Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Potential Role of Libraries?

Barbara Fister writing in the Library Journal ‘What If You Ran Your Bookstore Like a Library?’ continues to raise the issues of libraries and bookstores in the new environment.

She points out that threat of the superstore of ten years ago has been responded to by the US libraries and they are now offering the same, if not much more. She cites that libraries also encompass a value previously derided and little understood – that sharing books is good. The word ‘sharing’, to many morphs into ‘file sharing and piracy’ with parallels being drawn with the music industries mess and their relentless quest to prosecute all before them in the name of moral right and the law. But Fister points out that sharing is not the problem but could be the solution.

‘The idea of self-immolating books is hard for a book lover to fathom, and avid readers are not likely to be persuaded that sharing books is morally wrong. What’s more, it’s not at all clear that preventing sharing would be good for business. Without the word-of-mouth publicity that comes largely through exuberant sharing, most author’s works would go unnoticed. In any case, sharing is a fact of networked life: used books begin to circulate as soon as new ones are published, through swap and sale sites. There’s no stopping it, short of mass book burnings or a revision of copyright law too horrible to contemplate.’

She believes that ‘rather than learn from the mistakes of the music business, publishers seem poised to repeat them—with restrictive digital rights management (DRM), a sluggish if not hostile response to digital media, and a tendency to ignore consumer preferences.’

Her solutions are to firstly propose a scheme where consumers are offered incentives to buy new books – buy one at full price and get the next one at discount, from anywhere, from any publisher. Her second one is to only rent ebooks on a subscription based model. She says the current situation is like Netflix saying, “Through our service, you can buy a DVD for only half the price of a movie ticket. What a deal! But you can’t sell it, you can’t share it, and you can only watch it on a DVD player that you buy from us for hundreds of dollars.” She suggests publishers could negotiate subscriptions of collections to libraries.
Her third thought is along the same lines that we have suggested before and turns the current POD (print on demand) model from one of print and distribute to distribute and print. She suggests that the community printer could be the library and that we move to a just in time as opposed to the current just in case short cycle model.

We would believe that her first suggestion would be difficult to administer in the current climate but could be offered on a localized or store basis. Her second suggestion is plausible and we believe on line and subscriptions/ rental will become increasingly important as outright purchases of downloads becomes less attractive. The POD community model makes sense with the question of who provides it an interesting one. It could be libraries, academic / campus store or third parties and you can safely bet Ingram are thinking about it whilst Amazon are still honing their delivery service. It makes sense for physical books to be drop shipped locally and electronic ones to be drop shipped remotely but the consumer and the transaction to remain local.

The question is whether the libraries have the vision and strategy to respond.