In my last two columns I explored what I called the “mess of ebooks” and explained what I want from library ebooks. In this column I want to discuss a possible future that could be good for libraries and for publishers. Right now everything is in flux. Publishers are understandably wary of selling Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free ebooks to libraries, and the patron driven acquisition (PDA) model some libraries want might not be sustainable for publishers. Libraries are struggling to buy books at all. The library ebook market is in a state of flux. There’s opportunity in chaos, though, and the opportunity here is to create a future that’s good for everyone, from publishers to library users.
Simon & Schuster (S & S) last week announced that it will no longer require libraries to offer a “buy it now” option with the publisher’s ebook titles. In theory, these buy it now links enable patrons to avoid long holds lists while ensuring that a small percentage of their purchases went to their library, rather than to an online retailer such as Amazon. However, many libraries and municipalities have policies in place prohibiting this type of arrangement, and others simply find the library-as-retailer concept objectionable or even unethical.
Ninety-five percent of public libraries currently offer ebooks to patrons, up from 72 percent in 2010, and 89 percent in both 2012 and 2013. However, money remains the biggest impediment for libraries looking to add ebooks or expand collections, according to Library Journal’s fifth annual Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries report, sponsored by Freading.
My last column addressed some of the tensions that underlie the idea of “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” in library leadership, and at the end I promised that my next would deal in a similar way with trying to balance the occasional tension between problems that are truly important and those that are merely “noisy.” However, an issue has come up in the meantime that is more timely and urgent, so I’m putting off the “noisy vs. important” column until next time. This month I want to address the issue of patron privacy in the context of the recent revelations about privacy incursions in the latest version of Adobe Digital Editions.
Only about 12 percent of an average U.S. library budget is for books and other content. Antilibrary zealots will latch onto this statistic eventually, downplaying that libraries are about much more than books. A good proactive response would be a national digital library endowment and separate but allied digital library systems—one for public library patrons, the other mainly for academia, even though everyone could access both. New digital efficiencies could help libraries offer taxpayers even more value than they do now.
I’ve run into a few problems with library ebooks lately that have made me even more skeptical of them as complete replacements for print books in libraries. Since skeptics of library ebooks are sometimes considered luddites or reactionaries, I should go ahead and add the disclaimer that I really like ebooks that I don’t acquire from the library. I did a quick calculation of the books I’ve read since mid-January and of those 33 books, 27 were ebooks. Some of them were several hundred pages long, but reading them on a good ereader was generally a pleasant experience.
Not surprisingly, the library industry continues to digest and debate the potential impact from the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) ebook subscription service. It is big news, but KU is not a new concept. Indeed, the concept was established by other similar services such as Oyster and Scribd, and over time will likely include […]
Library ebook transactions remain too lengthy and complicated for patrons, especially in comparison with consumer ebook transactions, James English, product manager for the Library Simplified project at the New York Public Library (NYPL) said during his “EPUB: Walled Gardens and the Readium Foundation” presentation at the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Eighth Annual Forum, held June 27 in conjunction with the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Annual Conference. The group is working to make an open, commercial-grade ereader for libraries that would greatly simplify this process.
When Open Road Media published an ebook edition of Jean Craighead George’s 1973 Newbery Award–winning Julie of the Wolves in 2011, it was business as usual for the company, which had secured rights from George prior to her death in 2012. But HarperCollins sued Open Road in 2011, saying that its 1971 contract superseded Open Road’s and gave it the exclusive right to license the ebook. On March 14, Publishers Lunch reported that Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald had ruled in favor of Harper.