The long awaited review of e-lending has now been published. The report, written by William Sieghart sets out some interesting recommendations. The announcement is here. and the review itself - available in Word format is here. I've only taken a very quick look through it, but it looks as though it's reasonably positive. Please note that the following are MY PERSONAL VIEWS and not those of any other organisation or body that I am involved with. I am not speaking on behalf of anyone else and should not be quoted as such. Right, having got that out of the way, I'm going to skip straight to the summary of the review's recommendations.
- The provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010 that extend PLR to audio books and loans of on-site e-books should be enacted.
- Further legislative changes should be made to allow PLR to take account of remote e-loans.
- The overall PLR pot should be increased to recognise the increase in rights holders.
This makes sense to me. The author has written a book, and people have read the book, and the author deserves some recompense for that. It shouldn't matter what format the book is in, because the author has written and the reader has read. Of course, what it doesn't say is how this should be managed. The same sized pot, spread more thinly perhaps? Or more money for authors, and if so, where from exactly?
- A number of pilots in 2013 using established literary events should be set up to test business models and user behaviours, and provide a transparent evidence base: all major publishers and aggregators should participate in these pilots.
This makes sense to me - we don't know what model works best - probably because there isn't a best model; if there was, we'd all be using it quite happily already. Consequently it makes sense to trial various different approaches to see what works and what doesn't.
- Public libraries should offer both on-site and remote E-Lending service to their users, free at point of use.
I'm very pleased to see this indeed. I have always argued that libraries should not be charging for access to ebooks - the activity of reading is the important thing, not the container that's being used to facilitate it. Moreover, it reaffirms the important point that reading books in/from a library is, and should remain free. I hope that those libraries that are currently charging for ebooks will now have a very swift rethink! It's also vitally important that books should be available remotely. If this is not the case, the housebound, the shift worker, the carer, the rural user, the disabled are all unfairly discriminated against. A library offering, where people can download what they want, when they want it makes perfect sense to me. Now, this does go directly against what some publishers have argued for, but the review is swings and roundabouts as we'll now see.
- The interests of publishers and booksellers must be protected by building in frictions that set 21st-century versions of the limits to supply which are inherent in the physical loans market (and where possible, opportunities for purchase should be encouraged). These frictions include the lending of each digital copy to one reader at a time, that digital books could be securely removed after lending and that digital books would deteriorate after a number of loans. The exact nature of these frictions should evolve over time to accommodate changes in technology and the market.
While it would be wonderful to buy a book and have it available for all time for library users, this isn't going to help the publishers, nor will it do much for authors. Of course, there's no real indication here as to exactly what the friction is going to be like - is the deterioration going to be after 2 loans, 26 loans, 260 loans? Is it going to be the same for all books alike, or different according to type of book? Without knowing, it's difficult to say much more than I understand where the review is coming from, but more meat on the bones would help here. It's also nice to see reference to bookshops as well, and a closer integration between library and local bookshop would not go amiss.
It's interesting to note that there's no reference at all to Amazon, and the various things that they are engaged with at the moment; while I think it shows good sense not to refer to specific eReading devices, which are only a transitory technology at best, it's quite clear that Amazon is a long term player.
In summary, the review provides something for everyone; authors, publishers, booksellers, libraries and readers. It's a positive document, embracing the power of digitisation, and not shying away from it. It views it as a force for good, rather than as a threat. Finally, it's looking forward practically, encouraging exploration and new models.
Well, that's what *I* think anyway.