Then came the kicker: this week Hachette raised its prices for backlist titles (it still won't sell new titles to libraries) by up to 220%.
One can't help but think of the music industry. In an effort to hold onto corporate profits, the price of the packaging kept going up and up. Eventually, there was a consumer revolt, and disruptive new business models (as in the more consumer-friendly iTunes). Now think about those changes: today, there's no shortage of music. In fact, there's more than ever. But those music publishers who used to run things don't, so much. Most interestingly, musicians now often give their music away, finding it a far surer strategy to success. In the world of abundance, the problem is getting noticed.
It turns out that what mattered to consumers wasn't music publishers. We wanted music and musicians. And music survives.
The demand for digital books is growing, and libraries have to figure out how to meet it. By jacking up the prices of ebooks to unsustainable levels, some of today's legacy publishers are repeating the mistakes of the old music industry. Yet there's no shortage of writing -- in fact, libraries are more challenged than ever to track it.
We tried to make friends with Hachette. And as President Sullivan says, "with friends like these..."
Lesson: maybe what libraries and readers want isn't publishers. They want the creative work of authors. Maybe libraries need a smarter group of friends.