Today I was going to write a long gushing celebration of the recent LJ Movers and Shakers, but when I looked at the list it turned out I hadn’t heard of any of them before. So, it’s on to other topics.
I don’t mean to keep harping on the businessy librarians, but with all the financial doom and gloom these days they’re the ones annoying me the most.
If you ever need an exemplary lesson about the difference between businesses and libraries, look no further than the recent move by Amazon to bully publishers by threatening not to sell their books if they don’t grab their ankles and let Amazon have its way with them. On second thought, the ankle-grabbing metaphor s is a bit crude for a family blog. Let’s just say that Amazon wants the publishers to lie back and think of England, especially those cheeky bastards at Macmillan.
This article from the Times sums up the story. Amazon wants to control the price of ebooks and keep them low. Book publishers (who are still trying to sell books as if the last 15 years hadn’t happened) want to charge more for ebooks and are willing to sell their souls to Apple for the privilege. Regardless of what happens, the losers will be readers of ebooks, but that’s not my problem.
Now, as someone who loves real books, I couldn’t be happier that Amazon is trying to kill off ebooks in their infancy through shortsightedness and greed. And it’s certainly not like the publishers aren’t doing their best to kill off ebooks all by themselves, since they still seem stuck in the twentieth century.
The publishers haven’t realized that just making ebooks available for sale isn’t enough. One might have thought they’d learn from the music industry that unless digital files are made cheap and portable enough, people will just pirate them and won’t feel bad about it at all. There are people who scan print books and post them online, and others will unencrypt ebooks as long as the digital rights are such a bloody mess. Publishers are so worried about protecting their property they haven’t realized times have changed and locked warehouses don’t work these days.
Maybe some day they’ll learn how to make money with new models, but Amazon’s not going to help them do it. Amazon is interested in making money for Amazon. Between publisher clumsiness and Amazon’s shortsighted greed, the long predicted dominance of theebook is still far in the future.
We often hear how libraries should act more like businesses, as if their goal were to make a profit. Remember a few years ago when the businesses libraries were most supposed to mimic were booksellers? At the time Barnes & Noble was the exemplar, with the clever thinking that if libraries spent a lot of money putting in comfy chairs and fancy shelves they could more easily get people to come in and use stuff for free. That’s how it ended up working for Barnes & Noble, after all.
Maybe now, libraries should try to be more like Amazon! If that’s the goal, they’re failing miserably. Just compare the two when it comes to providing access to books. Amazon is trying to keep ebooks as controlled as possible, with them having the control. They don’t want a free flow of information. They don’t even want a paid flow of information unless the payments are coming to them.
Contrast the poor libraries struggling to provide access to ebooks despite all the barriers. The ebooks libraries do get to lend aren’t compatible with any of the portable ebook readers, unless netbook computers can be considered portable ebook readers. NetLibrary and ebrary books can’t be read on Kindles, Nooks, or any of the other dedicated devices as far as I know, though I guess anyone gullible enough to buy an iPad will be able to read them.
Some libraries are buying Kindles, then buying the books to lend on them. It would probably be cheaper and easier just to buy some netbooks and loan them out to people. For all I know there are radical librarians out there scanning paper books and loading the files ontobittorrent sites. That might not be legal, but information wants to be free. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.
Regardless, the two approaches couldn’t be more different. Neither is necessarily superior. Someone has to make money selling books so they can pay taxes to fund libraries, and it might as well be Amazon. But once again it should be clear to librarians that we have nothing essential to learn from the business world because our goals and values are completely different.
Thus, while Amazon does its best to stop the flow of books it doesn’t control, librarians are still plodding along with the crazy idea that the more people read, the better it is for everyone, including booksellers and publishers.