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. […]
This post is full of SO MUCH WIN. Seriously, go read it.
[…] I also read lots of paper books, so it’s not like I am TIPPING THE BALANCE FOR THE MACHINES. I’m like SWITZERLAND, without the Alps and all the delicious fondue. Read what you want, how you want. If you are paper books only, that’s it, period, I say, jam on, paper-lover! If you prefer ebooks, I say, electric boogaloo to you too. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. […]
Just as a few massive chain stores eventually came to dominate the traditional printed book market in North America, the e-book marketplace is a kind of oligopoly involving a few major players — primarily Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. And while bookstore owners of all kinds are free to decide which books they wish to put on their shelves, these new giants have far more control over whose e-books see the light of day because they also own the major e-reading platforms, and they are making decisions based not on what they think consumers want to read but on their own competitive interests. That is turning the e-book landscape into even more of a walled garden.
The word “free” came up during Apple’s presentation quite often. Apparently, Apple is offering authors a suite of powerful tools that they can use to create multimedia updateable textbooks, a CMS-like classroom platform for using them, and a distribution platform. They showed texts being put together with gorgeous illustrations and embedded video.
And all I could think (still sensitized by yesterday’s SOPA/PIPA blackout protest) was “how are we supposed to deal with permissions?” These days, in the privacy of our classrooms, we mostly … don’t, though legislators would like to change that by making copyright violations much more punitive and handing rights owners a prior restraint club to beat us with.
But what we do in the classroom is hard to monitor for copyright violations (or violations of an anorexic definition of fair use). That changes when you publicly use a clip of a speech or include a historic photo without going through the work of tracking down rights holders and paying the steep charges for permissions. I seek out Creative Commons-licensed materials to use, but I know that many professors (and most of their students) don’t even think about copyright when they pull together educational material to share with a class. It runs counter to the social impulse and the technological facility to share.
I had high hopes when I handed out iPads to students in my graduate seminar this semester. I wanted to explore the possibilities of tablet computing and see firsthand how tablets might be used in higher education. I also wanted students to see for themselves where the iPad might fit into their lives and their careers – and into the future of media and communication.
For the most part, students ended the semester with a collective shrug. They simply weren’t all that impressed with tablet computing as it now exists.
That’s surprised me, though I still consider the semester a success. I learned several things about teaching, about the iPad and about students that will help me – and, I hope, others – in the future.
When the major book publishing firms signed an agreement with Apple that allowed them to control the prices for their e-books — unlike the deal they had with Amazon, which gave the online retailer the right to cut prices if it wanted to — they probably thought they had won a major battle. But as a Wall Street Journal story points out, they are still shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to e-book prices, by keeping them artificially high in an attempt to shore up their profit margins and protect their existing print business. In the long run, that pricing model could wind up doing far more damage than the model it replaced.
The Journal piece notes that e-book prices, particularly for some best-selling and popular titles, are in many cases actually higher than prices for the comparable print version. For example, author Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” costs $18.99 as an e-book and sells on Amazon as a paperback for $16.50. One New Yorker says he is buying fewer e-books because of the higher prices publishers are charging for them, telling the Journal:
It’s hard to justify the purchase of e-books that are priced at $10 to $15 when you can buy the real book on Amazon used for $2 or $3
… But the fact that apps must routinely face approval masks how extraordinary the situation is: tech companies are in the business of approving, one by one, the text, images, and sounds that we are permitted to find and experience on our most common portals to the networked world. Why would we possibly want this to be how the world of ideas works, and why would we think that merely having competing tech companies—each of which is empowered to censor—solves the problem?
This is especially troubling as governments have come to realize that this framework makes their own censorship vastly easier: what used to be a Sisyphean struggle to stanch the distribution of books, tracts, and then websites is becoming a few takedown notices to a handful of digital gatekeepers. Suddenly, objectionable content can be made to disappear by pressuring a technology company in the middle. When Exodus International—”[m]obilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality”—released an app that, among other things, inveighed against homosexuality, opponents not only rated it poorly (one-star reviews were running two-to-one against five-star reviews) but also petitioned Apple to remove the app. Apple did.
To be sure, the Mac App Store, unlike its iPhone and iPad counterpart, is not the only way to get software (and content) onto a Mac. You can, for now, still install software on a Mac without using the App Store. And even on the more locked-down iPhone and iPad, there’s always the browser: Apple may monitor apps’ content—and therefore be seen as taking responsibility for it—but no one seems to think that Apple should be in the business of restricting what websites Safari users can visit. Question to those who stand behind the anti-Exodus petition: would you also favor a petition demanding that Apple prevent iPhone and iPad users from getting to Exodus’s website on Safari? If not, what’s different, since Apple could trivially program Safari to implement such restrictions? Does it make sense that South Park episodes are downloadable through iTunes, but the South Park app containing the same content was banned from the App Store?