eLending & eBook update - June 2016
The main eLending news is of course the Opinion from the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union that e-Lending (under a one copy one user) should be covered by the Rental and Lending Directive. If the judges follow the same reasoning, this would mean that libraries could lend out eBooks, as long as there is adequate remuneration for authors (PLR). Of course this doesn’t resolve issues about eBook pricing or availability to libraries, but is a very useful step forwards. A reaction from IFLA, EBLIDA and Public Libraries 2020 will appear shortly.
Sales, licences, and author royalties from eBooks
Simon and Schuster is being taken to court over claims that it was depriving authors of remuneration by applying the ‘sale’ rather than ‘licence’ rate of royalty payments. If the New York Supreme Court judge finds that this is the case, it would mirror a logic previously applied in the music industry (the Eminem case). Here, at least, the result was to ensure that downloads were then clearly defined as ‘sales’ rather than licences.
Following the talk last time of the merger of the International Digital Publishing Forum with the W3C, there has been further commentary from the publishers, worrying that their influence in standard setting will be diminished if not destroyed. The concern in particular is that the forces at work in W3C (bigger corporations, tech companies) are better able to pay membership fees, and will not necessarily be willing to share.
The US Copyright office is consulting on a permanent rule on the legal deposit of online-only books, replacing the current, temporary solution. The current rule, implemented as an interim exception to the provision that digital-only works are not preserved, has been in place for six years.
There have been a couple of recent publishing stories (DBW, a slightly self-serving blog) recently asking about whether Amazon is really innovative with eBooks. The latter piece suggests that it’s rather Google’s technology, allowing people to search, cut and paste from the contents of Google Books that will be the future, rather than just selling published works. The former argues that they have little incentive, given the low profits on books, the inability of the publishing industry to seize digital, and the fact that they are already dominant.
A survey of the big five publishers indicates that while there is stability as concerns front list books, there has been a big fall in the prices of other books, leading to an overall drop of about $1.60 in average costs. Digital Book World wonders whether this indicates that eBooks are now getting more competitive, and notes that this is also likely to boost the discoverability of new writers. Following the judgement on Apple Books, Public Libraries Online suggested that now was the time to test out the case for anti-trust behaviour in pricing for libraries too.
In Germany too, prices have fallen recently, meaning that revenues are down, despite an increase in eBook usage.
Meanwhile in France, a report into fixed book pricing for eBooks has suggested that the system is broadly working, although there remains a perception that eBooks are over-priced. There are also concerns about the practices of publishers, which leave libraries either unable to get hold of eBooks, or hard pressed to understand the rules for accessing them. There is a suggestion of further exploration of the issues around anti-competitive behaviour in public procurement (of books).
Elsewhere, eBook sales are up 4.2% in Brazil, and this at a time of rising prices, taking publisher turnover up 21%. At the same time, high import duties on eReaders keep a cap on demand. Meanwhile in Mexico, the market share of eBooks appears to have levelled off, apparently due to low levels of literacy, purchasing power, and even confidence, plus bad internet access, and the suggestion that people simply don’t use their smartphones for reading. The story appears to be more positive in India, with some anticipating 25% market share for eBooks by 2020, thanks in part to a greater readiness to read on smartphones. Cheap phone prices, and growth in academic eBooks, will likely help.
Meanwhile, in Canada, a report on digital publishing suggested that publishers are thinking more and more about accessibility as a reason to invest in eBooks, as well as looking at other characteristics and nature of digital activities.
Last update: 18 April 2017