Tuesday, March 28, 2023

In some books I am not reading (at least for a while): a boycott. Long live Internet Archive

"Boycott (verb): to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions" from Merriam Webster Dictionary online


Image borrowed from AFL-CIO
The latest news on the lawsuit by four big publishers against the Internet Archive (IA) did not go well for Internet Archive (report via UPI). The Internet Archive has stated they will appeal the decision, but in my very humble opinion, this is an uphill battle. I do agree that librarians should stand with Internet Archive as some librarians express in this column from Inside Higher Ed. I would have thought this was a no brainer position for librarians, but when I had a librarian colleague ask what was the big deal, that they thought Internet Archive is just for old out of copyright books, I knew again we are facing an uphill battle, especially if there are some librarians out there not too knowledgeable on what Internet Archive actually does (from their About page).

Like others, I was disappointed by the news. I am just a single librarian, and I do feel there is little I can do. However, I have decided there is one thing I can do. Effective March 27, 2023, I am boycotting the four publishers suing Internet Archive. This includes their imprints and subsidiaries. This also includes any authors, writers, creators, etc. that defend the lawsuit and want to destroy Internet Archive. They will not get a penny from me. They will not get any reviews or other coverage in my blogs. Furthermore, as librarian, to the best of my ability, I will not buy nor select any of their publications and media  in any format for my library. 

I know this is not much. I have no delusions that, as defined above, I am going to "force acceptance of certain conditions." I am certainly going to "express disapproval." I know this will be difficult given that the publishing world has done so much consolidation. There are a lot of imprints I am going to be skipping and boycotting from now now. I will have to be more mindful of what I select to read and review. It will be difficult, but not impossible. 

The boycott will go on until they drop their lawsuit. I may also stop it if Internet Archive wins in court, but I have not decided on that. For now, it is on. 

Now, I am not one to tell other folks what to do. You out there follow your conscience. I do encourage other librarians to join in this boycott to the best of their ability as well. 

Now, I do need to make some clarifications in light of my book reviewing and book blogging. So, in no particular order, here are some rules of engagement for the boycott. 

  • I will be boycotting Hachette Book Group, Random House Penguin, Harper Collins, and John Wiley and Sons, the four publishers suing Internet Archive. This includes all their imprints and affiliates. For the most part, I have a sense of which imprint belongs to which major publisher. In the case where I am not sure, I will do research and verify ownership of an imprint. If it is owned by one of the four, that imprint will be on my boycott list. I am also boycotting any author, writer, creator, etc. that defends the lawsuit or is against Internet Archive. Plenty of better authors have already expressed their support for Internet Archive (via Reuters). I can read  and buy works from the supportive authors instead.
  • I will not spend any personal money on any books in any format nor any other materials or media from the four publishers nor their imprints and subsidiaries. 
    • If I have to read a book from them, I will borrow it from a library be it locally or via Interlibrary Loan. Only reasons I foresee such a need may be research related or work related. 
  • I will not highlight nor review any books in any format nor any other materials on my blogs from the four publishers nor their imprints and subsidiaries. This also includes any galleys and advanced review copies (ARCs). I will not accept any galleys and ARCs from them nor will I seek them out or request them neither from them directly nor through services like NetGalley and Edelweiss Plus. A small exception is noted: 
    • If I already had an ARC before March 27th, and I am already committed to write the review, I will complete the review and post it to the blog and share it on social media as usual. Once that is done, the accounts are closed so to speak. 
    • If I was already reading a book from one of the four publishers, say from the library, on or before March 27, I will finish it (unless I decide to not finish it because it was not a book for me) and review it as planned. Then the business is concluded. 
  • In terms of my work as an academic librarian, I will, to the best of my ability, avoid selecting and ordering for purchase any books in any format and media from the four publishers and their imprints and subsidiaries. I will also avoid selecting and ordering for purchase any books in any format and media from authors against Internet Archive. I have to say to the best of my ability because depending on context I may have to make such a purchase, say if a faculty member insists on ordering a book or item. Sadly it is not something I can stop. What I can do is just not actively seek out such materials. Instead, to the best of my ability, I will find alternative materials where I can. This also means I will abstain from reviewing any selections my colleagues may have chosen on the library blog. If they choose to write the review, I can't stop, but I am not doing it to the extent I am able to. 
  • I will amend these rules of engagement as needed during the journey. 
  • Update note (1/17/2024): An amendment. I will make some allowance for library books that I personally did not buy. Here is the rationale: 
    • If my work library bought it, and I need to promote it to the campus. While I am personally avoiding buying any boycotted publisher books, my colleagues and campus faculty are still at it (and I can't stop them). Given I do some campus outreach on our library blog and social media, I do need to promote some of them to the campus, so if need be, I will read one of those books and review it for the library blog. It goes with the job. I may make a short review note on this blog to indicate I read it, but will not actively share the post on social media.
    • If a book is donated to our library and added to our collection, I may read it for campus promotion as noted above. This is a bit of a bonus as neither I nor the library spent money for it. Example is a recent donation of books in Spanish we received. I would review these on the library blog. Again, may do short review too on this blog to indicate I read it, but not actively promote on social media. 
    • Finally for now, if I check out a book from a library without paying attention. In other words, oops, I forgot to check the publisher, took it home, then saw "aww shit, publisher by one of those guys." I do not anticipate this happening often, since I have gotten more aware of who owns what publisher, but as of this date, it did happen once. Initially I was going to return the book unread, but I got the book, may as well read it. I did not pay for it. I will write a brief review to note it was read, and again, review will not be actively promoted. What can I say? Some mistakes can happen, and I am not going to agonize over it. Still, other than me reading it, I still did not give them a penny. 
  • Update note 1/17/2024, possible Amendment (still considering):  This is one I did not really anticipate. Prior to December 2023, the publishers of cartomancy decks are not owned by the boycotted companies. Last month, PRH fully bought Hay House. I will continue to use and review the Hay House cartomancy decks I bought before the buy out. However, this is where I need to consider if I make an exception for Hay House, since cartomancy is part of my personal practice, or cut them off due to PRH's ownership. Leaning to making this one exception, but I am likely to just reduce my purchases at least. Still pondering as of this note. The other publishers I buy from remain independent, and I pray to the Cosmic Joker they stay that way.

As I mentioned, I know this is not much. I am fully aware I am just one small librarian and definitely a very small individual reader and book blogger with about five readers at the most (hey, we've gone up from three readers when I started out. That's progress). But it is one thing that I can do to show my support for Internet Archive and to show where I stand. This lawsuit is basically the greedy publishers, who already extract onerous predatory pricing for ebooks for libraries to lend, bringing a Trojan horse to gut the Copyright Act so they can prevent libraries, all libraries, from lending ebooks in a controlled setting.  

I will link this post to my Book Review Statement and Policy as soon as I am done typing this. It will remain in effect until the conditions I have stated are met.

Again, I am one librarian, but I am drawing my line and making my stand here. To quote Captain Picard, 

"The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!"  


Final note: Comments for this post are closed because I am not debating this. This is not a topic open for debate. At this point, what those publishers are doing is pure evil. To quote another line, 

"Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this." --Rorschach, from Alan Moore's Watchmen.

For reference, this infographic from almossawi helps to visualize who owns what (up to date as of May 2023):