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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Call to Action on Amazon v Hachette: Why Librarians Need to Care

Okay, I am not done catching up on all of my reviews, but I am getting bored of writing only reviews, so I sure you are getting bored of only reading them.  So today I am going to write about the Amazon-Hachette on going drama.

First, now that this battle has been going on for a few weeks, it is turning into a real life game of telephone.  The message is getting muddled and the facts slightly blurred, so first things first:
So those are the facts.  But, why should you the library worker care?  I mean it’s not like we buy a lot of books for the library from Amazon. Baker and Taylor and Ingram still have Hachette books shipping out next day. Well, here are a couple of reasons.

First, people are asking me to share my opinion because they look at me (and you too) as the local community book expert.  So educate yourself on the facts because patrons expect you to know what you are talking about. And if you-- the librarian, the one who works in the building filled with books-- cannot handle questions about the biggest book news of the moment, well, do you think they will ever come to you again with any question? Uh, no. Now’s our chance.  Make us all look good.

Second, and related to the first point.  Embrace this national conversation about access to books and leverage your place as the community's book expert.  While some of your regular patrons know you are the place to go for books and book news, not everyone thinks of us first [sad. but true].  As Kelly Jensen wrote about in Book Riot, for many people access to a local book store is a privilege.  Many do not have another option, besides Amazon, when they want to buy a book.  This is correct, but many people do live close to a public library where they can get access to all of the books they want.  We need to insert ourselves into the conversation here and remind people that we can help them right now.

For many of the Hachette titles, our holds waits will be shorter than the Amazon lag time. No, they won’t own the book, but they can read it. I have found that for many patrons who buy their leisure reading books, the unwillingness to wait is the main reason they don’t use the library. They want access to the book as quickly as possible.  Well, here we have an advantage over Amazon.  Let’s leverage it because once a new patron sees how easy it is to request a book, have a RA conversation with a librarian, be given an equally as awesome book to read while they wait [a book they would have never known about without a visit to the library], and come to the realization that getting books at the library is WAY better than buying them.  See how easy that is to hook them. This is our chance to turn book buyers into library users. But we have to strike now!

Third, at the heart of this debate is the scary thought that we are sliding down a slippery slope which ends with Amazon deciding what you get to read.  The issue is more about the kickbacks Amazon is trying to force the publishers to pay them.  Amazon chooses to take a loss on selling books but then expects the publishers to pay Amazon kickbacks for increasing their sales.  But since Amazon has a strangle hold on the sale of books in this country (see second reason-- bookstore article),  if they won’t sell a specific book, the vast majority of people won’t get to read it.  See where this is going....  If Amazon won’t sell a book, why would a publisher spend the money to buy it, edit it, print it and market it. Soon, only the books Amazon deems worthy of being sold (for whatever their reasons) will be the only books that get published.

As librarians, we are champions of the freedom to read.  For this frightening scenario above alone, we should be speaking out.

So please, educate yourself on the issue, speak out for the freedom to read, and remind your community that you are the local book experts.  And if you have the privilege to have a local independent book store, work with them too.  We have just placed a big order for 10 copies each of these 6 titles with our friends Jason and Rachel at The Book Table.

Please just don’t sit there and think this issue doesn’t effect you.

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