Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ALA Speech Parallel Universe: Monographs don't support the library mission.

I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on the relationship between publishers and libraries and specifically asked to present a speech I gave at the Frankfurt book fair last October.

(The slides referenced by the numbers in the texts below are located here).

(1) Good Afternoon and thanks for having me. Sometimes when you come last in a series of speakers you run the risk of repeating some of what the previous speakers spoke about but I hope that’s not the case with my comments.

Towards the end of last year, I was asked to make a presentation at a small conference connected to the Frankfurt bookfair. I have made presentations to this group before and the general themes discussed have always been centered around the publishing supply chain. In my presentation that day I chose to speak about how libraries and publishers should think about their relationship with a view to using the current general dislocation of the publishing business as an opportunity to ‘re-set’ the relationship.

Based on that speech I was asked to participate in this meeting and again speak about the same issues. In fact, I’ve made very few changes to the original presentation and frankly, if anything, over the intervening months the relationship between publishers and libraries has become worse rather than better.

To a group of mostly publishers at Frankfurt, I wanted to stress that there is a lot going on in the library world relevant to them but to which they remain largely ignorant. This room in contrast is a room full of experts and I hope that I don’t insult you with what may seem basic details about what you are all experiencing.

Significant change is afoot, and any business that is connected to the publishing industry is experiencing change and increasing complexity: Libraries are no different.

We naturally associate books with libraries but monographs have not supported the library mission for decades. (2) Data even hints that books are not a success story in the current library environment. I expect my statement might strike you as odd – perhaps controversial – but research data from a range of studies confirms that books are expensive to manage, under-utilized, hard to navigate and of declining importance to scholarship. Don’t forget that books also suffer from opportunity cost: Decisions to purchase specific books are rarely optimized with demand and; thus, books that may have supported a need are not purchased and books that were purchased sit on shelves rarely used. Other than that they are perfect.

Many agree particularly in trade publishing that the publisher/library model must change as content migrates to electronic forms but a deeper analysis of these data implies something more fundamental. We need to re-examine the definition of the monograph.

Libraries face many practical challenges. (3) Despite remaining critically important to their respective communities, public and academic libraries are under tremendous strain. This is particularly true of the public library. If not from actual dwindling revenue sources causing layoffs, closings and reduced services, then from the passive aggressive stance of publishers who threaten to withhold their electronic titles from library patrons or limit the total number of check outs for titles purchased by the library. In tandem, academic libraries face different but no less challenging issues about their position in education generally and on campus specifically.

(4) This bleak outlook obscures the fact that big important questions are being asked and meticulously addressed about the future of books in the library. At all levels, libraries are embarked on a radical redesign and reevaluation of their activities which will redefine the library for monographs. These changes are almost completely hidden to publishers and, at a critical juncture in the transformation of the relationship between publishing and libraries neither side seems to know or appreciate enough about the circumstances of other.

(5) In particular, the sharp disagreement over the provision of eContent may permanently fracture the always uneasy alliance between book publishers and libraries as more content migrates to electronic form and consumers make electronic delivery their format of choice. This should be troubling to anyone who believes – as I do – that libraries and publishers share a desire to expand knowledge and community around books.

(6) My comments today take the library perspective and I have organized my comments around three themes.

(7) Firstly, how important are libraries to publishers in monetary terms? Secondly, a look at some of the most important strategic library initiatives under way and, thirdly some views on the future for libraries and publishers.

(8) First, at approximately $2.0billion, all library segments represent approximately 5% of industry revenues. This makes the entire segment approximately the size of a large chain retailer. There are over 13,000 public and academic libraries in the US and these figures would suggest an average annual book spend of approximately $150,000. That may be a reasonable average although I must add that auditable data is impossible to come by so if you look into these numbers your mileage may vary.

The primary focus of this presentation will be on the academic library environment; however, let me make some brief comments about the situation with public libraries in the US.

(9) To the general public, the value of libraries is unquestioned and here in the next sequence of slides are data from OCLC and a report I’ll note in a moment. Americans believe public libraries improve their quality of life and view the library as a resource to help them navigate an uncertain future. (I often seek refuge there myself).

The library patron of 2010 seeks help, (10) reference material, education and community yet as economic circumstances deteriorate library budgets are slashed and services limited or eliminated. (11) Thus, while visits and circulation are up (12) so are closings and service reductions.

(13) Academic libraries are not immune to macro economic changes either; although they seem to have more flexibility to devise new methods of dealing with some of the economic challenges they face. As you may know, the library collection is viewed as a point of comparison (14) and remains important to the institutions accreditation but on campus libraries face challenges to their traditional position that might even include how effectively they are using the library building. Increasingly, the academic library is facing particular challenges in their ability to deliver more effective and efficient services. In this environment – and maybe because of it - revolutionary approaches to collection management are being tested and implemented.

For example, (15) can you envision an academic library with no physical books? That sounds absurd – even crazy - yet during a recent renovation, a large state university library removed all their books from the library and placed them in off site storage. Service for students and faculty during this renovation was impacted only minimally and once the library space was remodeled not all the books returned. Not only do the remaining books at this library look more like decorative display items than accessible resources but the space has been reconfigured to match a changed teaching environment. NYU removed 30% of their collection during a similar renovation. At the University of Texas, a new library received national attention as a library without any “books” There are more and more examples –including a new library in Chicago - of this changed approach to collection development and management.

As libraries rethink their physical collections, we shouldn’t lose sight of some more fundamental problems that book publishers should be aware of. The Association of Research Libraries publishes annual statistics and these reflect some troubling data points with respect to monographic purchasing trends over the last 20 years.

(16) Serials publishers with their revenues up an average of 7.3% per year will be excited. Over the same period, the monograph publisher has seen prices grow a measly 2.9% per year with most of that increase occurring in the early years. Even more troubling, the number of titles purchased each year has straight lined since 1986. With an explosion in books published over just the past ten years, academic libraries are buying the same number of books as they were in 1988. Virtually all other categories have outstripped spending on books (including the consumer price index). To add salt to the wounds, student and faculty populations have grown over this period but this growth has not translated into more books purchased. And as an aside, circulation is also going in the wrong direction.

Importantly, these statistics are definitive: They are not isolated. When we contemplate how to approach the library market it is important that we recognize that current experience is very much a reflection of prior performance. In other words, I don’t believe we can expect this to get any “better”. It appears, monographs have been losing the knowledge race in university libraries for a long time and, if publishers value this segment then they need to recognize and then understand this.

Not all the data is so black and white and perhaps there is some good news for publishers. For example, (17) viewing supply and demand in ARL libraries via the prism of inter library loans we see significant increases year over year for books loaned and borrowed. ILL isn’t studied in detail but I recently learned from OCLC that they are conducting more analysis of this area and their initial research shows some interesting findings. For example, they have been astonished to learn of the number of times a single title (18) has been loaned more than fifty times in one year. It appears libraries are relying more and more on ILL to support spikes in their local demand.

According to OCLC, these “hot titles” are often widely held titles suggesting that the data begs for more analysis. Certainly as a monograph publisher you would be troubled by some of these stats and would want more analysis.

In summary, we face significant challenges in the academic and public segments concerning financial and economic issues however we can’t ignore the tenuous relevance of the monograph itself. Can it be business as usual for the monograph?

Which brings me to the second part of my talk where I discuss some of the change programs already underway.

(19) The academic library has been forced to re-evaluate its activities for a variety of reasons. If we think about the changes made generally over the past 20 years to accommodate a migration from paper to electronic materials seen particularly in serials then the current impact on monographs should have been anticipated. In other words it was foreseen.

One important change initiative could be characterized as driven by “efficiency”. As the thinking goes; “are we as librarians delivering the appropriate services in the most efficient manner?” Whereas detailed cost analysis has always been possible and in some cases executed, economic realities now enable solutions that previously may have been unrealistic for practical or political reasons. The life time cost of maintaining a monograph collection were always known to be expensive but limited alternatives to the open stack paradigm made real analysis irrelevant. With the rapid escalation in digitization programs and a collective, more open and realistic approach to resource sharing, libraries now have viable options with respect to down-sizing their monograph collections. This now defined expense coupled with the very real costs of real estate and development projects for new buildings has many university administrators salivating over all that “under-utilized” space.

(20) Research conducted by Paul Courant and Mathew Nielsen (The Idea of Order) explicitly documents the costs of maintaining a print monograph collection. The opportunity for publishers may rely on turning this analysis of the ‘life time cost’ of holding book into a sales opportunity for eBooks. The authors also calculate (21) that a typical academic library could be spending about $1mm just to maintain their legacy print collection. And in an environment where monograph usage is declining this large annual expense begins to look like an onerous and miss-guided use of funds. And for publishers, what response do you think you will you get if you ask them to – in effect – add to this annual expense by buying more print?

As I noted earlier, the case for a wholesale reevaluation of the idea of books in the library has gained credibility. As strange as it is to say, the physical book collection may not be needed. It may be both economical and efficient to remove them. Constance Malpas from OCLC goes a bit further when she comments (22) that “books have already left the building” – with over 70mm volumes having been removed from local collections and placed in off-site storage. Some important universities have determined that they can operate with little or no diminution of service while reducing their on-site collections.

Simply moving books off site however, doesn’t represent a total solution. As the authors Courant and Nielsen note, electronic storage in addition to or combination with physical collections is most optimal because access to an electronic version of a book aids in selection of the title. If a user is able to look at the TOC or index or search the electronic version in advance of requesting the title then they are more likely to request from off-site storage books they really need. Large (23) digitization programs such as Hathi Trust and others are beginning to support this type of “mixed platform” hybrid.

The Hathi Trust is one of several digital repositories. At Hathi, their mass-digitized collection is sufficient to replace at least 30% of most academic print book collections. The potential savings are very real (24). Hathi grows daily and other repositories add titles at a similar rate. All have a different collection profiles and different partnerships but at some point these repositories themselves will collaborate and weave together their collections so that the overlap or replacement potential across academic library collections will near 100%. Publics will also see some benefit here as well.

So what are we seeing here? Initially, I spoke about the cost savings from more efficient use of physical space and transitioned into discussion about shared repositories of content. These activities are closely related and will be progressively augmented and expanded with further network level services. In short, more sophistication will ensue concerning access, applications and services focused on monograph content that historically was distributed in the extreme volume by volume and library by library.

Strategically, what might these initiatives mean for publishers? Libraries are not saying emphatically they don’t want print but their policies and practices are changing. In some cases new books go immediately to off site storage. In accessing these assets, the library also wants a digital copy that they can place in the catalog for search and discovery. The shared approach to collection management while primarily reflective today of their retrospective print collections will become the paradigm for future purchases – both print and eBooks. Going forward publishers will be expected to accommodate this. While representing a challenge for both libraries and publishers there may be opportunities in working toward a new business model. Recall, that the combination of the ILL statistics and the Hathi stats on title overlap suggests – strongly – that supply and demand is significantly out of balance. Addressing this is an opportunity.

(25) This discussion would not be complete without also bringing in the migration to eBooks and eContent. It may be in the transition to an eBook environment where publishers and libraries will clash. Beware however that it would be a significant mistake for book publishers to assume libraries are ignorant of the issues and complexities of eBook and eContent business models as I think I have just demonstrated.

In fact, libraries may (in this room I can say ‘they do’) have a more experienced view of the eContent business models than many book publishers. Libraries participated in the migration of print serials and journals to online databases and most importantly facilitated the monumental improvements in the provision of serials content to this segment. Some see similar and maybe greater opportunities as the monograph makes this transition.

But publishers see eBooks in libraries as problematic. There may be more acceptance of eBooks in the academic library setting but thus far much less so in the public library segment. (26) A recent report published by Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) suggested that libraries seek to organize a national buying pool to source and negotiate eBook deals with publishers. We’ll see how far they get with that.

Which brings me to the last part of this presentation.

“How is that a good model for us?” (27) is how Macmillan CEO John Sargent put it when discussing the role of libraries in the future. He was referring to the ability of a patron to loan an eBook from their living room without having to stand up. “In the old world” he said, “there was a certain amount of friction in the chain that precluded this type of ease of use.” To take this model to its obvious conclusion, wouldn’t every reader get a library card and an eBook reader and download books free from their local library? Perhaps, and in that circumstance it would be hard to recognize the value of this model to publishers.

Libraries see it differently though: EBooks represent an opportunity to engage people who can’t or won’t come to the local library. The practical benefits of eBooks mitigate the reduction in opening hours, staffing and geographic/location issues that preclude use of the libraries. Academic libraries in particular also see huge opportunities to improve the utility of the eBook titles they buy.

The COSLA report also pointed out access to eBooks is currently nowhere close to the environment envisioned by Sargent. The study confirmed that getting eBooks isn’t convenient or easy to do. Typically, the user interface is described as unfriendly and the fact that eBook sites are often not integrated with a library’s web site makes the eBook catalog hard to find.

(28) Looking forward to a new model publishers naturally and quite rightly require a model that represents “true-value” for their sales into the segment but, in my opinion wondering whether eBooks can be managed, controlled or rationed in the library marketplace misses the larger picture: Monographs are on the downswing. The bigger question we should be asking is “Why don’t monographs work in the library anymore?”

There should be mutual interest here: Publishers want to continue to make their monographs available to libraries and libraries want to most effectively match their collections to the demands of their patrons. What might these areas of cooperation encompass and does the migration of formats – print to eBook – represent an opportunity to reinvigorate the book?

Here are four suggested programs libraries and publishers might consider adopting in concert to their mutual interest. (29)

Firstly, there is too little market intelligence about the behavior of a library patron from their use of the library material to their book buying behavior. For example, is the heavy library user also a buyer of books and, how does their behavior change when eBooks are made available? Understanding the inter-play between library lending and purchasing should be critical to defining a new or optimal model that allows a full catalog of eBooks to be made available via the public and academic library. Libraries routinely make the point that library patrons contribute significantly to the marketing of all books. Defining this would represent an important improvement in the relationship and understanding between publishers and libraries.

Secondly concerning metadata, as serials publishers transitioned to eContent it became clear quickly that many (most) of them had significantly incomplete metadata about their historic catalog. Libraries helped fill some of those important gaps and thus enabled the publishers to create better, complete and more expensive databases. Book publishers almost certainly have a similar issue and while many of them may not know it yet, monograph collections are likely to look more like database products in five years than a collection of individual pdfs. In that database environment the publishers are going to want better metadata. In the effort to create better data publishers and librarians might collaborate.

(30)Thirdly the manner and method that characterizes the migration serials publishers made from print to database products should be instructive for monograph publishers. Earlier, I suggested - or predicted - monograph databases and here is where the lessons of the serials business could be most important and instructive.

Libraries want to buy books that are read and used, they want books that are cited and referenced and they want books that support the departments that they serve. As serials publishers recognized, better content and increased functionality drives usage and usage drives renewals and is likely to enable rising annual subscription prices. Publishers of monographs think in terms of one time sales but in a database world they need to be thinking of an integrated database of content that draws usage and is licensed annually.

The ISI citation index that measures the ‘importance’ of a serials title is one of the most important metrics in serials acquisition and it is likely that something similar will develop for monographs and/or monograph publishers. Monographs will be graded on their utility to researchers, academics and patrons. Gone is the day that a book will sit unobtrusively on a shelf for years and gone is the day a book “sits” independently of all the other books.

Serials publishers/aggregators provide substantial value-add for the e-titles they provide in comparison with those delivered in the print world and yet product development hasn’t stopped. Recently Elsevier announced a ‘developer platform’ or ‘app store’ that allows third parties to build applications and services around the Elsevier journal content extending the value proposition to all Elsevier customers. These features represent some of the ideas monograph publishers should be considering as they make the transition to eBooks in the library segment.

‘Just-in-case’ purchasing has failed. To assume this model will transfer to eBooks is to ignore fundamentals. While the old monograph purchase model has collapsed there remain indications from ILL data that demand for certain monographs remains high. Even now, ILL data can and should be used by both libraries and publishers to better match demand with supply for print. As print demand spirals downward libraries and publishers should be sharing information to anticipate increases in demand and thus optimize the demand for these popular titles. Perhaps this effort could form the basis of greater cooperation in the larger question of the future of the monograph.

Fourth and last, smart publishers are going to think hard about some of the data about the lifetime cost of books presented in the report by Paul Courant. Publishers will need to copy serials publishers to significantly increase the value proposition of the content. To achieve this goal, publishers may determine that databases provide greater utility supporting deeper linking, citations and enabling annotations than selling titles one by one. A publisher in a position to collect and collate the reader experience - to collect the social ‘exhaust’ in the references, notes, citations, commentary. etc - will be able to build a stronger franchise with the library buyer. Enabling an ability to document the scholars’ interaction with books will serve to reinvent what the monograph represents to library patrons.

(31) Publishers have their work cut out for them assuming they view the library market as one they wish to invest in for the future. Given the long experience of monographs in the library segment their effort is long over due. John Sargent might ask “Is this a good model for us?” but libraries are also asking exactly the same question. (32) Publishers and libraries have an opportunity to build a new model and a better product and libraries are already moving toward their version. Will publishers join them?

(33) Thank you and I’ll take questions.

My thanks to Constance Malpas at OCLC who provided the initial inspiration for this presentation in her presentation to the RLG symposium which I attended in Chicago and later in email discussions between the two of us as I was putting my presentation together. Her influence is especially represented in the last section of this presentation.

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