We know that there are issues related to ebooks that have nothing to do with libraries. For example that you don’t own your ebooks, you lease them, that you can’t loan them at all or can’t loan them easily, that you can’t switch platforms (without some possibly illegal hacking of your books) for no other reason than corporate greed. These issues apply to an increasing number of ebook readers (as of April 2012 20% of Americans had read and ebook), but not all of them are using library ebooks for a number of reasons.
An interesting perspective, though the comments have some quibbles with the argument put forward.
Indie writers owe Amazon big time for what they’ve given us. Are they perfect? No. Do they make mistakes? Yep. And they’ll continue to make mistakes. But I promise you that traditional publishers never call up their authors and ask what they can do better. I nearly wet my author pants when I got a call from someone in the Kindle publishing department who wanted to know what publishing and promotional features I’d like to see. He wanted to know all about my experience with them, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and on and on. I was floored. Amazon messed up their sales reporting page not that long ago, and you know what they did? They sent a goddamn email out to their authors explaining what had happened! And then they fixed it! Do you think a big publisher would do that? No, they certainly would not.
When you get a group of readers in a room, nearly every one of them will recount how their reading either started at a library or was fostered by a library. One of the slides from Bowker that I saw at BEA was that for individuals who have adopted a tablet, the number one thing that activities on the tablet have replaced is reading. Tablet adoption is on the rise and by 2015, tablet sales will exceed the number of PCs currently sold. Why is this troublesome for the book market? Because the biggest threat to publishing isn’t Amazon. It’s Angry Birds.
Publishing, whether it is traditional publishers, self publishers, digital first publishers, needs to invest in early reading for two reasons. First, early readers become paying adult readers. Second, early readers become adept adult writers. Both readers and writers are needed for a healthy publishing ecosystem and investment in fostering the love of reading and writing is vital. There is no better place to do this than by investing in libraries.
Given that Amazon’s goal is to offer customers the lowest prices on everything, what’s the next logical step? How about even lower prices on ebooks where Amazon starts making money on in-book ads? Think Google AdWords, built right into the book. Of course, Amazon won’t want to use Google’s platform. They’ll use their own so they keep 100% of the revenue.
If/when this occurs, it could be a selling point for library ebooks… assuming libraries are able to offer the things people are looking for, which isn’t always the case even now.
In effect, while attempting to head down a well designed path to lower physical operating costs, eBooks further diminish a library’s value to its patrons. Patrons can now quickly and easily see what’s not available and go elsewhere, without having to even set foot inside of the library and, accidentally (or coincidentally) learn more about its offerings to the community (further diminishing the value the library can deliver).
Herein lies an opportunity.
He has some fascinating ideas—definitely worth a read.
Four months ago, it mattered if libraries were or weren’t a direct threat to booksellers. Today, this question is irrelevant. What matters is that the participants in the industry aren’t innovating at the pace readers are seeking and expecting solutions v. reading’s alternatives.
When looking specifically at traditional publishers and booksellers, two questions arise:
- Could it just be that traditional booksellers and publishers aren’t innovating quickly enough to meet the needs of today’s authors and readers? (Absolutely)
- Could it be that traditional booksellers and publishers are being out innovated by, of all parties, cash and funding-strapped libraries? (Absolutely)
Libraries have, for a very long time, been battling competition from not reading. They’re experts in this area – which is why they made such consistent inroads as an early competitor to booksellers and a thorn-in-the-side of publishers.
What I don’t understand from this article is exactly what changed so drastically in the last four months. It seems to me that getting people to read instead of doing other things (like Angry Birds) has always been part of the issue…
If you had any doubts that Amazon’s Lending Library was eventually going to compete with public libraries, here’s where your doubts get shattered. From Amazon’s homepage today, on the announcement of all 7 Harry Potter books entering the Kindle Lending Library program:
With traditional library lending, the library buys a certain number of e-book copies of a particular title. If all of those are checked out, you have to get on a waiting list….the wait can sometimes be months.
With the Kindle Owners Lending Library, there are no due dates, you can borrow as frequently as once a month, and there are no limits on how many people can borrow the same title…
More importantly, though, beyond the shiny gadgets and apps, readers are fans of authors and genres (and, sometimes, even publishers), and while selection varies amongst the major e-tailers (especially Apple), there’s an interesting comparison to video games that I’ve been mulling over for a while now. It’s an imperfect but workable analogy, where the big hits are almost always cross-platform (including PC and, increasingly, mobile), while the exclusives tend to align with each platform’s respective strengths and core audiences (especially mobile).
Recently, I began chatting with a publishing industry executive about this. This person — who I’ll call Exec — was interested in learning how to break DRM on e-books. About a month later, Exec is a convert and was ready to talk about the experience, albeit anonymously. I don’t think Exec is the only person in the publishing industry breaking DRM on e-books they buy…and those who aren’t doing so already might want to give it a try, if only to see what readers go through. Here is Exec’s story.
Has DRM prevented piracy? That seems unlikely, since it is relatively easy to get around those locks and copy a book if you really want to. What is pretty clear, however, is that those rights-management locks have cemented Amazon’s control over the publishers’ content. In other words, it has given the online retailer a stick with which to beat them, as Stross described it recently. And it has also made it more difficult for some independent e-book sellers, because publishers won’t let them sell their books without DRM.
In all the discussions about why book publishers demand that eBooks should be $15 and not $10, they say it is because they cannot afford to sell books at $10. That is, they cannot cover their legacy cost models on that number. Right. Which is why you must rebuild your cost structure for a digital goods industry with far lower prices. You start by paying your top execs much less than millions of dollars a year. Then you move your offices out of fancy midtown office buildings. Why should eBooks cost $15? Amazon is far more of an expert on optimal book pricing. They have far more data than publishers, since they experiment with pricing hundreds of thousands of times a day across millions of titles. Amazon can tell you the exact price for a title that will produce the most number of copies sold. Amazon is pretty sure that number is closer to $10 than to $15. Yes, they want to sell more Kindles. And they believe that lower eBook prices mean more eBooks sold which means more demand for Kindle. The negative coverage of Amazon is centered on them selling eBooks below cost in order to reach the $10 price point. But that is a function of publishers setting the cost higher than $10. If the profit-maximizing price for an eBook is $10, then publishers must adapt to set a wholesale price lower than that, even if it means your legacy cost structure doesn’t allow it. And that’s the rub. [By the way, as publishers continue to resist this market force, new “publisher” models are appearing and will replace the traditional functions of publishers with more digital-friendly models.]
Amazon is well on its way towards dominating the ebook market, but its platform has several weaknesses that not only threaten Amazon but also threaten the ebook industry should Amazon dominate.
The line of argument is as follows:
- Amazon’s Kindle platform has inherent flaws that lead to serious imbalances.
- Those imbalances threaten Amazon first and foremost and grow with the platform.
- If Amazon grows to dominate a mature ebook market, those imbalances will be big enough to both damage Amazon and threaten the ebook market.
- Amazon could end up dominating an ebook market that more resembles the modern day comic book direct market than a mass medium: a shrinking niche industry that caters to a limited number of expert readers.
A colleague and I are interested in finding out more about how students use library books before we follow the herd into investing a lot of money in e-book collections. The project is just in the beginning stages, but I did have a chance to look over some survey responses today. Numbers will have to be crunched before they mean anything, but at first glance I was struck by a couple of impressions.
- Some of the things people mentioned as benefits of printed books are actually not attributes of library books. Being able to underline and write in margins appears to be an important benefit of printed books, but I’m afraid we actually frown on writing in library books. (I was pleased to see that one student, at least, wrote about copying sections of books before writing all over them.)
- Likewise, some of the things people asserted are benefits of e-books may not actually be true of library e-books. Buying a Kindle book is easy, and there is little question in my mind that it is easier to use articles found in a database than in print – because publishers let you save copies, print entire articles, and don’t require that you download specialized software before you can start to read. Not so with library e-books. They are not automatically easier than print. If we do start adding e-books, it’s likely that they will not only come with strings attached, but with completely different tangles of strings depending on the vendor and the license. […]