Re: Again about "Re: Why We Can't Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System"

From: Weinheimer Jim <j.weinheimer_at_nyob>
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2010 09:41:26 +0100
Dan Matei wrote:
> Well, I'm not so concerned about the publishers' revenues. I'm more  
> concerned about the authors' revenues. But I know of an example of a  
> reasonable "business model" for a national digital
> library:
> The Hungarian Government pays copyright fees to the most important  
> contemporary Hungarian authors (including the Nobel Prize winner  
> Kertész Imre) and publishes their oeuvre online (for free) !
> Bravo, I would say !

and Karen Coyle replied:
Dan, this is all fine and well in theory, but the publishing industry  
has incredible clout here in the US (not the authors, who are but  
chattel). So unless the *publishers* see an economic advantage and are  
aboard, this is just a numbers game. I agree that it *should* be  
possible, but *should* doesn't get us very far.

The plans to pay publishers for public use, however, seems to me to be  
a slippery slope. Already the Assn of American Publishers has been  
stating that they should get payment for every book lent in a public  
library (as is done in some countries.

From my standpoint, I see this exchange as a reflection of the European vs. American views of the world of economics. The European considers that the power of the state should predominate (in this case, the Hungarian government), while the American sees the predominance of "private" power (i.e. the publishers). Not that either side necessarily agrees with their respective viewpoint, but there are these assumptions on both sides.

We see it also in the recent turmoil in Europe over cuts in the social safety net, with huge strikes in France, student revolts in Britain, lots of things going on in Greece and Spain, while the U.S. is quite tranquil in comparison.

Book publishers are undergoing huge shocks right now and are having just as much trouble adapting to this new world as the music industry. (See "Stars fall in Amazon protest about ebook prices" As ebooks and/or print-on-demand become more widespread, the traditional control of the publisher must change: printing a manuscript in x number of copies locally, and then sending these copies around the world to specific retail outlets, where the public can acquire them, and the copies that go unsold are returned to the publisher who refunds the retailer. Such an economic model makes sense only when there are no other alternatives. Today there are several other alternatives emerging.

We can see movement in the newspaper industry, where some journalists are starting to see that the interest of an individual newspaper does not necessarily coincide with the practice of journalism or of the journalists themselves. With scholarly literature, the open archive movement is showing that the interests of individual researchers (who get nothing for writing the articles but want to be cited as widely as possible) often have little in common with the publisher of the journal, or with the aggregators. 

We'll see what happens with books now, but if I were one of those authors mentioned in the article above getting the single stars and horrible reviews, I don't think I would believe that my publisher has my best interests in mind. Things are changing in highly unpredictable ways. This will obviously have major impacts on the library world, but at this point, it is very hard to foretell what they will be.

James Weinheimer
Director of Library and Information Services
The American University of Rome
via Pietro Roselli, 4
00153 Rome, Italy
voice- 011 39 06 58330919 ext. 258
fax-011 39 06 58330992
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Received on Mon Nov 15 2010 - 03:42:28 EST