So that’s it folks. eBooks and I are done. eBooks in libraries are a non-starter, their path has been set for the foreseeable future, and their future is determined by people who are not us. Not by the people who love books, who believe in their power to change lives, but by those who produce them for profit. No, not by the authors (as we all know, they see far too little profit for their labors), but by the publishers…the, until recently, necessary middlemen in the process between creators and consumers. Now that they’re not necessary to the process anymore, largely due to their inflexibility and inability to change in the face of rapidly shifting market conditions, they have attempted to salvage their failing business model with high prices, limited licensing policies, and technology so locked down that it remains impenetrable to many people.
If I hear one more publisher talk about “increasing friction,” I am going to punch that publisher in the face with a pair of book-shaped brass knuckles and discuss the option of dramatically increasing friction cheese-grater-style somewhere else on their physique. Don’t push me Penguin.
Publishers have painted themselves into a corner, a corner that will eventually eat them alive. But until that happens, until the market shakes out, there is little libraries can do that is in keeping with our core ethics and values.
Digital goods have costs.
I’m not talking here about just things like the cost of electricity, which should be enough on its own to disabuse idealists of their vacuous notions of what makes the world go around. I analyzed this at length in another post earlier this year. Even beyond just their power requirements, digital goods have particular traits that make them difficult to store effectively, challenging to distribute well, and much more effective when handled by paid professionals.
I’ve taken to calling the journal subscription the Medium Deal because it’s just like the Big Deal, only smaller — it’s scaled to the article rather than the journal title. With the Big Deal you buy access to journals you don’t need in order to get reasonably-priced access to journals you do need. With a journal subscription you do exactly the same thing, only with articles. This was never a good model, but back when information could only be distributed in the form of printed documents, it was the only feasible one. Now, in the era of networked digital information, we still have that print-based mindset, thinking of journal “issues” as meaningful units (which they obviously aren’t, except in the unusual case of a themed issue) and going along more-or-less willingly with the proposition that the only way to get reasonably-priced access to a desired article is to pay for it in an annualized bundle with a bunch of others you don’t want.
I don’t see a solution to this problem either. What would obviously make the most sense is a Tiny Deal, one based on articles rather than journals, one that involves the efficient purchase only of what’s actually needed rather than the preemptive and wasteful purchase of large blocks of unneeded articles. But just because such a model would make sense doesn’t mean it’s feasible. For the Tiny Deal to work for libraries, the price of an individual article would have to be very low (as it is with a Big Deal). For it to work for publishers, the price of an individual article would have to be very high, because relatively few articles would be sold (cf. Joe Esposito’s recent posting on the projected economic impact of patron-driven acquisition on book publishers).
The comments may be the best part of this as people argue about some of the points the author made.
My favorite line:
Publishers need to make e-books worth the download. They need to explain the value of the book to a plugged-in audience and they need to grab fans’ attention before the pirates do.
At least one of the commenters disagrees, saying it’s all about cost. I agree with both sides: making ebooks worth the download includes making them worth the cost being charged. So long as the consumers think they’re being overcharged for ebooks, ebook piracy is going to be a fairly common thing.
I mean, come on. If all you’re doing is repackaging the text in an electronic file, then no, people are not going to be happy paying a lot for that (“a lot” being relative, of course). Perhaps publishers should imitate the video industry and release two versions: 1) the barebones text for a lower price, and 2) a “special edition” with enhancements (video, images, links, the possibilities are numerous) for a higher price, just like there are DVDs with just the movie on them and DVDs with commentary, special features, etc. Then they can cover the people who really just want an electronic version of the text as well as taking advantage of the things that can be done in ebooks that can’t be done in print. (How that would work out in the consumer market for born-digital texts where the “enhancements” are a crucial part of the content, I don’t know, but it seems like the ebooks being talked about aren’t that type.)
N.B.: I have not bought any ebooks, so this is my outsider’s view on things.
Okay, I found the source for this map. It’s from here. That’s it in PDF,
This makes me feel ill.
Well doesn’t this just explain everything
AND… that just ruined my dinner.
Remember how much money e-readers were supposed to save book buyers? It was among the big reasons why 20 million Americans decided to take the plunge.
So why is it that consumers are still paying through the nose for e-book titles that ought to cost a fraction of the price charged for the used hardcover version?
This post makes an interesting point.
If you have a portable ereader or an iPad or a smart phone or even a laptop, then each and every ebook you put on that device costs as much as the device.
There is no way to average out the cost of all your books when you drop your reader in the toilet. You don’t pay 3 cents to Amazon or Barnes & Noble each time you open a book. You pay $79 or $99 or $199 up front and it’s up to you to find the most cost-effective way to use the thing.
You can get print books and each one of those costs exactly what you pay for it, ten cents or two-hundred dollars. And you make decisions on how and where and to whom to lend or when to read those books. And each individual physical book has its own worth.
There’s plenty of excellent reasons to stagger the release of a new piece of software on an international scale: Doing so keeps servers from melting into pools of unusable silicon, and preserves the sanity of help desk agents, if only for a little while. That said, if a game’s not available in the states, even though the Italians have had it for a week, you know that someone, somewhere is going to be pirating that bad boy. By giving consumers what they want simultaneously on an international level, developers could strike another reason for illegally downloading an application from the the litany of excuses pirates have been employing for years.
This is also the case for movies and some TV shows.
During the last year Netflix managed to outgrow BitTorrent in terms of the amount of US Internet traffic it generates. A promising finding for Hollywood as it shows that there’s an overwhelming interest for the legal movie streaming service. At TorrentFreak we wondered what might happen if all US BitTorrent users made the switch to Netflix, and the results of this exploration are quite intriguing.
» via TorrentFreak
What interested me the most comes at the very end:
It shows that even when you assume that 90% of all US BitTorrent traffic is dedicated to video piracy, the added revenue for Hollywood in 2010 would have been less than the amount they paid to the MPAA. That is, if all BitTorrent users switched to Netflix.
The real added revenue if BitTorrent disappeared would of course be a fraction of this, as not everyone would start paying.
But those are just details; what really matters is the fact that collectively the top two or maybe three publishers take out of the academic world enough profits to pay for every research article in every discipline to be made freely available online for everyone to access using PLoS’s publishing fee approach.