Like many librarians this week, my thoughts have been dominated by the recent Harper Collins decision to change the way they distribute their eBooks to libraries. I am unhappy about this decision. There have been many blog posts and tweets about this and as much as I’d like to add my voice to the mix I really don’t have anything new to offer. I’m not as eloquent, fierce, or energetic as the people leading the charge. I’m grateful to these and many other people for their vocal and thoughtful comments about the situation. They have kept me informed and helped me think through this issue. I’ve been working in libraries for over a dozen years and I’ve never seen the majority of the profession this focused on one issue. It’s amazing! (Of course, it would be nice to have some sort of statement from THE national library organization…but I digress)
I do have one idea though. I’d like to see librarians get to know their local publishers. Most localities have small publishers we could get to know. Why? One reason is to learn more about the publishing industry. How can we negotiate with publishers if we don’t understand what they are going through? We see our side of this situation and understand it very well. Having a better understanding of the publisher’s side can only help us.
By establishing relationships with local publishers this may give us the opportunity to experiment with new methods of digital distribution. This will take some time and we will really need to establish a great relationship with them. The benefits could be great. We could work with them to create a method of distribution that could benefit libraries and publishers. If we find something that works on a local level it may work on a national level. It’s an idea. Maybe someone can run with it. I’m hoping to contact some of the local publishers soon.
Here’s to a great opportunity to create something new!
The links I’m highlighting this week are my favorites. There are many other great posts about this topic. If I included all of them none would get read. The list is that long. Bobbi Newman has done a great job of keeping a list of the posts. I’ve created a short list of more of my favorites.
- A great discussion of (what I feel) is the real issue with eBooks and libraries: attempting to make digital distribution of content mimic the physical distribution of content. Nicholas Schiller understands this and explains it much better than I possibly could.
- Sarah Glassmeyer gives us some economics concerning eBooks and libraries. Bad news, if the public buys just one book that would have been a check out then the publishers will be ok. She’s not an accountant but her point is well made. The publishers will be just fine not doing business with libraries.
- Eric Hellman challenges the ‘Pretend it’s Print’ mindset of many publishers (and librarians) have with digital content. He mentions a tiered pricing structure as a possible alternative. Although he doesn’t really go into this idea it’s one that I’m open to learning more about. Others have mentioned it also so maybe I’ll get my chance to learn.
- Bill Rosenblatt reviews the technical and legal backdrop to what Harper Collins is doing and offers opinions on different possibilities. Very informative and level-headed. Good to have a legal perspective.
- Chad Marin argues for a one book/many readers model of eBook distribution. I like this idea very much. How to get it done? Who negotiates with the publishers? How will it work? How is copyright protected? Many questions but they can be answered.
A few weeks ago I was asked by my boss to prepare a short presentation on change and libraries for the library’s staff development days in December. It’s been a great reason to read and really think about what I think libraries may be like in the not-too-distant-future.
At first I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the changes that are happening so quickly.Was it really just 2007 that the first Kindle came out? Now eBooks are about to really take off and librarians are trying to figure out this new format. The mobile web is still very young and we’re figuring it out too. Our budgets are flat, or shrinking. Library staff is working hard to serve the needs of more visitors while having less support. It could get very depressing very quickly. Really.
What does our future hold? I can only say ‘I don’t know.’ Luckily, I’ve been talking to some smart, creative people who have helped me make some sense of what is going on. I’ve come to a conclusion. I really do think libraries are going to be ok. It’s not going to be easy but I do think we will survive into the future.
I have two reasons to be optimistic:
- We’re smart
- There are some very smart people in library land who are working hard to figure this stuff out and they are sharing their knowledge
- We adapt
- We’ve been adapting for centuries.
- From clay tablets to scrolls to books we’ve seen them all
- The shift from paper to digital is another format change we will manage
- We’ve been adapting for centuries.
Just because we are living through a very disruptive and fast changing time doesn’t mean we can’t handle it. Of course we can handle it. How? By focusing on what we do best: helping people with their information needs. Helping people connect with the information they need when they need it and providing a space for people to meet to connect with each other. As long as we remember that it is people who make the library I think we will be ok.
Will libraries look the same in 20 years? No. Will a lot of people be upset by the transformations we may undergo? Probably. Change is inevitable. We can either manage the change ourselves or wait and let someone else tell us how we will change. I don’t think we will like option number 2. So, I’m going to stay positive and work on helping my library manage change as smoothly as possible.
Pessimism doesn’t help either.
I’ve gotten all of my new toys! I received the iPad, Nook and Sony Reader today. I must say that I’m pretty giddy! It’s kinda like Christmas in October. My plans for a “Technology Petting Zoo” are taking shape. All I need to do now is get to know the devices better and schedule a time to visit the branches.
I’m writing this post via the iPad to see how easy it us to type. I think I may a get used to it but right now it’s a bit odd. I do like the iPad. Very slick. I think after a week I’m going to want my own. For now I’m more than happy to be using this one.
I’ve been fiddling with the Nook and Sony Reader for about an hour and think they will be useful. I’ve had the Kindle for over a week. I’m going to reserve judgement until I play with all of them for a few weeks.
It’s days like this when I really love my job! I’m a very lucky guy.
I’ve been thinking about and discussing my eBook idea with just about anyone who would listen over the past few weeks. I believe it’s a good idea but I don’t think we will be seeing it anytime soon.
There is good news though! I was able to speak with two different people at Amazon. Two weeks ago I filled out this form contacting Amazon’s Corporate Gift Card division. I started there because I think their system of Gift Codes on Demand could play a role in implementing my idea. I didn’t expect to hear from them. So, I was more than surprised when, a few days later, I got a call from one of their representatives. He seemed like a nice guy and we discussed the problem libraries are facing with eBooks (especially Kindles) and how I was interested in seeing if there was any possibility of working with Amazon to try something new. He was receptive but thought I would be better served by talking with someone in the Kindle group. He promised to forward my information and idea to someone in that division. I hung up the phone and thought that I’d be lucky to get an email from them saying “Thanks, but we’re busy and don’t have time for you.” I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email from someone in the Kindle division wanting to schedule a time to talk to me. Wow!
Tuesday September 14th I spoke with a representative from the Kindle division. He was receptive to my idea but was pretty clear that they would not be pursuing it. It was clear to me that they are not in a position with the publishers/authors to negotiate a completely different kind of model of use. They are still working on the basic – customer purchases one copy of a book – model and have not really thought of a library type of lending model. I was assured that if they got to the point where they were interested in courting libraries he would let me know. During our conversation I mentioned that if Amazon decided to move into the library market they could dominate it in a few years. They have the largest eBook selection (over 700,000) and a pretty good eAudiobook selection. They have a good user experience and, if they could get the publishers on board, they would really make life difficult for Overdrive and NetLibrary. It was a good conversation and I didn’t feel like I was completely blown off. However, I do feel that I missed an opportunity to explain my idea better. I’m just not that good of a salesman.
This is a market in its infancy. Publishers and distributors have only been working on this for a few years. Many people are interested in how this new market will develop and have a stake in the outcome. Publishers, authors and distributors all want (and deserve) to get paid to produce and distribute digital content. I just wish that libraries had a more influential role in the discussions. It’s going to take someone with way more connections and clout than me to get libraries to the table.
Imagine you were looking to buy an eBook in Amazon (or B&N or Borders whatever), found the book you were looking for and had two choices at checkout. You could: a) Buy the book or b) check the book out with your library card for a week or so. Which would you choose?
I recently read this post and the report produced by COSLA it mentions. It’s very interesting stuff and it made me think about eBooks and Libraries. I’ve got an idea. I don’t know how to implement it but I (at least) think it’s interesting. So here goes…
- A Library (or consortium of some sort) pays a yearly fee to Amazon (or B&N etc. I’ll just use Amazon for this example) that opens up their eBook library to the Library’s members
- Library members have a choice of checking out books for a few weeks or purchasing them immediately
- The Library would pay a small per-checkout fee
- The books would return to Amazon after a few weeks – OR – could be purchased at any point during the loan period
- If a book is purchased during the loan period the Library would get a percentage of the sale
This is a very rough idea and I would love to discuss it with anyone to see if it something that could work.
I see some benefits:
- Large selection of current and older books without the need for the Library to choose which ones to buy
- The Library will be at the point of sale
- One search covers Amazon and the Library
- The book could be loaned within the device – no computers needed
- Everyone gets paid
- That yearly fee could be hefty
- Price per checkout could be hefty
- Library collections may suffer as the bulk of their collection money is shifted from physical to digital
- The Library is really left with nothing to show for it’s money (other than happy members)
This is just an idea. I’ve not come close to thinking this through completely. I’d love to see if it could work. What do you think?
Update 9/1 – I’m trying to contact someone at Amazon to see what can be done. It’s worth a shot…
Update 9/8 – Just got off the phone with an Amazon rep in the Corporate Gift Card division and my idea will be transferred over to the Kindle group. I went with the CGC because it seemed like a good idea at the time. And they have this which looks like something that may be able to play a part in my idea.