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.
In the past year, libraries have seen a sharp growth in e-book borrowing. That trend is transforming the relationship between libraries and publishers. Libraries need to offer electronic books to remain relevant today. But some publishers worry lending e-books will lead to piracy and loss of sales. Two of the big six publishers license their e-books to libraries. Others are exploring pilot programs or have declined to participate. Many library patrons are frustrated with the limited availability of titles and long waiting lists. And some buy a copy of the e-book anyway. Guest host, Frank Sesno, and his guests discuss the challenges of e-booking lending at the library.
I haven’t listened to this (yet), but thought it might be of interest.
In this excellent article Peter Meyers Rethinks how to pick ebook enhancements and breaks it down to five areas of opportunity: Comprehension, Memory, Interpretation, Relevance, and Extraction & Action. ~ eP
Most ebook experiments do a better job of showing off our devices rather than solving specific reader problems. We get video extras, web links, piped in Twitter feeds. Problem is, these “enhancements” often answer the wrong question: what can we add? In an age of Information Overload, readers don’t need more; they need help. A video of battle footage may be fun to watch, and a simple way to add what’s not possible in print. But what students of World War Two often struggle with is much more mundane: remembering key events for that upcoming test or prepping for an essay they’re writing.
Rather than starting from what the iPad or EPUB 3 makes possible, we should instead think about where print fails to solve readers’ needs…
There’s a choice academic and public libraries face. One is to focus entirely on providing access to the published information that our community members want. The other is to make libraries a platform for creating and sharing culture.
But we too have choices to make, both libraries and scholars. The next time your library spends $40 to get you an article you want to read, think about the implications. Is this really how we want to do it? Do we conduct research and write it up so that those who are affiliated with institutions that can afford to subscribe to lots of journals or can pay $40 for the temporary personal use of an article can have that knowledge, but nobody else can? Really?
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.
Here’s my conclusion: ebook models make us choose. And I don’t mean choosing which catalog, or interface, or set of contract terms we want — though we do make those choices, and they matter. I mean that we choose which values to advance, and which to sacrifice. We’re making those values choices every time we sign a contract, whether we talk about it or not.
Some of these points are applicable to libraries, as well.
Mistake #2—Paper is Married to Petroleum DOOM
Mistake #3—Reliance on Outdated Gimmicky Marketing Tactics
Mistake #4—Over-Fixation on Tools
Mistake #5—Expecting Commerce Before Community
There’s a pretty strong pattern here to the subscription offers we see.
They’re usually done by publishers. (Safari isn’t a publisher anymore, but it was started by publishers.) That means they’re working with the publishers’ margins (bigger than an aggregator’s margins). Controlling the product flow means they can make good use of intereaction with their audience, learning through data and conversation what they should be doing next. And, most important of all: from a product offer point-of-view, they’re focused.
They’re precisely the opposite of Spotify or Netflix or Audible who all want every single song, movie or TV show, or audiobook they can lay their hands on.
Is it Dystopia? A flowchart for decoding the genre
As much as I love ebooks and technology, they are like a crummy loser boyfriend. Full of ups and downs that take you on a roller coaster of emotions only leaving you to love them one minute and hating them the next. Just like that loser boyfriend they have money issues.
Eliminate the artificial barriers for access. We do a VERY good job of maintaining proper access to our online resources (becasue your license agreements require us). We know better than you do who our patrons are and when to cut them off, so let us do our jobs and stop putting up extra logins while people are on network or proxied. If our patrons get confused, they don’t use, if they don’t use we don’t buy. Plain and simple, extra loggins affect our usage stats (negatively) and we don’t buy or drop your stuff if our usage stats go down. Remember we have wish list a mile long waiting for weakness in a product.
Earlier this week, Smashwords announced a groundbreaking agreement with Califa, the California public library consortium, in which they would agree to sell up to 10,000 books for lending by California libraries. The CEO of Mark Coker had gone direct to his authors and asked them if they wanted to make their books available for lending; the answer was clear. Of the surveyed authors, 82 percent believed that library access would help them sell more books; almost one quarter were willing to give their book to the library for free… .