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Pierce County Library's "Stop Being Scrooge" campaign

A plea for bookworms to unite against Scrooge-like publishers not selling e-books

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There's a battle going. It's a battle that may or may not touch your life, but one that will help to shape the future of digital rights. It's a battle between many top publishers and libraries. You can join this battle. You can make your voice heard. Pierce County Library's "Stop Being Scrooge" campaign urges bookworms to unite against Scroogey publishers - publishers who are not selling e-books to libraries.

"For the past two years, American Library Association and Urban Libraries Council have met with the publishers, and, yet, we still do not have a business model for the major publishers to sell to public libraries," says Mary Getchell, marketing and community relations director for Pierce County Library. "Currently Hachette Book Group, Penguin, Macmillan Publishing and Simon & Schuster are not selling to libraries. HarperCollins Publisher is selling to Overdrive, our major e-book vendor; however this comes with significant restrictions; each e-book expires after 26 checkouts. Random House, Inc. is also selling to Overdrive, unfortunately at exorbitant prices - 100-300 percent above list prices."

Overdrive is the primary vendor that PCL uses to offer e-books to library patrons. Overdrive is used by other libraries nationwide. If you haven't yet explored the gloriousness that is Overdrive, you should. No longer is a trip to the library even necessary. Merely sign in using your library card number, click through the prompts and free e-books miraculously deliver to your Kindle or e-reader. It's a frickin' miracle for book nerds.

Do e-books hurt author and publisher bottom lines? Perhaps this would be a fair argument - if libraries hadn't already been offering physical books to readers for as long as libraries have existed. E-books aren't any different. Libraries must purchase e-books as individual copies - meaning copies are limited. Patrons must still join waitlists and they cannot keep e-books indefinitely. Instead, just as magically as the books pop up onto your e-reader, they magically disappear from it when they are due back to the library. Publishers have given no clear reason why they have blockaded libraries from e-book sales either, according to Getchell.

"Libraries and bookstores - online and in-stores - have always worked complementarily, sharing clientele," says Getchell. "People who borrow books from libraries also buy books from bookstores. Libraries support book buying, which helps authors and publishers sell books. A recent report found that more than half of all library customers report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library."

Authors and readers have very different viewpoints on this issue. Some authors I queried did not want to comment, as their publishers are among the ones who do not wish to sell to libraries. Other authors are striving to keep up with a changing world.

"As an author, I need to stay current with the writing industry. And the industry is obviously changing," says local novelist Tom Llewellyn. "I think that libraries need to stay current to stay relevant. The way we access reading materials is changing in the rest of the world. ... I grew up in the pre-e-book era, but learned to love books at my local library. Then, as an adult, I became a significant purchaser of books. Modern young readers likely do the same. If they can't access e-books from their local library system, they're less likely to grow up as readers. And then they're less likely to buy books as adults."

And the demand is there. Getchell says that readers ask every day why the library offers so few e-books and even fewer bestsellers. As a result, PCL is reaching out to their public and asking them to write the publishers - write and inform publishers just how much the public would love to have more e-books available. Those who wish to join in the campaign can find sample emails and postcards at

"Libraries are the backbone of democracy," says Getchell. "Libraries are the true equalizer, welcoming all. Libraries represent some of the core values of this country - the freedom to read, the freedom to learn, and universal access to books. How does it make any sense to withhold e-books from people who depend on libraries?"

Don't be shy. Send an email to a publisher (or all of the major publishers) today. It's good for your karma.

The Don't Be a Scrooge campaign is on through the end of the year, but limits on e-books to libraries will continue into 2013. In fact, PCL is set to offer even fewer e-books in 2013 due to the high prices and limitations on what they can buy.

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