This is just an idea that I've got kicking around in my head at the moment, so I'm putting it down onscreen partly to clarify it, partly to get feedback. It wasn't really something that occured to me until the 'HarperCollins 26 loans and you're out' fiasco started. As an aside, it's interesting to see that they're now wavering on that idea, given the fury that they have caused. There are two ways of looking at their original position. The first is that as a publisher, they're in a very strong position. They are the ones who have the authors, they produce the product, edit, proof and typeset it. They also choose the sale price and the royalties that the author gets. Obviously, they also choose how often an ebook can be loaned out. So, very powerful right? Wrong. This is the second way of looking at their position. They are in an absolute panic. They simply don't understand how best to work in a new market place, and I find it interesting that they're not looking at ebooks as a new medium, they're trying to relate it back to something that they understand - the physical book. That's the way that publishers have always worked. They produce product. Books are product. The product can be controlled by the numbers that are sold, reprints and new editions. Bookshops are similar - the book is a saleable product. The physical item is the thing that matters. The basic publication/production/sales model really hasn't changed for hundreds of years, and indeed one could argue that it never has. Librarians on the other hand are used to viewing the product as a contain for the thing that's really important - the knowledge contained within. We want to get the information to the user in the most effective way possible, and it doesn't really matter if that's in a book, magazine, CD-ROM database or online. We are much more flexible, because we're doing something different with the basic product.
Publishers are making the classic mistake that people who don't understand the new paradigm make - they are trying to tighten their hold and control over the product/information *because that's all they can do*. I saw it back in the late 80s and early 90s with information providers who gave SilverPlatter the right to publisher their information in a CD-ROM database format. They wanted old discs returned. They wanted anti-copy procedures put in place and so on. Control information and the provision of information by controlling the product. Some publishers get it however. Try this quote from Tim O'Reilly:
Let’s say my goal is to sell 10,000 copies of something. And let’s say that if by putting DRM in it I sell 10,000 copies and I make my money, and if by having no DRM 100,000 copies go into circulation and I still sell 10,000 copies. Which of those is the better outcome? I think having 100,000 in circulation and selling 10,000 is way better than having just the 10,000 that are paid for and nobody else benefits.
People who don’t pay you generally wouldn’t have paid you anyway. We’re delighted when people who can’t afford our books don’t pay us for them, if they go out and do something useful with that information.
Neil Gaiman also gets it - he discovered that countries that had a high level of piracy of his works resulted in better sales, not worse.
So my view is that the publisher - in general - is having a really hard time coming to terms with the new world that we live in. The traditional control that the publisher has is falling away, and the author is in a much better to circumvent them. Amazon is now allowing people to self publish, and it's painfully easy to do it. Write your book in Word, download the software, translate it into the Kindle format they need, set your royalty level and price and there you go. One book published, thank you very much. They'll take care of the finance, they make it available in their Kindle store, and all that the author has to do is sit and wait for the money to come in. Surely, as an author it makes financial sense if they sell a lot of books at say £5.00 with a 70% royalty than a much smaller number at £35.00 where they get 10% royalty? Of course, it's not really that easy, since there's a need to publicise the book, find some way of reassuring people of the quality and authority of the title and so on. Even then, much of this is going to be done via Amazon, and the reviews section. However, yes it's entirely possible that an author will get their friends to review something, but in the long run, they'll always be found out.
Now, this is where the librarian comes into play. We are beginning to see the importance of a good social media reputation (that's one of the reasons why Facebook and Google are so keen on the like/+1 concept). People generally trust librarians, which is a good thing. If librarians can get involved with authors much more closely (which the authors will be keen to do, as they already are), it should be possible to start choosing good ebooks and alerting people to them, talking to other librarians about them, using them in book clubs and so on. Expert librarians are going to be able to take on a much more powerful alerting/reviewing role in the future. This already works in bookshops, with 'staff picks' and 'staff reviews', so it should be at least as powerful, if not more so, when librarians get involved.
I can see authors, and potential authors, asking librarians for advice on publishing. In fact, it's quite possible that a library could get directly involved with the publishing process and produce their own imprint. Universities have university publishers - why shouldn't libraries? Indeed, a library imprint would be a mark of authority in its own right. Furthermore, with self publishing of the physical item via publishers such as Lulu libraries could print physical copies if they were needed, and if necessary or if considered desirable, sell them.
This opens up huge potential for librarians and libraries to take on the role of both publisher and bookseller. If we start to think in those terms, their position becomes increasingly untenable, while the role and power of the information professionals begins to increase. Rather than libraries having to cap in hand to publishers, perhaps publishers need to think more clearly about coming to terms with our needs and requirements instead. As I've said before, libraries can become publishers and booksellers. Publishers and booksellers cannot become libraries.