Would you continue to purchase a product whose price has been arbitrarily hiked up 300%?

I am not a public librarian but I am a public library patron. Particularly for ebooks. I have a Kindle (and an iPad but I read books on the Kindle, I find it kinder on the eyes for long stretches). Not that I am a big fan of the way Amazon has handled their entry into the public library arena but that is another story.

As a patron of ebooks through my public library system I have often been annoyed at: 1) the lack of titles available and 2) the long waiting list for popular titles. Both reasons have, on occasion, forced me to purchase the book online so I could read it in a timely manner (frequently because I needed to read it before my next book club, but I digress again, as is my habit).

Early this month it was reported by many blogger that Random House has decided to raise it’s prices to libraries for ebooks as much as 300% (see David Lee King’s post for a comprehensive review from a public library perspective). Why would they do such a thing? Conventional wisdom seems to be that the publisher is trying to see how much they can get away with charging. Or rather, what is the threshold that libraries can stand to pay for ebooks?…with your tax dollars…mostly for people who can’t afford to buy the books they want to read.

I have a more sinister take on the situation. After the Amazon deal with public libraries. I was clearly left with the impression that Amazon is trying to get the public library patron to purchase their books instead of lending them by using the public library as its mule. In this same vein Random House has given me the sinking feeling that they actually are not interested in doing business with public libraries any longer. Although they may want to appear as if they are working on a new pricing structure that is more in line with their other models I am unconvinced. We are talking 300%! Lest we forget the public library is not buying the rights to own this book as they would a paper version they are buying the right to rent or “access” this book from the publisher.

Does Random House truly think that the public libraries, particularly in this economy, have the funding to purchase many of their books at these prices? Doubtful. It is more likely that they are hoping the patron who will not be finding his/her Random House title at their public library will go to their favorite online retail establishment and purchase it. As I would undoubtedly do. More money in their pocket. I feel preemptively duped.

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On February 24th it was announced that the publisher Harper Collins was going to put a cap on how many times an e-book could be distributed through a library system. The magic number is 26. After the magic 26th time the book will vanish and the library will need to purchase it again if they wish to continue circulating that title. And the uproar in library land is quite visible but will that change anything?

Harper Collins comes to this magic number by deciding that after 26 check-outs of a print library book another needs to be purchased. According to the uproar this is often not the case. And what say we about the ancient library book? On occasion we will purchase a new one because the current print book has gotten rather…musty. Will the next move be to vanish books after they have been owned for a certain period of time? Nothing has yet been mentioned regarding that matter but it is certainly going to be a consideration for publishers in the future.

So what’s the big deal? Software has licensing agreements that change depending on the institution that purchases them, right? Yes but usually it is only the trials that self destruct. In fact, what electronic media do you know of that self destructs after you have legitimately purchased it? I understand that the publishers need to make money and they feel that this will be an added revenue stream but you would think that they would know by now that libraries have limited budgets with which to buy books. A more diverse collection of Harper Collins books will not be purchased if the library has to keep re-ordering the most popular ones. If I was in charge of collection development this would steer me away from Harper Collins except when absolutely necessary. I would actively search for comparable titles from other publishers. And frankly, as a consumer I become fond of certain publishers formats particularly in the non-fiction arena, so if I have less accessibility to a publisher I have less knowledge of their style and when I make my next purchase this renders me likely to purchase with someone else.

Let it be known that not all publishers are on the library e-book bandwagon. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not sell e-books to libraries. Why? They are “searching for a legitimate business model”  which in my eyes means that they do not see the financial value in allowing people to check-out their books on-line. Although they obviously see the value in allowing people to check out their paper books because they are available in libraries. I would contend that  those who download library books are much more likely to browse off and purchase a book that they would rather not “wait in electronic line” for or electronically “turn back in” (the DRM’d library e-book can only be used for a certain period of time, like checking out a physical book). Additionally those that have readers like the Kindle that are not compatible with the library e-book software are also likely to wander off to purchase an e-book from the library site that they can read on their device instead of their computer.

In the meantime there is talk of boycotting Harper Collins e-books. But I wonder, are libraries boycotting Macmillan and Simon & Schuster paper books because they are not selling their e-books to libraries? I don’t think so. If hurting their bottom-line is the tactic should it not be some kind of united front? Or, perhaps would it be useful for those publishers to sit down with the innovators of library land and explain the problem and work out a way to make things feel reasonable. Some kind of tiered pricing perhaps.

Just like the software, music and movie business, we will see how this shakes out.

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Thinking About the Future of Libraries

I’ve gone to a couple of library conferences while I was away from you dear reader and I find that talk about the future of libraries is on the rise again. But, then again, aren’t people involved in libraries ALWAYS concerned about their future? Radio was going to kill books. Video Tapes were going to kill books. The Internet was going to kill books and now e-books are going to kill paper books. And therefore no libraries? Apparently the use for a library is in the eye of the beholder. Is it a place to check out books? A place to cull research? A place for community gatherings? A place to play video games? A place with free Internet access? I say yes, and then some.

Where is the Marketing?

I think the future is in the essence of the library as a “free” entity (I know our tax dollars pay for the public ones and tuition helps pay for the academic…you know what I meant). There are no favorites in the library, you can have whatever you want and take part in all kinds of activities, for free. It is true that when many people hear the word “library” they think of a quiet shushy place for paper books and that is really where the problem lies. The fact is librarians have worked very hard to create new spaces that work into the communities need for items and activities that normally cost money. Who else does that for you these days? Seriously. The issue here is the lack of marketing acumin on the part of the librarians. I think that advocacy and marketing are two of the most important and least understood skills a librarian can have.

Reading From the Screen


Here is the thing with the e-books. I was gifted a Kindle. So now I have one. I find I prefer the e-ink technology to the back lit color jobs for long stints of reading. But I digress, it is now easy for me to get a book at the click of a button. That’s even easier than dragging myself all the way to the public library. Problem, I have to pay for every book, averaging $9.99 a pop (even when a paperback copy is going for $5 or less). Problem, Amazon doesn’t have everything I want (e.g. Ray Bradbury is not having anything to do with e-books). Problem, I have to remember to plug it in from time to time (granted that is about once every two weeks but it is an issue and that sucker takes a good many hours to charge). Problem, it is not compatible with the free library software so I can’t borrow any of their books. Overarching problem, my Kindle costs $189 not every age needs to be responsible for that kind of equipment and not every household can afford to get one for every member of the family. Without paper books do we have to pick and choose who in our family get the opportunity to read? Until e-book readers become throw away technology that has easy (let’s focus on the word easy) access to free material, I just don’t see it killing the paper book.

So where does this leave libraries? The users needs are definitely shifting, or rather, expanding. And I think it is simply that. We need to be in touch with our patron (or those that we would like to be our patrons) and give them what they need for free. We need to let them know that these services exist. They need access to a number of things both technological and personal we should build from there. Am I missing something?

The iPad launch caught me scrutinizing it from the perspective of an e- reader. I have an iPhone, I have a laptop, I have a desktop, I have not yet purchased an e-reader. Is the iPad just a big iPhone? Or is it a netbook without a keyboard? Like the iPhone, there is no flash support, no multitasking, no SD card slot, no e-ink and additionally no HDMI, no USB,  no camera, no 16:9 video support and oddly no way to hold the darn thing up on a table! But okay, it’s generation 1 let’s give it a break (I’ll even give the ridiculous name a break, women did any of you NOT go there?).

At some point we have all wanted our iPhones to have a little larger format, no? So for now I’ll just consider it a big ol’ expensive iPhone without calling or camera capability. Somebody wants that, right Apple?

My problem is with LCD and LED backlighting for reading on all of these multi-ability devices. The nice thing about e-ink is that it is easy on the eyes for reading at extended intervals. Why the e-book market does not take that information and use it in their marketing is a mystery to me.  How many of us enjoy reading a backlit display for hours? Not me. Granted, it would be nice to have the addition of color for my reading pleasure and it would be especially desirable in the textbook market but the iPad solution is still backlit and is rather expensive for a student considering they still need to purchase a laptop for classwork. I’m just not getting it and I am devoted to my Apple products (even with the AT&T service on my iPhone…Verizon where are you already!).

In actuality the iPad has no market with me (who is their demographic on this one anyway?). Frankly, I am waiting for Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology . It has no backlighting, it has video support and color. It’s a reflective technology which means it uses the light in the area which also means it has less need for battery power. I believe there is hope for me in the e-book world yet, just not now.

In the meantime I squint at my iPhone for electronic books and I remain faithful to the still-not-antiquated paper book.

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Verizon is coming out with a new e-reader, time to watch the market forces work their magic! First, allow me to digress.

I have written about my underwhelmed reaction to the Amazon Kindle 2. With hope in my heart I went to my nearest Sony store in August to take a gander at the new Sony e-readers, they have come out with a “pocket”, “touch” and “digital reader daily” (that would be three e-reader offerings to Amazon’s two, but who’s counting). What they have done with the three separate e-readers is allow you to pick and choose the features you want and the price you want to pay, not that you “want” to pay $200 for a digital reader that you have to pay to put books on but you know what I mean. They have added the “innovation” of a touch screen which is a handy upgrade to Kindle’s offering. Like good citizens of the world Sony decided to use the epub format which is far more open than the proprietariness of the Amazon Kindle (although they have done a very nice mea culpa the whole 1984 ebook debacle will not leave my memory any time soon).They are even e-library book friendly as they have partnered with the same company that provides e-books for many public libraries. All in all a bit of an improvement to the Kindle. Take that overpriced, proprietary, silliness!

Now to welcome in the Irex DR800SG (can we not just call it the Irex 1, honestly!). It, sadly, does not have a touchscreen it has reached back to the days of Palm and uses a stylus. However, it does offer the joys of epub (with a promise to stick with the DRM free market) and wireless 3G through Verizon. It even boasts a radio, there’s a novel idea. The screen is 8.1 inches and it actually comes with a case, who would have thought consumers would want that?…not Amazon or Sony. The big downside for me is that it is not compatible with the Mac and I have not heard if public library e-books will be downloadable. And sadly, yes, it will cost $399 through selected Best Buy locations in October. Overpriced, less-than-proprietary, silliness continues but I remain hopeful.

Popular Library

I have written previously about the studies that have been done regarding a well-staffed and funded school library raising achievement . That was in my response to Governor Schwarzennegar’s call to change all textbooks to an electronic format. Now an administrator at a school in Boston has decided that paper books are absolutely unnecessary.

This reminds of the “heated debates” I used to have with a technology teacher in the mid 90’s who fought against teaching students keyboarding because we would all be using speech-to-text technology within the next few years. We see how well that prediction panned out.

As an academic librarian I see students all day who can not write and have no clue how to start a research paper. We know that the more you read the better writer you become. We know that the more you read in sustained periods the easier it is to work for sustained periods. And we know that when reading is electronic, particularly off of our laptops, that have constant visual updates and reminders we do not read for sustained periods of time, we attempt to multitask. We know there is still a digital divide.  We know that students and schools (including the one in this article) can not afford enough e-readers to supply their students. We know that e-readers are relatively fragile (the polar opposite of anything you want to give a child). We know that strong school libraries have high book check-out numbers and higher test scores than the norm. But who needs facts, right? Out with the proven and in with the shiny shiny.

They will be sorry. In the meantime I am sorry for them and mourn the loss of learning for their students.