The App Store, eBooks & Where Libraries Need to Head

OK, so after listening to some great discussions about eBooks, the publishing industry and libraries both online and at ILEAD U, I have come to some conclusions.

First, the Amazon pricing model and the Apple iTunes pricing model have had an effect on the right of first-sale.  The question is whether or not there is any value in the right of first-sale. If I am purchasing an eBook or song for $9.99 or $1.29 do I really care about the right of first-sale?  Seriously ask yourself that question. With the rise of the iTunes Store, do people expect to sell the content they purchase digitally?  Copyright laws are not just written for libraries.  My guess is that, right or wrong, the general public does not value the right of first-sale.

Secondly, and more importantly, how do we plan to fix the problem?  David Lankes proposes libraries get into the publishing business.  OK, not exactly, but this is what I gather from his talk.  What if libraries created an eBook alternative?  Basically this would be an iTunes like store for content.  The authors win because they can determine their own pricing model.  Libraries win because we have a constant stream of DRM-free content.  He did not mention the pricing model for libraries, but I would imagine it would look something like this.  Give us the content.  We will take care of hosting, access etc… In return, we get a limited number of “copies” free to distribute to our patrons.  Other pricing models may work in this situation as well.  Perhaps patron-driven collections in which we pay per use (I do not favor this model, but it is still a model to consider).  Who knows. But it is clear that some conversations need to be held.

May I remind you that libraries of old housed their own content.  The libraries were built around the monks transcribing. Content was up to the libraries, not where the content went to die.  Moreover, many academic presses originated (and still live) under the library unit.  Still more, we have been developing our own platforms for sometime (most any ILS was developed by awesome libraries and librarians first!).

So lets take a look at this.  Do we have software developers who can create a platform that library users want to use?  Yes!  Do we have expertise in the eBook as format?  Yes, how many of us know that people want to be able to highlight, note-take, copy etc…  Do we have a strong working relationship with authors?  Yes.  Do we have experience in models like this?  Yes, just look at institutional repositories.  Are there other benefits?  Yes, we can educate authors on creative commons licensing (asking for a shorter copyright duration) improving the wealth of the public domain.  Moreover, we can bring more voices into the content creation arena.  How many great authors are silenced because they just don’t know how to get published?

Yes, this is a long-term strategy.  Yes, it will take time and resources.  Yes, it will be difficult.  But seriously, anything less than this is leaving control to a very select few.  The response from actual authors informs us that they want a new publishing model as well.

What will it take?  We will need people who have courage and are willing to take some risk.  We may need a grant or to engage in some fund raising.  We may need 1,000 people willing to put up $100 each for development and hardware.  We will need a team of the best and brightest.  But this can be done.  We can change the flow of information.  We can improve the lives of our community members through access to information.

Whether we know it or not, the gauntlet has been thrown.  The time is upon us.  Are we willing to recognize the writing on the wall?  Is it time to “stop acting polite and start acting real?”



Filed under eBooks

2 responses to “The App Store, eBooks & Where Libraries Need to Head

  1. Stacy Uden

    Interesting concept regarding libraries owning the content. Ever considered seeing if you can get the 1000 contributors at $100 a pop using something like Kickstarter?

    If you get the software created and open source it, it could create a whole business to install & support it.

  2. Thanks for the comment Stacy. A friend informed me about kickstarter and it seems like a good possible match.

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