Should Authors Create Original Content for Amazon–Unavailable to Non-Subscribers?

Recent months have had librarians reeling from the news that new e-content metering restrictions, along with embargoes by Blackstone Audio and Macmillan, will limit the ability of libraries to provide information to their patrons. Simon and Schuster and Hachette moved from a perpetual model (in which libraries purchase the license to content and then keep it forever) to one that forces libraries to re-purchase a license to their e-content every two years. (Penguin Random House began metering last year.)  Meanwhile, Blackstone struck a deal with Amazon in which titles published (not distributed) by Blackstone would be available exclusively only on Audible for the first three months after release.  And Macmillan announced that, beginning November 1, libraries would be allowed only one copy of  new e-book releases for two months after publication. The policy is currently understood to apply also to consortiums, so library systems that share e-book catalogs would be allowed one copy for multiple libraries.

All these changes have had libraries wondering how they will continue to promote equal access when major publishers deny them the opportunity to purchase certain materials.  But libraries were already struggling with the inability to access certain resources when Audible (owned by Amazon) announced last year that they were acquiring exclusive content from big-name authors like Margaret Atwood and Michael Lewis.  Currently, libraries are unable to purchase and share original Audible content, meaning that readers who wish to listen to it have to pay a subscription.  Those who are unable to afford the subscription simply cannot read certain new titles.

Allowing libraries to purchase Audible titles should not hurt Amazon’s bottom line.  Despite the fact that libraries lend materials free, they do pay for them (often above market price for e-content); Library Journal says that libraries spend 1.35 billion dollars each year on building their collections.  Some of that money could be going to Audible, if they would remove their restrictions on library lending.  In the meantime, however, the question emerges: should authors create original content for Audible, knowing that libraries are prevented from sharing that content with people with lower incomes?

Authors, of course, need to make money.  And they deserve to paid for their creative endeavors.  No one can blame them if Amazon offers them a good deal (even if Amazon has a track record of hurting publishers).  I wonder, however, if some of the big-name authors could use their popularity to pressure Amazon into creating a model that promotes, rather than prevents, equal access.  Because if we remain silent too long about all the changes affecting libraries’ abilities to pay for content, this will become our new normal.  And the fight for equal access will have taken a huge step back.

8 thoughts on “Should Authors Create Original Content for Amazon–Unavailable to Non-Subscribers?

  1. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    It is interesting that exclusive paid content seems to be the future, and libraries are not being offered a role in that. This seems very similar to the way libraries can provide access to DVDs for movies and TV series, but they can’t provide you access to things like Netflix originals or Disney+ exclusives. I think there will be a lot more things libraries won’t be allowed to buy and provide patrons access to in the future, and I haven’t seen anyone talking about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I was thinking about the Netflix comparison, too! I am sad there are original shows I can’t borrow from the library. I think they could be made available, though. Netflix is cheap enough that I think people would continue to pay for the convenience of streaming versus driving to the library of putting the DVD on hold.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael J. Miller says:

    This is deeply, deeply disturbing. Granted I’ve dedicated my adult life to studying and teaching theology so I am always wary of capitalism (you can’t serve two masters and all that). But the cynic in me says this is not so much about Amazon’s bottom line. As you point out, they can still make money from libraries using the Audible content. But I think this is driven more the desire to control the content.

    It happened with the death of the video rental shop. It used to be I could walk into Blockbuster or Hollywood Video or Family Video (I still have one of those in town! yay!) and rent just about any film or TV series (barring really obscure titles or one being broken or not returned). Then came Netflix and streaming and it was exciting…but as its expanded now we’re left paying specific companies for specific content. To have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, Showtime, IMDbTV, HBO Max, etc. and so on becomes as – if not far more – expensive than cable was. And there’s no guarantee content will stay in one place because the streaming rights are constantly sold (‘Seinfeld’ is moving from Hulu to Netflix as Netflix has lost ‘Friends’ to HBO Mas, and so on) nor that it will stay at one price (my Netflix subscription has jumped several times in the last year and I started watching ‘Torchwood’ as part of my Amazon subscription but then, suddenly, they wanted me to pay for each episode).

    All these games Amazon is starting to play worry me because I think they are courting a similar pay-us-alone-for-specific-content model for books as the streaming services have done with movies and TV. In addition to being frustrating (it leaves searching for what company has the specific content we’re looking for) it also clearly creates an unjust socio-economic division in regard to who can afford to experience this stuff and who can’t. Ugh, it’s scary and frustrating and it all makes me uncomfortable.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, this is like streaming services! And perhaps the rise of streaming services has normalized the idea that there should be specific content only available to subscribers? Ironically, however, I think Netflix was originally so popular because it seemed to offer EVERYTHING at a reasonable price. But if everyone is going to be offering exclusive, paid-for content, then people no longer have any real incentive to subscribe, do they? As you say, it’s not cheaper than cable if you have to pay for multiple streaming services! (Also ironic: if I recall correctly, Netflix did a survey that indicated consumers were willing to pay far more than Netflix was charging–perhaps the reason they raised the price?)

      The Amazon example really is troubling, though. It’s like you get hooked on content for a reasonable price and then, once you’re in, they trick you by changing the price! Do you pay up or do you give up watching a show you just found out you love? It’s not a respectful way to treat your customers.

      I haven’t seen many people talking about this new trend. I think perhaps many of us were really excited by the options Netflix gave and didn’t consider what this model could mean for equal access. Now that the model is expanding to books, well… I don’t want to be in a future where a majority of content and information is behind a paywall (already a major problem with academic research, of course–which I find fascinating since academics don’t get paid to publish papers, generally).

      I don’t know what the answer here is, though. I suspect there are enough people willing to pay for exclusive content (I mean, it’s exclusive! Who doesn’t want to be special like that?) that companies will continue to offer it. And authors will continue to write it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        You’ve just blown my mind. I NEVER thought about the dark irony of paying for academic research when academics are rarely paid for publishing their papers. That’s just…how have I never seen it before? That’s wild.

        I think you’re right. I think the “exclusive” feeling is something we’re drawn too and then we often don’t think critically beyond our being part of “the club.” And often, once we start to think more critically, we’re farther gone than we’d like. Because I think you’re exactly right – Netflix was a huge hit because it had so much for so little and then everything just started shifting…and now here we are. And I’m sure it’s only going to get more and more specialized in content across providers before it gets better. If it gets better…

        I’m with you on the book front too. It’s frustrating to see it happen with TV and movies but it seems like we’re being denied something fundamental to who we are and our intellectual growth and enrichment if the same thing were to happen with books. I don’t know how we fight the power either. But I do know we need to, in whatever form that becomes.

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