Publishers Still Hate You, But They Want to Look Nice

I’m really glad that Simon & Schuster has agreed to make “an exception to their current national eBook sales policy for libraries” for my humble little state so we can have ebooks of the selection for this coming year’s statewide reading program.

I’m a lot less glad that there’s a policy Simon & Schuster needs to make an exception to at all. As American Library Association President Maureen Sullivan put it, “It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is ‘no good here.'”

The Iowa librarians who persuaded Simon & Schuster to make this exception had, apparently, quite a bit of persuading to do:

Simpson and Martin provided answers to a series of questions asked by S&S such as the history of the AIR [All Iowa Reads] program (now in its 11th year), how many Iowans read the AIR selection, how many copies are sold, names of past AIR titles, circulation numbers. “We gave the data we have,” said Martin. “While we don’t know the exact number of circulations of our selections, we do know that Iowa libraries own a total of 300 to 400 copies of each of the previous AIR titles.”

The rest of the press release from the Iowa Center for the Book has a similarly librarianly, conciliatory tone. I don’t feel conciliatory. My gratitude toward Simon & Schuster is real, but it is neither wide nor deep. It shouldn’t be necessary to supply data to a publishing company to demonstrate that libraries buy books and patrons read them. We’ve been buying books from publishers for centuries now. It shouldn’t be necessary to beg, as a publicly-funded institution, to buy something that is freely available on the open market. Publishers ought to care about readers all the time, not just when someone begs them to make an exception.

I’m a librarian, and, as one of my library school professors said, librarianship is not a refuge. I’m a fighter, not a begger. Who’s with me?