Archive for the ‘eBooks’ Category

Photo credit: St. Louis County Library

Speaking recently in Colombia, bestselling author Jonathan Franzen decried the emergence of eBooks, apparently saying that impermanence of eBooks is incompatible with enduring principles.  I disagree.  I think the two are unrelated.  His comments remind me of Clifford Stoll’s book, called Silicon Snake Oil, that was published in 1996 and so badly predicted that the Internet would not live up to the predictions that many were making at the time.  He was entirely wrong, in part because he did not imagine the savvy adaptations that would emerge in the decade after his book was published.  He also did not imagine the widespread adoption of digital technologies into everyday life.

I feel that Mr. Franzen in making a similar mistake.  One compelling statistic is the dramatic rise in ownership of eBook readers and tablet computers in late 2011, as announced by the Pew Research Center.  Ownership by adults for both kinds of devices rose from 10% to 19% in just over a month.  That’s compelling data, strongly demonstrating the digital shift that world is undergoing.

Libraries are struggling to keep up with the eBook phenomenon, hampered in part by rapidly shifting relationships between themselves, publishers and eBook vendors that broker licenses, access and prices between publishers and libraries.  It’s a world where the sands will continue to shift for a while.

That said, I find it very interesting that one well-known U.S. bookstore, Barnes & Noble, is gearing up for the eBook future and challenging Amazon and its Kindle.  The New York Times described the efforts in a recent article.  It’s an uphill battle and it’s clear from the article that publishers are aware of the challenge that B&N faces.  A debate on this morning’s CBC radio program Q, which covers the arts, explored the tension between online bookstores such as Amazon and independent bookstores.

There is a growing consensus that there is a symbiotic relationship between eBooks and printed books, between online vendors and in-person, real life stores where you can talk to a sales rep and walk out with a printed-on-paper, bound book in your hand.  I agree.  It’s not either or, but rather that reading and the demand for books is multiplying because of both.  They leverage off of each other.

Libraries must continue to stay on top of trends and issues related to eBooks and innovate as needed if THEY are to stay relevant as the landscape changes.

Read Full Post »

In an October 2011 ITI Newlink article, Nancy K. Herther described a battle between OverDrive, the global provider of digital content,  and the Kansas State Library over the terms of their contract and pricing for eBooks.  One of the fundamental issues for libraries in the provision of eBooks to users, has been the ownership of content that they have purchased from eBook vendors and their right to lend that content —  not just through the duration of their contracts or licenses, but after the contract has ended.  Until recently libraries have assume that they owned the content and vendors have not claimed otherwise.

But with the skyrocketing adoption of eBooks, more and more publishers and vendors have taken a contrary position, claiming that libraries are only buying access and only for the duration of the contract.  In one of the most audacious moves by a publisher, HarperCollins decided to restrict the lending/downloading of eBooks to 26 occurrences on each library website, at which point the library would need to pay again for access to that content.  This caused an uproar and HarperCollins has faced harsh criticism for its announcement.

As Ms. Herther’s article states, the Kansas case raised a variety of important issues and problems in the eBook industry, including competition over platforms, buyers’ rights and the still unstable relationship of eBook vendors with publishers, libraries and consumers.  With the relationships continuing to take shape, libraries are adapting to various methods of providing this form of digital content to users.  However, one well known librarian, Sarah Houghton-Jan (aka the Librarian in Black) feels that the licensing relationship with eBook suppliers has been a huge mistake.  She points to non-profit models such as the Open Library project and Library Renewal and others as one possible way out of the current conundrum.

The story is far from over, but the Kansas State Library’s battle holds lessons for libraries in many other jurisdictions.

Read Full Post »