Thursday, March 18, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Paying for POD

Following up on my POD post from the other day, I was wondering, readeurs and readeuses: would you approve the use of tax dollars to fund the installation of a POD device (like the Espresso Book Machine) in your local library (or other municipal book-type location)?

Poll time!


  1. Hmm. Interesting question. I'd have to say it would depend on who profited, or how the profits were distributed. Would the library profit, funding more book purchases? Would the POD publisher take the biggest cut? I assume the author would get their share, but if it's tax dollars paying for it, I'd like to know taxpayers would benefit in some way, not that it would just be a convenience item, like a soda machine.

  2. Who would that be for?

    If it's so the library can print books for their own stock, it's not needed; there's never such a hurry that they can't order it from the businesses that have the machine. If they find they're ordering so many books this way that they can do it cheaper by buying the machine, that's just an internal operations decision; it doesn't require a poll or legislation, any more than their decision to buy a copier.

    If it's so they can sell the books and compete with bookstores, I see that as a distraction from their mission of providing information to the public at no cost. We already have lots of places people can buy books, and the government never does the same thing as a business, as efficiently as a business can.

    If the intent is to undercut the bookstores by heavily subsidizing not only the purchase of the machine but the supplies and operation, on the theory that people would read more if the books were cheaper, well, first, the books in the library are already free, and second, you could accomplish the same thing by handing out bookstore vouchers, without endangering independent booksellers who are already threatened.

  3. Too many outstanding questions for me to answer this poll. Are the tax dollars in addition to the funding the library already receives? Does the library receive tax funding (not all do)? If it receives funding, are there limits placed on it what it can spend its budget for? What will the revenues of the POD machine go toward? Is it to raise money for the library? Will it go back to the source of the tax funding (local/state/fed)?

    This sounds like it's a question based off of something real, but there's no context to frame the question.

    As a side note, when the e-revolution wipes brick-and-mortar stores from the face of the earth, POD machines at local libraries would be an awesome answer to those that still prefer printed texts.

  4. Libraries don't have enough taxpayer money to stay open. In a happy happy place where this could happen I would rather see the libraries use the added funds to buy more books.

  5. Good points, all. For the sake of argument:

    • The library would profit, as would the publisher of the book being printed (as is the case with print books). Cuts of the publisher profits would go to the POD publisher (if it's an agency model-type affair) & the author.

    • The machine would be there to print out books that are borrowed infrequently or are not (in the library's view) worth buying & allocating physical shelf space to.

    • The tax dollars are in addition to the funding the library already receives.

    • This (hypothetical) library receives tax dollars.

    • Revenue would go toward operation of the library, though I admit that's an overly simplistic model (and an easy answer to boot).

    Joseph: that's what I was thinking (re: e-revolution). Eventually, "libraries" (/book stores) might just be POD kiosks where you can print out a physical book if you want it.

  6. I'm surprised at the responses. I figured this would be a pretty biased crowd. For those saying no, I would love for you to say why here. Is it just the general anti-tax sentiment that is popular right now or is it something specific about this proposition?

  7. I would say no. I don't see a reason for POD companies to profit from doing basically nothing. Have the library order the book or do an ILL.

    Or, if you must do this, set up a library network in-house, like some of the college systems do for scholarly articles.

  8. I'm glad I came in after you clarified. I'll go and vote, yes. If we can spend gazillions on bail-outs for super rich entities, who are robbing us blind daily, then why not spend a pittance (by comparison)on something regular people can benefit from?

  9. I'll say "No" because: here in Maine we are being taxed to death - literally. This state's government (the only one that makes me go way to the right of the political spectrum) taxes everything BUT the mosquitoes and black flies, and then takes on more debt it can't pay for. So, we certainly can't afford any more taxes, even if the libraries got five cents. Second - as for that remark re: the federal bail-out of the Wall Street banks... us individual voters didn't get a vote. We'll just get to pay for the bail-outs that aren't repaid (no comment on the excessive compensation those CEOs paid themselves one year after they were "on the brink." So much for how they prioritized correcting their course...

  10. Sorry, She Wrote. I thought Taxachusetts was bad.

    And yes, we didn't get to vote on the bail-out. More's the pity.

  11. I voted no if you didn't guess from my post above. The reality is public libraries everywhere are shutting down due to the lack of public funds. A recent study (I think I read about it at Publisher Weekly) showed an increase of people using libraries. Would I want my taxes to go to libraries? Sure. But the cities and states are running out of money (see California) and they can't just print more like the feds can. Perhaps if some POD machine company paid for the space in the library the way publishers pay for space in bookstores this would have a better chance of happening.

  12. If the libraries end up with profits they can use to buy more books then I would be more than happy for my money to be spent this way. I would positively endorse it. I am English so being taxed to the nth degree is the norm.

  13. If the machine made money for the library -- as their soda machines and public copiers do, for instance -- then there would seem to be no need for a special allocation for the equipment.

    But I really don't think a state-operated enterprise will be able to effectively compete with bookstores, especially since you're saying it's for less-requested books which the library hasn't found it necessary to stock. That's by definition a low-volume application. They're not even going after the mass market. If someone comes to a library, they're unlikely to pay money for a book the library has available for checkout. All this does is give the library a financial incentive to _not_ buy copies of the books they know people will want. And then they become less valuable as a public service.

    I could see using the POD to print copies to add to their own stock if they are requested for checkout. But as I said before, it's hard to imagine how there would be enough volume to justify the capital cost and maintenance, vs. ordering the books from a large business whose costs are lower because their machines are constantly in use, whereas the library's would sit idle 99% of the time.

  14. Libraries need to remain free. Think public good and remember they were established as the people's university. Not everyone can afford to purchase books or the computer to order the books online.
    Yet, like the convenience of photo copies, a library can provide paid services for those who want more. I think the Espresso distributors should pay libraries to allow their machines in a library. That way, libraries would have additional funds to provide more services.

  15. Putting a device that *sells* books in a public *borrowing* library crosses a lot of lines that confuse what public libraries are about. Now, I'm all for both selling *and* borrowing books -- but not in the same physical space, and not as a substitute one for the other. I love the idea of machines like the Espresso -- for academic book stores, and for indie bookstores, and elsewhere in the world of commerce. But not in public libraries, because they are not bookstores, and make a point of not being so.

    I would point out that in my neighbourhood the public library is next door to a major chain bookstore and within walking distance of an indie small-chain bookstore, with several used-book places in between. I know it's not the case everywhere, but the uproar would be if this library went into competition with these for-profit establishments, as opposed to complementing them, as is currently the case.

    BTW, I have yet to see a library that made a significant profit on soft drinks and photocopies. Usually they're just covering costs with a bit extra to invest in new machines when the time comes.

    Also, it has been my observation that every time a public institution implements a way to sell stuff to make up for lack of public funding, their public funding gets cut *more* because some bright spark points out they have "other revenue sources" -- and usually the cut is more than what the "other revenue" brings in.