’ experience living through the pandemic. Each of these archival projects seek to create a record to aid future writers, researchers, and historians, and ensure that the archives reflect the experiences and values of their community members. We encourage our members and readers to consult their local library, historical society, or academic library to see if similar projects are underway so you too can add your voice to the developing historical record of the past 12 months.

Call to Action: Share Your Feedback on Controlled Digital Lending

Posted February 22, 2021
From “Controlled Digital Lending Explained”

Authors Alliance is gathering feedback from authors about Controlled Digital Lending (“CDL”) in order to strengthen our advocacy work and better represent your interests. Several of our members have already shared their views on how CDL helps authors and researchers, and we are now asking you to add your voice by completing this short form

Under the CDL digitize-and-lend model, libraries make digital copies of scanned books from their collections available to patrons, subject to limitations. Like physical books, the scanned copies are loaned to one person at a time and are subject to limited check-out periods. In addition, the hard copy is not available for lending while the digital copy is checked out, and vice versa. In short, a library can only circulate the number of copies that it owned before digitization. Here’s a helpful video explainer of how CDL works.

Authors Alliance supports CDL because the practice is not only backed by a good faith interpretation of fair use, it helps authors share their creations with readers, promotes the ongoing progress of knowledge, and advances the public good—objectives that are consistent with the mission of Authors Alliance and the purposes of copyright law. CDL is particularly beneficial for authors whose works are out-of-print or otherwise commercially unavailable: In the absence of digitizing and lending these books, many would simply be inaccessible to readers. The CDL model is a boon to the authors of these and other books, allowing them to find new audiences online.

In June 2020, a group of commercial publishers filed suit against the Internet Archive, arguing in part that making electronic copies of books available using CDL through Open Library constitutes copyright infringement. Authors Alliance supports CDL and believes the attempt to challenge it in the courts is without merit. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Authors Alliance Celebrates the Launch of Library Futures

Posted February 2, 2021

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Authors Alliance is pleased to announce our partnership with Library Futures, a brand new organization which seeks to “empower libraries to fulfill their mission and provide non-discriminatory, open access to culture for the public good.” Last week, Library Futures officially launched with the stated goal of addressing the “deleterious impacts of an inequitable knowledge ecosystem.” The organization will engage in advocacy work, grant making, educational campaigns, and community building to effectuate its mission and work towards a technology-positive future for libraries.

We are excited to be a partner organization of Library Futures as it fights for equitable access to knowledge—an important issue for our members and authors writ large. Authors have an interest in a technology-forward future for libraries that ensures that readers, learners, and the general public can continue to discover and access their books in the digital age. We believe that the initiatives of Library Futures will help authors reach the audiences for which they write, advancing our own mission of supporting writers who write to be read.

Jennie Rose Halperin, the organization’s executive director, has said she is “honored to be leading this organization, which will take on major issues in libraries and help usher in a more inclusive digital future for teachers, learners, and researchers from every walk of life.” Library Futures board member Kyle Courtney has said he is hopeful that the organization can make real change on the issues of access and equity that are challenging libraries today: “Digital library books—when loaned correctly—can be a pivotal tool libraries use to preserve great works, provide patrons with access to books, and defend patron privacy. I hope the community will join us in standing up for the future of libraries.”

The Library Futures coalition, of which Authors Alliance is delighted to be a part, is a public interest alliance that “seeks to enable collective action while building power through an innovative advocacy organization.” Other coalition partners include the Internet Archive, Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, SPARC, and the Boston Public Library. We are excited to collaborate with Library Futures and our coalition partners to work towards a better, more equitable future for our libraries!