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?

Social Reading
A fascinating blog from Danny Sullivan titled 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?

Library Lending
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?

Canadian Success?
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.


Willie Loman said...

The e-book issue has never been about "social demand" but purely commercial demand. The paperback book is the optimum reading platform for convenience and ease of use. Anything that puts something between a book and its reader is just another gadget. The e-book will change how books are sold but books will survive. The Nintendo Wii has sold millions of units but no one is suggesting that the sports the Wii tries to copy are about to disappear. The Wii is a clever gadget that has already found its way into the bottom of cupboards and may be dug out in years to come, found not to work any longer and thrown out.

The same will happen with the e-reader. But, just as the Wii might get a few players to think about taking up the real sport, the e-reader, given to a reluctant reader for Christmas, might just introduce him/her to the wonderfully magical world of books.

The book has been around for a few thousand years and will survive for a few thousand more.

Martyn Daniels said...

Willie i don't disagree re the book but due disagree about social interaction and digital. Forget the device they are not what matters it is about the platform and how it can create different social interactions and behaviour. This doesn't say the old forms die it says that there are new and maybe more attractive ones on offer.
What libraries can do now is potentially unlock interactions that where not possible before. They can reinvent themselves as social information hubs but the question is do we need as many in a virtual world and the next question is funding. Remember the models we regard as a given today have only been around but a short time.

Martyn Daniels said...

the challenge i see is how do you restrict and control what comes naturally and works counter to the management enforced?
DRM offers control and restrictions but is not natural or social. We can change it adapt it etc but it is often limited (as many things) by the original design and most of these were overly restrictive (ACS4 is a classic of over engineered restrictions)In other words you can keep widening the country road and make it a dual carriageway but if a motorway is needed then you may have to start again

Amy Ashley said...

I have to disagree with the first article in regards to the Kindle. My family has one account we've purchased two Kindles on (we are purchasing a third on it for my son for Christmas), and this has worked extremely well. The adults on the account have the password and can manage what appears on each device. My son, who is five, has very little control, and his books don't need to show up on any of our devices. When you purchase a book at Amazon, you can choose which device it is "sent" to at the time of purchase. I suppose it is very hackable, especially for an older teen, but then an older teen could also nab a heavy-themed book off my shelf without me noticing. There is no perfect system. We still purchase bound books, but using digital has been a wonderful thing for us for multiple reasons. I think it's expanded the market. It's not meant to be a competition and I feel it's sad that many publishers feel it's becoming such. People read and purchase both forms of literature.

Martyn Daniels said...

Amy i wouldn't disagree with what you say but respect you live in a single digital ecosystem and in those a lot is possible. now think if your teenager wanted to live in a ibookstore world and you in Kindle and maybe you found a great children's bookstore that appealed to the younger one and just for measure granddad wanted to borrow a book.
You buy once but can you really share?
PS there's this book down at the library .....

Sara said...

I think we could have good discussions about how we read. We have different modes of reading that affect what format we read. We already know that we read web content very differently than book content. Perhaps a book read for a book club ideally requires a paperback. Intending to read all the books that an author has written ASAP, maybe a publisher's subscription to the author's material makes the most sense (Does this exist?). A fun read on an airplane might be most conveniently located as an ebook from a library. We are going to use all these formats and demand them conveniently, and probably dirt cheap as authors give away books with an effort to "go viral". But price aside, the good thing is that reading as a pastime, as entertainment will grow with accessibility and the increasing book choices. And publishers should start selling ads in their books, as the book itself depresses in price. What other choice to they have? Check out There are many ways to sell products in books in unobtrusive ways that might even add to the experience of reading.

Martyn Daniels said...

sara i think you are right in that we will adapt to read things differently and remeber the paperless office and think about what you print off as opposed to read online.
the challenge is that publishers firmly believe that they sitt in the middle and act directly with the reader. Hello !