Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Amy Fry on library collections

Everyone interested in academic communication should read Amy Fry's magisterial Conventional Wisdom or Faulty Logic? The Recent Literature on Monograph Use and E-book Acquisition. She shows how, by endlessly repeating the conclusion of a single study of a single library now more than 35 years out of date, publishers and their consultants have convinced librarians that traditional collection development has failed and needs to be replaced by patron-driven acquisition. And how, building on this propaganda victory, they moved on to convince librarians that, despite studies showing the opposite, readers across all disciplines preferred e-books to print. Below the fold, some details.

Fry echoes Hugh Rundle's argument that I discussed in Access vs. Control when she writes:
On the vendor side, companies ... stand to gain since they make or save money when libraries shift purchasing to e-books. This also enables them to retain more control of their content, control that first sale and fair use cedes to purchasers of print but is not guaranteed for e-books, which are licensed and often leased rather than owned. Complicated digital rights management (DRM) controls users’ reading, books can be made to expire after a certain number of uses, interlibrary loan can be prohibited, copying and printing limits are set by publishers and enforced by platforms, and use can be restricted through access controls. ... Print books can be checked out for up to a year, renewed indefinitely, and records of who reads them are purged after they are returned, but downloads of e-books usually require multiple personal online accounts and expire after a week or two. It is clear which model is best for readers – especially graduate students and faculty, whose research can take years to complete.
Paulson confirms this in her contribution to Patron-Driven Acquistions edited by Swords. The founder of Ebook Library (EBL) and its President at the time, she wrote that publishers were convinced to participate in EBL’s PDA program, in part, because they wanted a model where “payment had a one-to-one relation with use, and publishers were paid each time their book was used or bought”. In contrast to ILL, which offered no profits to publishers, a PDA model that included short-term loans “offered publishers a means to be included in a new incremental revenue stream” and gave them “an opportunity to enter [the ILL] economy and to reclaim some of the funds that were going to couriers”. In addition, she wrote, PDA offered a model in which publishers’ “valuable backlist content could potentially produce revenue for much longer, even indefinitely”. Paulson’s words imply that publishers approached e-books from the beginning as a means to extend their ability to profit from book content in ways unavailable to them with print.
Fry's skeptical analysis contrasts strongly with the majority of librarians who swallowed these marketing messages hook, line and sinker. Barbara Fisher provides an excellent summary of Fry's paper in Challenging Conventional Wisdom.

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