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E-Book Blockade: Scrooge Campaign

Pierce County Library System, WA
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Innovation Summary

PCLS wanted to supply customers’ demand for e-books. PCLS developed and executed a plan to inform and engage the public about the publishers’ e-book blockade. PCLS branded the attention-getting strategy the Scrooge campaign, calling publishers Scrooges. It encouraged people to write to publishers. Results: 10,400 postcards; 682 emails to publishers.

Problem Statement

The major book publishers were not selling e-books to libraries, including PCLS. Those that did sell to libraries sold e-books at costs 100-300% higher than list prices or with restrictions. As of summer 2012, four major book publishers were not selling e-books to libraries’ primary vendor, Overdrive. • Hachette Book Group • Penguin • Macmillan Publishing • Simon & Schuster As of summer 2012, two major publishers were selling to Overdrive at exorbitant prices and restrictions: • HarperCollins Publisher (checkout restrictions) • Random House, Inc. (high prices) In determining the need and value to conduct e-book blockade communications, PCLS assessed the national movement and local interest. Public demand for e-books was growing off the charts. Checkouts: 2008-2,311; 2012: 314,120. Checkout numbers would be higher if customers weren’t disappointed in long lines of people waiting for e-books or to learn that many titles were not available. In 2012 PCLS spent a fraction of its planned e-book budget. Therefore, in 2013, PCLS reduced its e-book budget by 46%. PCLS judiciously purchases e-books, because of the over-priced rates combined with PCLS’s commitment to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars. Every day people asked staff why PCLS had such long queues for e-books and so few titles. The public had a right to know about the e-book blockade and PCLS had a responsibility to inform them.


PCLS has a progressive approach to marketing which focuses on engaging with needs and priorities from communities and delivering services to meet those needs. The strategy used strong, attention-getting messages and an approach focused on serving customers and meeting their demands. The strategy noted the un-equitable playing field, especially given libraries’ important role in literacy, reading, and bridging the digital divide. PCLS designed the campaign to be provocative to gain attention and result in action. Embracing the timing of the December holidays PCLS shaped the campaign around a high-profile icon: Scrooge, with the role of Scrooge played by publishers. PCLS encouraged customers to take grassroots action and participate in a letter-writing campaign to publishers. PCLS created a variety of communications tactics including: talking points with guidance to staff to give direct point-of-sale information to customers; pre-addressed, pre-written postcards for each of the six publishers for direct distribution in all library buildings; prepared emails to send directly to each of the six publishers, posted on a specifically created web page; home page web ad; large posters in library buildings; listserv message. The strategy broadened to inform and engage the general public via mass and social media with direct information. PCLS wrote a guest editorial and successfully pitched it to “The News Tribune,” the daily newspaper in South Puget Sound. PCLS issued a news release and conducted numerous interviews with print and TV media. It launched a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter.


Results: • Postcards picked up from libraries: 10,400. • Email messages verified sent (five publishers had email addresses): 682 emails sent from 248 unique email addresses. • Guest editorials: 2; “The News Tribune” guest editorial garnered 81 Facebook likes, 17 Twitter tweets, and 6 online comments. • Editorials: 1 • Number of news stories: 15. • Social media: Facebook: PCLS made two posts (messages) which 919 people saw, out of PCLS’s 2,305 friends; 141 people engaged in (clicked through the message to more information on the Library’s website); 73 people talked about the posts (wrote about the issue on their Facebook page); and 19 people shared the posts. Twitter: PCLS posted two tweets, which 4 people/organizations retweeted and 7 people/organizations mentioned. • Since the launch of the campaign Penguin announced plans to sell to libraries with limited checkouts per e-book and Macmillan announced it will offer backlist e-books, for use of up to two years or 52 checkouts, at $25/e-book. Lessons Learned: Online and in-person PCLS participated in conversations that showed many people did not know about the issue and wanted to learn about it and take action, such as sending e-mails or postcards to publishers. Some people stated concern about the future of libraries with digital books and a balance for the profitability of publishers and authors. Moreover people expressed concern about the access to this format of books and hoped a business model for publishers, libraries, and the public could be achieved.