Archives for posts with tag: eBooks

Last week, the National Post printed an interview with some Canadian independent booksellers to discuss the future of the indie bookstore in the eBook future. The overall consensus is this: as the bottlenecks in what books gets published online disappear, the new niche will be curating collections for buyers. And of course, community, community, community.

Here are some highlights:

Mark L: I think that the shift and trend toward digital positions independent booksellers as more important than ever. After all, it’s one thing to find something to read, it’s quite another to find something good to read. You can get to the world’s largest buffet, but you might need help determining which of the dishes to sample. What becomes important for booksellers is determining how they’ll be in that game (and for some, if they even want to be in that game). Bricks-and-mortar bookstores, while they can and will be part of making digital books available to their customers, are likely going to continue to see a good portion of their successes and a good portion of their business within the realm where they are already firmly established.
Alana: I’d take Mark’s point one step further. Not only do independent booksellers help you find something good to read from among their carefully curated collection, they help you find something you’ll like -they’re all about community, and if you’re a regular, the staff will know you and your tastes. They host events and plenty of social opportunities -I can’t walk into my local indie without running into at least three people I know. I’ve yet to find an e-tailer that offers such an opportunity.[full article]

Independent booksellers, small-press publishers, and libraries share a lot of the same woes right now. As eBooks take-off, it seems like everything is in the hands of big publishers who control the content.

I really believe, though, it’s not big money’s game to lose. The ePublishing economy presents for libraries and indie-press/booksellers the opportunity to carve out (or maybe reclaim or expand) niches as curators and portals to good, rare, and/or reliable content. For readers inundated by so much content, this sort of service will be valuable.

And heck, it’s something libraries have been doing since like always.


The London Book Fair is happening this week. In the publishing world, it’s a pretty big deal.  Besides book deals, there’s a lot of talk that takes place. Bobbie Johnson from Gigaom.com wrote an interesting post in response to a panel on the future of publishers:

At the event, there is plenty of evidence suggesting publishers are getting their heads around how digital content is changing their business. But in some ways, it still feels like a clash of civilizations. Publishers talking with each about what the next big thing might be, while Amazon and Google and the rest simply go and make the next big thing.This was no more obvious than when I stepped into a discussion over the future of publishing that really seemed to highlight the differences. It was framed as a traditional debate, with an appropriately argumentative motion at stake: “Authors and readers are all that matter. Publishers will become irrelevant.”…

Some publishers see that the market is getting bigger, and that profits are rising, and they think that means they’re doing a good job. But in fact, the growth in profits comes because they’re cutting back on what’s unique about them — the relationship with authors, the expertise in editing, design, typography, the quality of output, the nurturing side of the business. They’re being slashed in favor of streamlined processes that are guaranteed to produce a handful of blockbusters.[read the full post]

Johnson is leveling a fairly heavy indictment on the publishing industry. It’s not unwarranted.

The truth is that eBooks are opening doors for innovative and entrepreneurial  folk. Johnson points out that the role of self-publishing in the eBook market is burgeoning, yet large publishers are more or less circling their wagons.

Self-published eBooks offer opportunities for libraries frustrated by publishers’ DRM-heavy policies. Still, Johnson rightfully hints that this alternative is complicated by issues of quality and consistency. There are a lot of unknowns in how this sector will develop.

Right now, the growing pains of the self-published eBook industry aren’t necessarily cause for pessimism. Unless, of course, you’re committed to the failing status quo.

The anti-DRM site Defective by Design has declared Wednesday  May 4, 2011 as the third annual International Day Against DRM.

The Day Against DRM is an opportunity to unite a wide range of projects, public interest organizations, web sites and individuals in an effort to raise public awareness to the danger of technology that requires users to give-up control of their computers or that restricts access to digital data and media. This year, we’ll be helping individuals and groups work together to create local actions in their communities — actions will range from protesting an unfriendly hardware vendor to handing out informative fliers at local public libraries!

DefectiveByDesign.org wants to help you plan or get involved in local actions and then broadcast your stories globally. If you are interested in taking part in this year’s Day Against DRM:

It’s definitely something worth participating in, or at least looking into.

Defective by Design’s crew and libraries have shared the struggle before. As DbD says in that post,

Readers, librarians, and authors need to make their voices heard. DRM leaves readers and librarians helpless and divided. If we do not ban DRM from our libraries and our lives then we can and should expect publishers such as Harper Collins to strangle libraries so as to gain as much of a profit as possible.

We need to watch out for each other and make sure that people are not getting suckered into notions of “fair” DRM.

There’s no better way to do this than through collective action:  sign up, read up, and/or act up.

In February, the Globe and Mail ran an article proclaiming the pending demise of eBook piracy. The nails in the coffin were eBook lending sites like Lendle. It took just over a month from that article for Amazon.com to put the breaks on that.

Now, Amazon’s lending restrictions on Lendle basically make lending eBooks an activity for speed readers who prefer random, unpopular books. I suppose in light of those events, eBook piracy will live a little longer. Especially if borrowing eBooks and eAudiobooks  legitimately continues to be unfriendly to users.

My personal experience with OverDrive (the unchallenged content software for eBook excited libraries) via the Ottawa Public Library hasn’t made me (and a lot of other people) optimistic . To download to an audiobook, it required so much hoop jumping and the installation of  software that I gave up. eBooks work a little easier, but it’s still not a smooth process.

Out of curiosity, I found the same audiobook on a popular torrent site in about 30 seconds. It had enough people actively sharing the file that it could have probably downloaded in a few hours. After which, were I so inclined, I’d have unlimited use of the audio files for as long as I wanted and on any platform I wanted.

I imagine the process on a Kindle or Kobo or whatever must be strikingly easier than using OverDrive. Publishers have a clear interest in making lending more difficult for libraries or collaboration minded groups of  individuals. The Globe article had a fairly telling quote on that matter:

Not all publishers are assured [about eBook lending sites, including libraries/OverDrive], including Macmillan U.S., whose president Brian Napack recently defended his company’s go-slow policy at a conference in New York. “The fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again,” he said.

If you want to make money, sharing (legal or otherwise) is the worst possible business model. So of course publishers want a few roadblocks.

But, those roadblocks essentially treat would-be borrowers as would-be pirates.  The outcome for users being one of three things, paying for the eBook, putting up with  second class free service/access at dwindling levels of quality, or pursuing less “legitimate” means of access. (I guess you could use a mix of these three.)

If past experience with the music industry has shown anything, it’s that increasingly draconian attitudes do not translate into sales. It seems to me, that those who pay for eBook access were going to pay anyways. Everyone else? Well, there are three choices.

by Kaetlyn Wilcox (pic links to her blog)

The Library Journal recently posted a run-down of how libraries have responded to Harper Collins’ eBook policy. Here’s one example:

The Kansas State Library decided this month to suspend adding any HarperCollins ebooks to the statewide consortium platform, which services 330 public libraries in the state.

“We are not trying to punish HarperCollins,” Jo Buder, the state librarian, told LJ. “We are just trying to figure out a way to provide these titles without damaging customer service. What do we do for a person who is 27th in line and has a hold? What does it mean to catalogers? It’s just all very bad customer service decisions,” she said.

Buder is now heading a task force that has been formed by the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) that is debating a response to HarperCollins. The task force teleconferenced on March 9 with representatives from Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Alaska, Colorado, Ohio, Texas, and Tennessee participating.

“We decided that we really want to approach publishers [directly], HarperCollins in particular, because we want to understand the issues more,” Buder said. “The interest is really so high.”[read the full article]

It’s always impressive to see so many libraries taking a concerted stand.

Looking down the road, what will a solution look like? An article in the Atlantic puzzles on this, and points to the approach taken by the NYPL and OverDrive:

Potash, whose Cleveland-based company has thrived in the often contentious atmosphere of dynamic change, believes that the solution is to recognize that even the demand for most bestsellers eventually settles down, and the number of e-books that libraries would have to re-purchase will turn out to be relatively small in the broader scheme of activity. OverDrive’s largest customer, the New York Public Library, is floating an intriguing concept: a form of metering. Once purchased, a book would be available for an extended period, and thereafter a small charge would accrue for further loans. For example, the New York system now has 125 copies of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but in three years it may only need a handful, and the revenue impact of pay-per-use could turn out to be small. Moreover, “dog-eared printed books” as one senior librarian explained to me, have always been replaced, and e-books significantly reduce the time, trouble, and expense of returning books back onto shelves.[read the full article]

The pay-per-use model has cropped up in other ideas for a compromised solution. Like a variable rate mortgage, it’s entirely possible that a pay-per-use model could save money in the long run. It could also end up costing more. It’s difficult to say, and it’ll be important to watch how libraries that adopt the model fair.

Pay-per-use may not be the most ideal solution. But in some form, it might be the best deal libraries will get, since publishers have the content, our users want access, and libraries who don’t have it will be left by the wayside.

If some libraries feel over a barrel, it’s because they are.

the atwood machine at work

the Atwood Machine at work

Margret Atwood on the phenomenon of eBooks (via the Globe and Mail):

Every time there is a new medium, people get hypnotized by it: the printing press, radio, television, the Internet. It’s certainly a change in the world, which then somehow adapts. A whole section of society was very upset when zippers came in because they made it easier to seduce people in automobiles. You know, I think we’ve kind of adjusted to zippers by now. Just because you have a zipper doesn’t mean somebody has to unzip it … But you’re talking about e-books and e-readers and text in electronic form and the reading experience…

Well, it’s the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Everybody moves round a place. So the Book of the Month Club disappears and something else takes its share of the market. And then big publishers get in trouble and cut back, and that creates space for other publishers to acquire books they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.[read the whole interview]

It’s a bit of an odd interview. Atwood tries to take on the eBook issue from a writer’s perspective. The interviewer seems bent on getting her to declare eBooks and their kin to be a danger to society. Atwood doesn’t take the bait. Instead, she affirms eBooks as part of an ongoing evolution in communication technology.

I like how she ends the interview, responding to the question “Will the world be worse off if e-books fail?”:

Well, first let us picture what kind of event might lead to that: 1. Solar flares, which melt all the e-communication services. 2. Widespread plague, which is going to kill anyone running the companies that make them. So that being the case, I would say yes! That the world will be considerably worse off if, the next morning, you wake up and nobody’s reading anything on e-readers because the event that will have caused that is horrific!

There are people in the Library world who have adopted a sort of apocalyptic tone vis-a-vis eBooks. The full measure of what is lost and what is gained from technology shifts (c.f. the printing press ruined oral culture, but gave us the modern world, great books, etc. etc.) takes a while to shake down.

Atwood’s approach in this interview is a reminder that we don’t know what the full economic, cultural, and creative potential of the eBook will be. Or, how long that will take to come about.

***more on the Atwood Machine***

From the Independent UK:

Education Secretary Michael Gove says that children aged 11 should be reading 50 books a year to improve literacy standards.

We asked three of Britain’s leading children’s authors and two of our in-house book experts to each pick 10 books, suitable for Year 7 students.

The authors chose books that have brought them huge joy, while expressing their outrage at the “great big contradiction” of Mr Gove’s claim to wish to improve literacy while closing libraries across the country.[check out the list and the full article]

The Independent’s list is heavily weighted towards older books. Is it nostalgia? Likely it’s a nod towards those worn, well loved youth novels that are probably sitting in any (presently threatened) UK  public library.

I can’t say it’s a bad list. I also can’t say, having read constantly my whole childhood, that I’ve read half of what’s on there.

Actually, child of the 80s I am, I think I’ve seen more of them as movies (i.e. the Phantom Tollbooth, which i felt was fairly inscrutable).  I don’t see Watership Down there (another amazing movie and book, by the way). I’m sure there’s a lot that could be added. How would a list like this look in Canada?

That said, spring’s almost here. It’s time to start thinking about  summer reading lists.  I think I’ll slip a few of these classics on mine.

The Harper Colllins/OverDrive debate continues, and I want to pull from a couple blog posts that caught my attention. As the discussion continues to evolve more detailed notions about the problem are cropping up.

First, from The Brewin Librarian. He’s done some math to estimate what the HC style licence agreement means for his local library system.

Once I subtracted the CDs and DVDs from the circ numbers he gave me, I found 7566 items in our collection that had circulated 27 or more times. Just for kicks and giggles, I also identified that 942 items had circulated 53 times or more (we would have had to buy them twice).Jason ends up with a number of $12.99 average for an item, and although I agree with one of the comments on the post that $25 is probably a more accurate number, for argument’s sake I’ll use 12.99.

If we were to have to replace these materials under a 26 use policy, this would cost our library system $110,518.92. A number Logan tells me is very close to our total adult nonfiction budget for 2011.

That’s why public libraries are concerned. To give you an idea of how large of an impact this is– our collections budget was $1,135,664 in 2009, according to the statistics from Colorado’s Library Research Service. Throughout the state of Colorado for 2009, materials budgets ranged from $4,577,200 for the Denver Public Library system to a mere $232 for one small rural library. (Yes, you read that number right– TWO HUNDRED THIRTY TWO).[full post]

I like this. It’s good to put this discussion into a context of potential real costs for public libraries.

Matthew also hints at a larger issue.  I’m going to wager that a rural library with a budget that small has effectively been shut out of non-public domain ebooks. Besides the issue over licencing eBooks, real economic and geographic exclusion already exists and will likely be exasperated.

What are some alternatives? Some librarians are hatching manifestos to take control of the eBook market. From Steve Lawson’s blog See Also…:

The result is a plan for libraries to buy, lend, and preserve ebooks which looks like this:

  • Libraries will purchase e books from publishers or other sources. Libraries will not license ebooks.
  • Licenses are not necessary. The entire process will be based on copyright. The publishers’ control over the ebook ends the moment it is sold to the library…
  • Most libraries will employ a third party to be responsible for both access to and preservation of ebooks. Some libraries–probably very large public libraries or research libraries–may prefer to go it alone rather than contracting with such a service…
  • Most libraries will choose to add DRM to ebooks in the form of copy protection in order to satisfy publishers’ desires not to see unauthorized copies proliferate. Copy protection that is acceptable to libraries will be largely invisible, platform-independent, and will serve only to prevent the creation of additional complete unauthorized copies.
  • Copy protection must not interfere with readers’ rights to fair use.
  • Copy protection will never be applied by the publisher, but by the library, or by a third party hosting the ebooks under contract from the library…[full post]

These are all great points, but I’m not sure they’re wholly feasible. This sort of sweeping change will be hard and expensive to implement, and you will see the publishers throwing up roadblocks at every turn.

Since we’re on the issue of costs: how will public libraries pay for all this? What about standards across library systems? Who controls those standards? Oh, to be a private contractor with the know-how if libraries turn their back on the publishers to embrace schemes like this. Cha-ching.

In the end, if libraries are going to get a good deal out of all this, it will be important to identify a strong bargaining position with some leverage to it. I’m not sure Lawson’s quite got the right one, but the ideas will continue to evolve.

Crafty Space Invaders

The fervour stirred up by the HarperCollins eBook policy is pretty amazing, and well, sort of overwhelming. Just check out the #HCOD Twitter stream for an idea about how much there is to sift through.

I found at least one satirical luddite manifesto (beware Skynet!). I’ve never gone in much for Swiftian hyperbole, but they’re out there. For my part,  I prefer more irreverent, practical approaches. I like Boing Boing’s recent post showing how well HarperCollins print books hold up after 26 loans. 

Even though there’s so  much out there, this repsonse from Library Renewal’s blog resonated with me:

Sure, we can be outraged.  But that’s not going to help anybody, and it does not help our institutions, or our partners, to adapt to changing market conditions. If we want to continue to have access to commercial content, we need to go to the table and make deals with publishers, creators, and rightsholders who will work with us…

So what can we do, if not take our ball and go home? Start making the case… The case that libraries of all sizes must develop the technical and political infrastructure to negotiate for and host digital content on our terms.  The case that the publishing industry as it now stands could walk away from libraries en masse tomorrow and come out smelling like a rose… and that such a move may be inevitable as the squeeze continues… and the case that we can’t buy our way out of this problem, even if we had the money. We need to invent our way out of this problem, and adapt to changing market conditions with solutions that work for patrons, for libraries, and for creators.[full post]

Absolutely. It was a good thing to read when other releases like the one from Steve Potash (OverDrive CEO) were getting the high school radical in me totally riled up. Potash concluded his post this way:

…We will protect your ability to make informed choices and we will work with you to set the direction and policies that serve your customers’ interests.[read the full message]

It’s basically caveat emptor, and since libraries are the buyers in this scenario, he’s telling us we should be wary. Not unexpected, it’s hardly what I wanted to hear from the rising-star intermediary between public libraries and licenced eBook content. Read the rest of this entry »

library closed

From Stephen’s Lighthouse:

The movement to subscription models has some benefits:

1. You’re not locked in forever (or until it wears out) as a purchase can sometimes do.
2. You have the opportunity to offload the ‘keeping up-to-date factor’ on things that need replacing too often at high initial cost (software, servers, devices, etc,) or upgrade with annoying rapidity (like software and phone models).
3. You want to spread your investment out evenly in the annual budget over many years instead of investing in risky decisions that have higher upfront costs and commitments to servers vs browser access.
4. You want to reduce the risk of making a poor decision and committing to one choice that may be overtaken by innovation, trends, competition, time and events.
5. Access to bigger collections at less cost per user annually (like with the periodical experience)
6. Aggregated relationships with book publishers as has happened with periodical article access and standardization of e-formats and metadata and OpenURL compliance, etc.
7. Bulk influence on copyright and licensing of larger assemblages of content (a la Tasini, etc.)
8. Etc.[full blog post]

The last ”etc.” could stand for the benefit of being subject to easily changed (by the vendor) terms of use of agreements (c.f. my earlier post on the HarperCollins kerfuffle, a kerfuffle, it should be observed, that could include a great many other vendors).

In fact, though thoroughly optimistic, Abrams’ list is also very one-sided. It’s not hard to imagine why - he is the VP Strategic Partnerships and Markets for Gale Cengage.  EBook sales are his business.  Read the rest of this entry »