changing the rules of the game: what libraries can learn from Beyoncé

 

black t-shirt that says "Okay, ladies, now get's get information"
Dr. Safiya U. Noble‘s selfie

Recently two awesome things changed my world. Beyoncé released her album Lemonade and the BC Library Association conference happened.

Cory Doctorow’s opening keynote was brilliant. As expected he gave a smart and funny talk full of examples to illustrate the bigger issues. I don’t think anyone will forget the baby monitor cam that was taken over by creepy men who were taunting the baby as an example of privacy flaws in everyday “smart” devices. I feel like he gave libraries more credit than we deserve. I felt pretty depressed and without hope thinking about how libraries continue to choose proprietary vendor technology that does not reflect our core values.

One of my favourite conversations at this conference was with Alison Macrina, from the Library Freedom Project.  We talked about many things, including our mutual love for Beyoncé. She saw her concert in Houston and told me about the amazing choreography for Freedom, which was the last song Beyoncé performed.

When I asked friends what their favourite song was on Beyoncé’s Lemonade a few people said that they thought of the whole album as one song, or as an opera. So, on the way home from the conference, I was listening the whole album and hearing it in a new way. I jumped off the bus and walked up the street to my home just as Freedom came on, by the end of the song I had a realization. Beyonce embodies freedom by owning her creative product, but perhaps even more importantly she owns the means of distribution. Like Beyoncé, libraries need to own our distribution platforms.

Tidal, Beyonce’s distribution channel, is a streaming music platform that is a competitor to Spotify and Pandora. I’m not sure what the ownership breakdown is, but Tidal is owned by artists.  A few of the artist-owners are Jay Z , Beyoncé, Prince, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Jack White, Madonna, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys, Usher, Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, deadmau5, Jason Aldean and J. Cole. Initially many people thought Tidal was a failure, but that has changed.

Lemonade was launched on HBO on April 22. On the 23rd the only place Lemonade was available was streamed through Tidal, and for purchase the day after. On the 25th it was available for purchase by track or album to Amazon Music and the iTunes Store. Physical copies of the album went on sale at brick and mortar stores on May 6. Initially the shift to digital distribution replicated the business model for distributing records which generated huge profits for record labels, but often cut out the artist.

PKP (Public Knowledge Project) is a great example of how academic libraries built open source publishing tools to challenge scholarly publishers. This has been a game changer in terms of how research is published, distributed and accessed.

For more than 10 years we’ve been complaining about Overdrive’s DRM-laced ebooks, and the crappy user experience. Instead of relying on vendors, we need to build our own distribution platform for ebooks. I realize that it’s the content our patrons are hungry for, and that we’re neither Jay Z, nor Beyoncé. If publishers aren’t willing to play with us, we have strong relationships with authors and could work directly with them as content creators. There needs to be a new business model where people can access creative works and that the content creators can make a living. Access Copyright’s model doesn’t work, but we could work with content creators to figure out a business model that does.

In her closing keynote at BCLA activist and writer Harsha Walia talked about systemic power structures and the need to change how we do things. Talking about pay equity she said “It’s not about breaking the glass ceiling, it’s about shattering the whole house.” Vendor rules and platforms are about profit margins for those companies. Libraries need to change the rules of the game.

Tryna rain, tryna rain on the thunder
Tell the storm I’m new
I’m a wall, come and march on the regular
Painting white flags blue

Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose!
Freedom! Freedom! Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!

One thought on “changing the rules of the game: what libraries can learn from Beyoncé”

  1. Hi Tara – Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I’m so glad to hear that the BCLA Conference worked for you!

    I agree that there is an opportunity now to revisit our traditional publishing relationships – including with vendors, publishers, authors, and government funding agencies. PKP is currently looking at publishing cooperatives as an alternative model to the status quo, and I could see the value in exploring something similar in the non-academic publishing sector, too.

    A “made-in-Canada” cooperative option, that brings together libraries, small publishers, authors, and government funding agencies could be disruptive, and be an example for other national projects. It would certainly be worth doing some of the initial research and starting some interesting conversations!

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