Monday, November 28, 2011
Can eBooks Meet Changing Social Demand?
Three stories catch our eye that all point to a significant trend in the demand to loaning and renting ebooks. Some can be seen to be responding to these changes, whilst others dither, stall and demand it to be on their terms only. Are ebooks just for Christmas and today, or are they really going to be around for life? Do we have to replace those treasured printed titles with a digital library?
A fascinating blog from Danny Sullivan titled http://daggle.com/amazon-apple-hate-families-2867 raises many interesting questions about lending within the family unit. It explains the challenges families face in having to use adult only accounts and in reading on multiple devices. It relates the digital restrictions to those of the physical world and asks for tolerance. Perhaps it makes the case for single versus and multiple use licences, but some would suggest a book is a book is a book.
We live in a rapidly changing world where this year’s latest technology is next year’s junk and where purchasing loyalty is often defined by convenience. Locking in family units to one channel may not be desirable, but may be practical. However, overly restricting what they do between themselves could be an open invitation to unenforceable infringement.
If we step back and look forward, how will the current model and its restrictions pan out say in 5 years, when the devices have moved on several times, the under 13’s have become ‘adults’ and what we see today as future proof standards and DRM, may be not be so solid?
Libraries feed the needs of communities. They were originally restricted by the local budget and facilities but now we have interlibrary lending and collections are more open and sharable but does this support the one digital library concept and result in just one global library. Google, Overdrive, Amazon, and the others.
This week we have all read the often confusing story about Penguin ‘it’s my ball and iam not playing’ spat over ebooks. First it was a call on security and then it was new titles and now some would suggest like a spoilt child they have left it hanging in the air saying maybe they will and maybe they will not allow libraries to play digital lending. This year we have also had the HarperCollins demand that ebooks are not for life and wear out after the same number of library lendings as physical books and therefore like the physical book, they have to be obviously repurchased. We also have two other majors in Simon and Schuster and Macmillan apparently sitting on their hands unable to accept or reject digital library lending.
We have written much about the potential conflict between retail and libraries within the digital world. The history of the public library appears to have past many by and been ignored yet it clearly indicates that what we have today is almost certainly a transient model and will change with digital and trying to protect it for the sake of the status quo will surely fail. We may not have covered everything but our historic review article of last November is worth a second read.
The library lending battles are as predicted now starting to hot up. Some may suggest it is a shame that all parties could not see the writing on the wall and work together to reach a compromise.
Some would suggest that the digital opportunities should create a renaissance opportunity for libraries and reading but appears that it must obviously be on commercial terms acceptable to the big publishers.
Interestingly, the conflict has come at a time when public libraries are under their greatest threat of closure and are subject to spending cuts. Many, for all over the industry, are manning the barricades to fight the closure, but it would appear that some would only do so for physical books and their overall revenues remaining the same. Is this commercial reality or digital hypocrisy?
We now read an uplifting story about Montreal's largest library which claims to be busier than ever. According to a recent report by Lumos Research for the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, library usage across the country is up 45% over the past decade, from 16.6 to 24.1 transactions on average per capita and the growth is down to digital. The Grande Bibliotheque’s membership has grown 17% and the $142-million library, now claims some 286,000 active members and 3 million visits annually.
These increases are not just about ebooks but access to electronic databases, Internet visits to library websites and catalogues, digital audiobooks, as well as music and movies. The Montreal library now has 200,000 ebook titles available which all can be downloaded from home with the click of a mouse. It claims to be the busiest library in the French-speaking world and other Canadian cities, have apparently committed to building similarly large, central libraries.
If libraries can be allowed to adapt to new technology they will continue to play an important role in communities. It may be appropriate to redefine the size and reach of the community in this virtual world. If libraries are seen merely in terms of stacks of print books, then the future looks to be far more menacing.