Harper Collins and some more numbers


In response to some of the criticisms I’ve seen leveled in Teleread comments and quite inaccurate blog posts from those more sympathetic to the publisher side, I have been interested in the numbers but hadn’t made time to pull stats because that just isn’t something I work with normally– my libraries’ fantastic Collection Development team has that thoroughly under control.

However, I got motivated very quickly after seeing Jason Griffey’s post on the subject which left me unsettled for two reasons:

1. I feel like it could be misrepresented as undermining the library case.

2. It samples from an institution that is in no way representative of the institutions most affected by the Harper Collins decision. Public libraries serve those who can’t afford to go to college period and those who are no longer in school. It is the effect on these populations that drive us to be concerned about this recent attack on a necessary public good. And while I am not the best at keeping up with publishers, it appears to me that Harper Collins’ target market isn’t primarily academic.

I also think Jason is absolutely right that treating the digital like the physical is insanity of the highest order though. We need new models and perhaps by pulling together data we can have some better conversations on what the future could and should look like.

So, thanks to the help of our Collection Development Librarian and Horizon master extraordinaire, Logan Macdonald, I have some numbers to compare.

My public library system has 7 branches and a bookmobile and serves a large county in a mixed urban and rural setting. We have a pretty good mix of demographics in nearly every category you could think of. Because of funding and philosophy changes in the last 3-5 years, much of our collection is new and so these numbers don’t typically represent materials that have been in circulation for 20-50 years. These are almost exclusively materials purchased since 2007.

Logan has this to add, “As a percentage, our numbers are probably low compared to other libraries due to our ‘popular browsing’ collection development policy.  We usually weed things before they get old enough to have more than 26 circs.”

Once I subtracted the CDs and DVDs from the circ numbers he gave me, I found 7566 items in our collection that had circulated 27 or more times. Just for kicks and giggles, I also identified that 942 items had circulated 53 times or more (we would have had to buy them twice).

Jason ends up with a number of $12.99 average for an item, and although I agree with one of the comments on the post that $25 is probably a more accurate number, for argument’s sake I’ll use 12.99.

If we were to have to replace these materials under a 26 use policy, this would cost our library system $110,518.92. A number Logan tells me is very close to our total adult nonfiction budget for 2011.

That’s why public libraries are concerned. To give you an idea of how large of an impact this is– our collections budget was $1,135,664 in 2009, according to the statistics from Colorado’s Library Research Service. Throughout the state of Colorado for 2009, materials budgets ranged from $4,577,200 for the Denver Public Library system to a mere $232 for one small rural library. (Yes, you read that number right– TWO HUNDRED THIRTY TWO).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I believe that despite some assertions that we don’t matter economically to publishers– it’s clear by their actions that we do. It’s easy for librarians to say, “3 or 4% doesn’t matter”, but to a business person 3 or 4% is important, especially when you’re talking about a number in the millions of dollars. (And others agree).

So let’s compare numbers– what does this look like in your library?


ADDENDUM: I was asked to add some information to this post, so here’s what else I’ve got: Our total number of items is 383,353 (288,793 excluding CDs and DVDs) and our total number of circs in 2010 was 1,715,538 (1,111,850 excluding CDs and DVDs). As far as age for our circ data– it goes back to when we automated in 1969, but as I mentioned almost all of our materials are less than 3-4 years old. An additional problem with dates for us is that Horizon does not store statistics per item on an annual basis unless the period is set up ahead of time, and right now the only periods are pre-Horizon and post-Horizon.

Solidarity is powerful. And Libraries don’t have it.

Protesting Scott Walker

By now we’ve had time for the various responses to the Harper Collins proposed licensing changes to sink in. There are many different camps within the library and publisher worlds, some are still in favor of a boycott, whether explicit or implicit.

We can debate whether a boycott would work or not from many different perspectives. Sarah Glassmeyer does a fair job of arguing that it doesn’t make economic sense. Admittedly,  I disagree for two reasons:

1. She doesn’t account for the free advertising that libraries provide publishers as supporters of book culture. I don’t know how or if you could measure that impact, but I’d wager it’s not insignificant enough to be ignored as part of the equation if we really are trying to do the math.

2. If publishers didn’t feel that the library market was not economically significant, then why would they have taken this step? Anyone who doesn’t think that publishers are concerned about the money they stand to lose (or gain) from libraries need only ask um, Harper Collins. That’s why they are making these changes, remember?

But I don’t want to belabor that. As I mentioned in my first post on the issue– my concern isn’t with Harper Collins specifically, it’s with the chipping away of our limited bargaining power as consortia. To me, this is the greater issue– we are already so fractured and I want to see us pull together. I am not in favor of a boycott so much as I am in favor of only bargaining in groups or as an industry as a whole. This is a role I’d like to see Library Renewal take.

So, it’s with great disappointment that I don’t see anyone taking a leadership role in this regard, instead there is too much talk in libraryland on the subject of our reactions. And so we stand divided just as we did before Harper Collins made their move.

First of all, why the concern with “how we look”? Do you really think that makes a difference in negotiations? Because. It. Doesn’t. It’s all about business, baby. People blow up on each other all the time but the mighty dollar marches on. But if we *are* concerned with how we look, then we should show a bit more solidarity with our fellows– whether we agree or not. Because how we look is a an unorganized mob who are just as quick to jump on each other as we are on those who threaten our institutions. I think it makes us look bad when we stand up in a public forum and refer to our colleagues as “hysterical”.

As Kate did a wonderful job of articulating, a call for boycott isn’t necessarily a hysterical reaction at all. It’s one reaction of many. And as someone who wants to see the profession become stronger– to pull together– to be able to negotiate as an industry and not a scattered collection of tiny players– then I don’t want to diss any of my fellows for their response. We can have that conversation another time in another forum.

Solidarity is powerful. Only by supporting each other will we get anywhere. To draw an analogy, don’t you think that most union members think those protesting at the Wisconsin capital were over the top? Would most of them occupy the state house? No…. but they understand the power of standing together and have the thoughtfulness to appreciate their contribution. Everyone has a different contribution to make– some us like stirring up emotion as incitement towards action, some of us are better at a bargaining table, but a healthy group needs to be a big tent that includes acceptance of all types.

So libraryland, here’s what I’d like to see. How about instead of a post shushing your colleagues, why not a statement like this?

“We recognize that there are many responses to the issue of Harper Collins changing their licensing practices and we agree that this issue is urgent and important to libraries everywhere. While we don’t necessarily choose to endorse a boycott at this time, we support our colleagues whose moral compass leads them to this conclusion. As a vital part of a functioning democracy, libraries must continue to have a place at the negotiating table in all matters of content licensing and the public good of equal access to information must be preserved. We hope that as content and copyright realities change for consumers and publishers, that libraries will not be forced to make choices in the future that include limiting of access based on economic realities– whether driven by publisher choice or by lack of sufficient funding for collections”.

There. Now is that really so hard?