The argument for real books against virtual books is often based on the thingness of the real book — the beauty of the binding, the pleasure of handsome design and typesetting, the sensuality of turning a paper page, the pride of ownership. I sympathize with that, but I’m a reader, not a collector — I love my books (and I have lots of them) for what’s in them. Except for a few dear, battered kid’s books that both my mother and I read as children, the physical individuality of a book is pretty secondary to me.
And so, given this priority of the contents, I’ve defended the e-book and e-reading devices as an extension of, not an attack on, The Book — as augmentation, not loss or destruction.
Ursula K. Le Guin is my god.
Excellent commentary on a recent NYT Op-Ed by Scott Turow (head of the Authors Guild). I definitely recommend reading both.
What might this mean for our consideration of ebooks? Even though music and books are different in some aspects, they would both fall under what the report refers to as an “experience good” so I believe we can (at least cautiously) extrapolate the findings of this report to ebooks. A perennial issue in conversations with the Big Six is the displacement of sales due to library lending. At times, it even seems that the Big Six view library patrons as ebook pirates, so let us then embrace this study’s findings, which show a lack of sales displacement. In fact, libraries are much more similar to the legal music streaming services discussed in the report—and those streaming services stimulated sales.
I have long maintained that I only buy something if I already know what I’m getting and know that I like it, whether it’s music or books (print books; I still haven’t made the plunge into ebooks for my recreational reading). I’m glad studies continue to support the idea that “preview services” (like streaming or libraries) can and do stimulate sales rather than diminishing them.
The difficult thing however about predicting the future of reading is that everything i’ve said so far presumes that what is being read is an “n-page” article or essay or an “n-page,” “n-chapter” book,” when realistically, the forms of expression will change dramatically as we learn to exploit the unique affordances of new electronic media. Ideally, the boundaries between reading and writing will become ever more porous as readers take a more active role in the production of knowledge and ideas.
Although we date the “age of print” from 1454, more than two hundred years passed before the “novel” emerged as a recognizable form. Newspapers and magazines took even longer to arrive on the scene. Just as Gutenberg and his fellow printers started by reproducing illustrated manuscripts, contemporary publishers have been moving their printed texts to electronic screens. This shift will bring valuable benefits (searchable text, personal portable libraries, access via internet download, etc.), but this phase in the history of publishing will be transitional. Over time new media technologies will give rise to new forms of expression yet to be invented that will come to dominate the media landscape in decades and centuries to come.
eMusic, the online music service that pioneered the subscription approach before Spotify was a glimmer in Daniel Ek’s eye, quietly merged Monday with an e-book distributor, in an unusual bit of digital-media consolidation.
The company didn’t issue a press release but did send a brief statement to record labels, a copy of which appears below…
As an eMusic subscriber, this is interesting news. I’ll have to see what changes as a result of this merger (eMusic had already been offering audiobooks, I believe—though I never subscribed to that part—so this may not be as strange as it appears).
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to feel this way, but my overall impression of copyright, intellectual property, and swirling vortex of issues around those two issues can be summed up in one word: unsatisfactory. […]
Professionally, it feels like dancing through a landmine field. I am trying to steer people to the legitimate track of properly authorized and compensated copies of digital media, but society and business seems to conspire against this ideal. The social acceptance of media copying have lead me to the hardly surprising conclusion that people are copying the music and movies that they check out from the library at home. Over the course of my library years, I’ve even had the unfortunate experience of intervening when people were brazenly ripping CDs onto their laptops at the library. Some honestly didn’t know that it was a copyright infraction while others picked up on the fact that they could copy those CDs but in the privacy of their own homes. When it comes to eBooks, it’s tricky to guide people away from the ease of P2P downloading when the so called “friction” of eBook lending turns the question of borrowing into a overly long complex and extremely contextual answer. In trying to respect the owners of copyright, I end up showcasing all the madness that they have brought down on themselves in order to enforce it. It does nothing to encourage compliance nor engender respect for the concept or the laws supporting it.
Great post on his experience with downloading/file-sharing and copyright issues.
Sometimes you encounter an idea that seems so obvious it’s amazing that nobody has thought of it before. That’s how Yoav Lorch feels about Total Boox, his intriguing new reading platform that is about to be unveiled this March. The idea is simple: instead of paying up front for a book you may never even look at, you download it for free and then only pay according to how much of the book you read.
This sort of system would certainly make me more likely to abandon a book if I don’t like it!
But it seems like a potential hassle administratively—I mean, just how will that work technologically? How often does the device report back to the company (i.e. is it possible to finish a book and then delete the file before it registers that the entire book was read)? What if the price goes up while you’re reading something?
And the fact that, in theory, they’ll know exactly what you’re reading and when creeps me out a bit.
Yet when asked whether they would be willing to give up existing resources to make room for these things — to move some books to off-site storage centers to make sense for a device-testing center, for instance — only 20% of survey participants said they were in favor. Thirty-six percent said libraries should “definitely” not move books off-site.
Which sums up the whole problem, really.
Prepared by the ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group (DCWG)
In the “Ebook” report, the DCWG recommends three basic attributes that should be found in any library business model for ebooks:
- Inclusion of all titles
All ebook titles available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries.
- Enduring rights
Libraries should have the option to effectively own the ebooks they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.
Libraries need access to metadata and management tools provided by publishers to enhance the discovery of ebooks.
When you engage in an activity that is intrinsically motivated, you’re not looking for some outside reward. Those of us who are very lucky are able to find paying jobs that sometimes involve flow activities for us. When I’m really in the zone, writing software can be a flow activity for me, but other days, when I’m slogging through something, it’s that paycheck that keeps me going. And I believe that most library users are the same way. Of course we’ll always need to serve folks who are slogging through a paper they don’t really want to write, but I’d like to spend some time thinking about how we might enable as much flow in the library as possible. I want to figure out how to make our collections genuinely pleasurable to use.
When describing physical browsing, people used emotional words. They felt joy when they encountered that serendipitous find in the stacks. They felt tranquility when they browsed the new books shelf in the reading room. One sociology PhD student described to me in loving detail her favorite place to study in the library. She described the lighting, the smell, the quiet, the beauty of her surroundings, the pleasure she felt at running her fingers over shelves of books on her favorite subject. Another student told me, with clear distress and frustration, that he used to spend every lunch hour in the new journals room, happily browsing, but now felt at a loss because the library had cancelled their print subscriptions and he had to rely on online access. If he knew what he was looking for already, he said, online access was very fast and efficient for getting it, and there were times he really appreciated that. But he also felt he had been robbed of a great pleasure, and one of the ways he felt most comfortable staying current with research in his field.
This is a long one, but full of interesting points to consider.
Recently, Colin Robinson, a respected founder of a New York-based independent publisher, OR Books, wrote an essay for The Guardian entitled “Ten Ways to Save the Publishing Industry.” The summary paragraph was grim: “Book sales are stagnating, profit margins are being squeezed by higher discounts and falling prices and the distribution of book buyers is being ever more polarized between record-shattering bestsellers and an ocean of titles with tiny readerships.” For the most part, Robinson’s recommendations are common sense: an emphasis on selection, pricing, effective use of the Internet, and a focus on readers by devoting more effort to reaching them directly through social media. Jeremy Greenfield, editorial director of Digital Book World, in a response to Robinson’s manifesto makes a strong case with observations that I generally share: “The publishing industry isn’t a monolithic thing: some publishers are doing well and others are not. … I don’t see an industry that’s flailing—I see one that’s managing a complicated transition much better than would be expected.”
As libraries struggle to meet the challenges of providing digital content in an environment characterized by significant uncertainty and changing on a daily basis, there is a need for an Association-wide group of experts, broadly representative of the many constituencies within the library community, that can proactively address these digital content opportunities and issues at the highest level and from both a policy and practical perspective.
To help meet this need, the ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group was formed in Fall 2011 to implement the recommendations and to continue the work of ALA’s Task Force on Equitable Access to Digital Content. Working Group members were selected by the ALA President based on their high level of expertise and range of experience regarding libraries and digital content, and are broadly representative of the various constituencies within the Association and library community.
This website is meant to be a resource to support libraries in their transformation from print to digital content.
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.