A Modest eBook Proposal

I’ve got an eBook idea that I’d like to bounce off the dozen or so people who read my stuff. I don’t know if it would work. That’s why it’s called an proposal and not a plan.

Ready? Here it is.

To any publiser willing to experiment with a new distribution model I propose the following:

  1. We will give you a big bag of money each year.
  2. With this bag of money we expect our library patrons to be able to access your entire catalog of electronic material (books and audiobooks)
  3. We also require that the one person per title model be done away with.
    1. We’d like for our people to be able to download any book at any time without having to wait on a digital copy.

That is all we really require. So what are we willing to do to make this more palatable to you?

  1. We will limit the number of titles an individual has checked out to a very low number.
    1. How about 2 at a time?
  2. These digital copies will be packed full of DRM
    1. So copying your material will be difficult for the average user.
    2. The titles will also be unsuable after a few weeks of being checked out.
      1. and need to be checked out again
  3. We will pay a bonus for titles that are very popular.
    1. So if a certain title is checked out 100 times (just a number I made up) we will give you a small bag of money.
      1. On the flip side of this; if a title is purchased by one of our people while he/she has it checked out we get a credit.

This seems like a good idea to me. Libraries get access to a lot of eBooks, publishers get paid, and authors of popular books get paid extra. Granted, there are a lot of details to be worked out. Like:

  1. How big is that annual bag of money?
  2. How big is that smaller bag of money?
    1. How often is it paid?
  3. What is a reasonable number of checkouts to trigger a bonus payment?
  4. How do we set it all up?
    1. Technically speaking

Anyone want to discuss this proposal? Is it silly? Will it work? I’ve got no idea. I’m just tired of people complaining about eBook distribution and not providing any alternatives. So here is an alternative. This is just a starting point. Let’s talk.

Links and Thoughts for the week

This week started with a bang! We’ve been discussing the pros and cons of allowing people to use apps like CardStar to borrow our stuff. The circulation committee discussed it in their last meeting and from what I’ve heard it was a rousing discussion. I’m for it but there is some concern about making sure the card number on the phone belongs to the person using it. I hope we figure out a way to allow the use of the app. It’s much too convenient and will only grow in popularity. I may have a longer post about this soon.

I was asked to do a presentation at the monthly Library Advisory Board yesterday. They wanted me to discuss our newest digital offering to the public, Freegal. We’ve been offering it for 4 weeks and they were interested in how it worked and what it did. The presentation went pretty well. They were receptive, asked good questions and were excited about it. They fed me too…which I will never complain about.

I didn’t have a lot of time to read this week but the links below are some posts that caught my attention and have gotten me thinking. Want to take these posts with you? Download them here.

My take on the eBook Summit – Part 3

The last in a three part post about the eBook Summit I promise. (Part 1) (Part 2)

My questions and real take are at the end of this post.

I mentioned my take on Mr. Kelly’s presentation earlier so I’ll go to the final keynote of the day, The “New Librarianship” in the Age of the Ebook by R. David Lankes. A little transparency here: I’m a fan of this guy. I found his blog a few years ago and have listened to a lot of his presentations. He makes me think about librarianship in different ways and that has been good. So, I was really looking forward to hearing him speak. Hopefully I’ll get the gist of his presentation correct. Here goes. If you’d like to watch his presentation, it is here. I recommend you watch it if you have the time (45 minutes). Really.

We need to think in terms of connection management not collection management. We are in the business of connecting people to: ideas, learning, education and each other. We’ve been moving in this direction. With our subscription based access to databases we are making it easier for our public to connect to information. They don’t have to come to the libraries to use them, they can search in minutes what took days before and they have access to more than we could possibly provide in physical form. So we’ve been doing this with periodicals for a while. It goes beyond our database subscriptions and also includes the net. People can access so much information easily that it makes the librarian more important. We’ve been helping people find digital information for over a decade. Now that it’s the books (aka the thing that comes to mind when people think of libraries) that are becoming digital we feel threatened. He feels that the real threat to libraries is the perception that libraries are about owned artifacts.

EBooks make him cranky and he uses and loves them. They make him cranky because the current implementation of hardware and software is so BORING. He feels that they haven’t begun to reach their potential because they are busy referring to the previous method of publishing. The wooden bookshelf in iBooks drives him crazy. Moving to a digital format is a big change. He uses the development of maps from paper to GPS and Google maps as an example. He sees them as a facilitating infrastructure. They are now used as a social platform to help people connect (ex Facebook Places, Foursquare). It is possible for eBooks to be a social platform also. They could be used to find connections between books, music, movies, and the net and people too. It could be a discovery platform. How are the connections created? I’ll be honest. I don’t quite understand all of the concepts he pitched. I did get that there will be multiple interfaces (not just apps) and reading will be a less passive exercise. It will be more of an authoring-while-reading and establishing connections between many different pieces of information process. The connections created while I read can be shared with others and vice versa. It could make for very interesting reading. Makes my head spin.

After that discussion he had some words for librarians. He recommends we:

  • Stop waiting for “them” to figure this out.
    • “Waiting for the publishers to figure out the eBook model of the future is like waiting for heroin addicts to develop methadone.”
    • This is our problem.
    • This is our opportunity.
    • Stop whining.
  • We can figure this out and build our own eBook platform.
    • We have the network infrastructure
    • We have the operating systems
    • We have the standards to do this (ePub, XML etc)
    • We have the connections
    • We have the foundational data (WorldCat etc.)
  • Don’t be BORING!
  • Be innovative
    • Solve a real problem in a better way.

As always, his presentation was inspiring. I am always energized at the end of one of his talks. But I have to ask “How will this help me plan for next year?”

How did spending a day at this online conference help me? Did it give me resources I can show my boss? Am I better able to describe the current state of eBooks and Libraries? Do I have a better understanding of what is happening in the present? Did I gain any insight into the future? I guess my answer is yes but not a resounding one.

What I need is a plan for getting the most eBooks into the devices in the hands of the people of Henrico County. They aren’t concerned with what the future of the eBook will be and how it will be able to create wonderful connections to information they didn’t know existed. They want the latest James Patterson or (insert author’s name here) book. They want it now. They want it tomorrow. That’s what they want.

I don’t think what I want was the purpose of the conference. I did enjoy it. I like imagining what may be and thinking 5-10-20 years down the road. I really do. But my boss needs a plan for now. I guess I’ll be working on that for a while.

My take on the eBook Summit – Part 2

This is a continuation from Part 1.

The first break out session I attended was Ebook “What If’s”: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning with Bobbi Newman, Matt Hamilton, Sarah Houghton-Jan and Josh Hadro. This session asked three well respected technology librarians some “What If…” questions to see what they thought may happen.

The first question was “What if there is a Google Information terminal in each library?” This is in reference to the Google book settlement reached last year. Part of the settlement states that public libraries can have free access to the works in Google Books…but only on one machine. This is a simplified definition but it’s about right. What would this mean to libraries? Sarah Houghton-Jan answered this question first and nailed it. The said that public libraries would not see much change and that having only machine being able to access this database was going back to the CD Rom days. The idea that all of this information is locked on one machine only doesn’t really make sense to people these days. I agree. Of course you could pay for access but that wasn’t the question. The other two agreed. Bobbi Newman brought up a good point. In smaller libraries where there are few computers having one dedicated to one thing would cause a bit of hassle. Imagine having someone working on a resume being asked to move so someone could access the Google Book database. Who wins? I feel bad for the staffer who has to make that call.

The next question was “What if the price of eReaders is zero?” Matt Hamilton answered this one first and brought up something I found very interesting. Training staff on how to use the devices will be damn hard. There will probably be many different devices and they will all have different interfaces, formats etc. This will be challenging. This doesn’t even take into account the affect it will have on our collections. What do we do when someone can get their summer reading list on their device without leaving their house, most of it for free? This will also affect our technology infrastructure. If people did come to the library to download books, how would our bandwidth hold up? Yikes! Something I learned in this session was that CVS will be selling an eReaders and netbooks very soon.

The next question was “What if the DRM issue went away tomorrow?” Digital Rights Management is the scourge of digital media and is one of the reasons eBooks are so tricky. Bobbi Newman answered this question. We would need to increase our digital collection quickly and figure out a way to make downloading the book to a preferred device easier. I agree and I’d add that I’m less concerned about DRM as I am about being able to easily download something to my device. I don’t want to have to plug my device into a computer to get new content. Maybe that’s why the Kindle is doing so well?

The next session I attended was Ebooks and the Library user Experience with Rebecca Miller, Michael Bills, Jean Costello, Joshua M. Greenberg and Aaron Schmidt. I’m just going to go with some quotes I wrote down from this session because, honestly, my brain was about full at this point.

“Which crumbles first: the publishing industry or library budgets?” (Greenberg) I’m thinking library budgets go first. The publishers are way ahead of us in eBooks and they pretty much hold all the cards. They produce the content, own the copyright and with digital copies will control the terms of service that govern use of their material. So, yeah, we have an uphill battle.

“The eBook ship has sailed and libraries are not on it.” (Schmidt) He used the example of libraries debating whether or not to lend VHS tapes years ago. While we were busy debating an entire industry sprung up. How to interpret this? Do we build another ship? Do we swim like mad to catch up?  I don’t know. I was hoping someone presenting at the summit would have some ideas.

“Libraries need to be less like supermarkets and more like kitchens.” (Schmidt) I take this to mean that we need to focus less on having a lot of things on our shelves and more on being a place for people to create. I’m getting the feeling that in the not-too-distant future our libraries will consist of tables, study rooms, high-speed wifi, and an Espresso Book Machine. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Part 3 soon.