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An Open Letter from the BC Books Online Consortium (of which the ABPBC is a member)

October 6th, 2010

Dear Mr. Reid:
The consortium for the BC Books Online project, which consists of key library organizations in the K-12, public and post-secondary sectors in the province along with representatives from BC publishers has recently received a copy of your letter dated September 14 to the Premier of British Columbia. While we were not copied on the letter, we feel compelled to respond to your concerns about our project and to correct the errors in it. This we hope will reassure you that the publishers and libraries of BC are working on behalf of BC authors to ensure their work is widely disseminated and they are fairly compensated.

You seem to be under the impression that the Premier of British Columbia has endorsed the BC Books Online project, which is not yet the case. While we would hope that the beta currently underway will lead to investment in it by public and private funders, it would be irresponsible to market the full collection until we have had an opportunity to confirm technical functionality issues and to test public response. Usage data gathered since the beta was launched in June is, to date, very impressive and the enthusiasm of the 12 participating libraries has been very gratifying. When the limited period of the beta concludes in June 2011 we will assess the information we have gathered during this period, make approaches to possible funders and negotiate the terms of sale. At that time, publishers will be paid and authors will be compensated according to their contracts with their publishers. We really wish that the payment plan that you outline in your letter were realizable; unfortunately it does not represent the realities of the market. But rest assured, the BCBO consortium will ensure that publishers and authors are paid for their considerable work and commitment.

To other specifics in your letter that have to do with the BCBO project and about which there seems to be some confusion:

You state that “A digital book can be loaned to anyone on the planet, and the author will never sell another book.” This statement contains two concepts: the first, that a digital book can be loaned to anyone, is theoretically true but the book would first have to be bought by a library or a retailer and then its use would be controlled by the terms of the arrangement between the publisher and the purchaser. In the case of the BCBO collection, one must be a patron of a participating beta library, to access the collection. There are strict protocols that prevent or limit copying, downloading and printing of books in the BCBO collection. The books can only be read on screen, by subscribed users of the beta libraries, and they cannot be disseminated to other users.

The second part of this sentence, suggesting that an author will never sell another book, is opinion and not fact. Because this is a new area, we cannot predict what the impact will be on sales, which is why publishers are reluctant to make their ebooks available on frontlist tiles. All 1000+ books in the BCBO collection so far are backlist titles for this reason. We see a day when publishers will release frontlist titles simultaneously in print and ebook formats but most aren’t doing that yet. In addition, there are studies that show that backlist titles benefit from the increased exposure of digital collections increasing their sales in print format.

Neither you nor any other author with a title in the collection has been “stripped of your electronic rights”. Publishers hold the electronic rights for all the books in the collection in contracts that the author would have agreed to.

The governing body of the BCBO collection has spent three years addressing questions such as these as well as those that pertain to electronic rights, conversion from print to digital, collection development, technical readiness of libraries, security issues, terms of sale and use, and a myriad of other concerns. As a writer who has given your electronic rights to your publisher and who has received payment for inclusion in other ebook collections, you are likely aware of some of the work we have done.

Contrary to your assertion that everyone is being paid but the authors, the consortium consists of volunteers from the library and publishing community none of whom has received any government or other payment for their work on the project. Seed monies contributed from several of the consortium organizations have allowed us to hire a part-time project manager; to provide information to the community on our project through brochures, a website and the media; and to pay the platform access fees to ebrary on behalf of participating beta libraries.

We are undertaking this considerable legacy project because we believe that there are opportunities for publishers, libraries and authors in ebook collections, not to mention value to the reading public. This should be good news for all BC writers. We hope now that you have had an opportunity to understand more fully what the BC Books Online project is and how seriously we are taking issues of access, security and terms that you will see the considerable value of being part of the project. If you would like more information on the BC Books Online project, we would direct you to our website at bcbooksonline.ca or you are welcome to call the contact names noted there.

Best regards,

BC Books Online Consortium

The Association of Book Publishers of BC
BC Libraries
BC Electronic Library Network
BC Library Association
Education Resource Acquisitions Consortium

Cc: Premier Gordon Campbell
Joe Blades, President, League of Canadian Poets
Alan Cumyn, President, The Writers Union of Canada Michael Elcock
Alan Twigg, Publisher BC Bookworld
Denise Savoie, MP, Victoria
Carole James, MLA, Victoria-Beacon Hill
Rebecca Wigod, Book Editor, Vancouver Sun
CBC News, Vancouver
Marsha Lederman, Globe & Mail, BC
Stuart Woods, Editor, Quill & Quire