Thursday, December 20, 2012

Educating public on ebooks

Originally published in the Oklahoma Librarian.
Recently on Publib, a listserv for public libraries, a subscriber posed the question of what libraries are doing to educate the public regarding issues concerning ebooks. ( ::crickets:: crickets::) The only response was from one person that pointed her to an online petition to publishers. What a missed opportunity. By not educating the public we are not only missing out on a huge opportunity for library advocacy, but we are damaging our own reputations.

This is not evident at first as libraries are trying to advocate with the publishers (though many say this is a case of too little too late), but if a library user searches on the li-brary website for the latest Janet Evanovich book they are not going to say, "Oh, she is pub-lished by Simon and Schuster, and darn that publisher, they won’t sell to libraries!" Quite the opposite, in fact, they will blame libraries. "They can’t even order best sellers! Any monkey could do their job better!"

There are many ways in which we can approach the public regarding the issues, and it can be overwhelming. I have a rather simple method with which we can start. At my library customers frequently come to the reference desk asking for help loading a library book onto their ereaders. We always give them a little cheat sheet to help them remember what we showed them. What if that cheat sheet also contained something along the following?

Can’t find your favorite authors’ ebooks on the library website?Did you know that three of the major six publishers, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette, will not sell their ebooks to libraries?

The other three major publishers will sell to libraries – but at a cost.

Random House has charged the libraries as much as 300% of the list price for ebooks.

HarperCollins makes the library purchase a new ebook after the original ebook has been checked out 26 times in an attempt to simulate physical wear.

Penguin is experimenting with libraries on a limited basis, but the release of ebooks to li-braries is delayed for six months after the publication date, and the ebooks are only good for a year before they must be renewed.

Why? The bottom line is… well, the bottom line. Publishers are afraid that if libraries lend ebooks for free that it will undercut their sales. In fact, the opposite has been shown to be true. A Pew report states that 50% of library users will later purchase a book by an author they dis-covered in the library. Librarians are publishers’ best advertising, and it is free advertising!

What can you do?
Write your favorite authors and make them aware of the dilemmas that libraries face. Let them know that you support your local library, and that you are concerned about current publishing practices. After all, this is author’s bottom line, too. Together, we can make a difference.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breaking Up [with Ebooks] is Hard to Do

Breaking Up with Ebooks is Hard to Do
Published in Sept/Oct Issue of Oklahoman Librarian

The Librarian in Black recently posted about her break-up with ebooks.  . She accused ebooks of playing the old bait and switch by promising wine and roses and instead giving a beer and cheeto relationship.  She waxes poetically throughout the post about how badly the ebook boyfriend treats her even going so far as to accuse ‘him’ of sleeping with her sister.  It was almost another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.  While the post was wildly entertaining and I was tempted to dramatically whip off my promise ring and throw it in ebooks face, let’s be honest, Breaking Up [with ebooks] is Hard to Do.

I confess, I am deeply in love with ebooks.   While I still think fondly of my first love, the printed book, ebooks has long since replaced print in my heart.   I am not alone.  Library users love ebooks.   If you don’t think that libraries stuggle now with their public image and you are itching for a challenge, get rid of ebooks.  Even so, from the public side, ebooks still have their challenges.  I have eschewed the dedicated ebook reader, and I use a tablet (Android based, hate proprietary Apple) because it is a hassle to download library ebooks on a dedicated ebook reader.  Sideload from my computer?  Really?  That is SO last year.  This does not even address issues such as certain publishers not allowing libraries to lend ebooks.  We won’t mention names, will we Macmillan?

ALA released a report, Ebook Business Models that Andy, from Agnostic, Maybe, has accused of being a bit too brief and a case of too little too late.  I do not think that he is too far off the mark.  The report is very brief, but it does summarize nicely for what libraries are asking.

·         Inclusion of all titles – I Want it All without any embargo, and really, Its Not Too Much to Ask.
·         Enduring Rights: Give us ownership and all that it entails.
·         Intregration-metadata access without the DRM

In a perfect world, this is what we should strive for and what we have had with print books, however, You Can’t Always Get Want You Want.  Let’s look at our relationship expectations.  As librarians, we want to the publishers to give us what they do not give the public.  We want enduring rights.  We want to ‘own’ the ebook and have first sale rights.  We want to lend books through ILL.  The public does not have access to such.  I cringe when I think of all the ebooks that I have purchased through my Barnes and Noble app.  If Barnes and Noble goes out of business, what happens to my access to my ebooks?  When I am tired of reading my ebook, I cannot resell it or donate it to the library.  And while Barnes and Noble does have the ‘lend it’ function, out of the one hundred or so ebooks that I ‘own’, I can only lend two.  This is not limited to ebooks.  I thought of this as I bought Hunger Games through VuDu.  Maybe I should have bought it through Amazon. 

I do not think that breaking up with ebooks is the best move in this relationship.  However, I have no opposition to breaking up with the Big 6.  What we do now, will form the future of libraries.

Big Six is singing Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad to us.  They may need us, they may want us (or what we can do for them), but they will never love us.  On other hand, Overdrive may be a case of Paradise by the Dashboard Light.  In the heat of passion, we gave in and signed the contract, but now we are praying for the end of time.

So before we start rallying to These Boots Are Made for Walkin rember that there are Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.  We do not have to break completely from ebooks, but we can perhaps have a more ‘open’ relationship and consider seeing other people. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

LG Flexible E-screens

LG has release a new flexible e-ink display.  The screen can bend up to 40 degrees, and it will even survive a typical fall.  The flexible displays are also thinner and lighter than the more traditional glass displays.  It was expected to show up in products in April though none have yet hit the mainstream.  If ebook sales have been effected so greatly by the device, what impact could the flexible display screen have on the ebook world?  One of the appeals for people using e-readers is that it is easier and lighter to hold than print books - especially if you are reading Game of Thrones.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The ebook tipping point

There have been several major events happening in the ebook realm that seem to be building to a convergence that will have a major impact on the future of both the publishing world and libraries.  Let's look at the players.


Pew Internet released a report on April 4 on the rise of rise of e-reading. There are four points that I think are of particular interest to libraries.
  1.  The first comes as no surprise.  The number of people reading e-books has increased.  To measure the impact of holiday gift giving, Pew performed their survey in mid-December 2011 and again in February 2012.  In mid-December, the number of people who have read an ebook in the last year was 17%. In February that number increased to 21%. 
  2. E-books readers tend to read more books.  They read an average of 24 books over the last 12 months compared to 15 books for print readers.
  3. Both publishers and libraries need to really take note of the following: ebook readers are frustrated by the lack of available content or the difficulty of getting content.  One of the things that appeal to them about e-books is the ease of access.  Making access difficult, or impossible in some cases, will not make for happy customers.
  4. Most interestingly, ebooks readers are more likely to buy content than to borrow.  61% e-book readers would rather buy as opposed to 54% of print readers who would rather buy than borrow.  Libraries, are you listening?


The Big Six publishers seem to be struggling with the concept of ebooks.  They are trying to force the print paradigm upon digital content rather than viewing it as a different beast.  They give the impression of a gaggle of Chicken Littles clucking that the sky is falling. 

Harper Collins is probably the most famous for instituting the 26 check-out limit on library ebooks.  They are attempting to simulate the wearing and replacement of physical book in libraries.

Penguin is now they are taking their dispute with Amazon out on libraries and making it more difficult for library users to borrow Kindle titles through Overdrive.  Kindles (with the exception of Kindle Fire) must be connected to the computer and the library title sideloaded.  This can be a major hassle to people accustomed to do everything wirelessly.   Refer to number 3 above.  This is after pulling their books from Overdrive and than adding them back.

Random House has increased their ebooks prices to libraries by 300%.  Apparently they have not been reading the news stories about shrinking library budgets.

Simon & Schuster and Macmillan don't even allow libraries to lend their ebooks.  It is a shame as they are missing a ton of free publicity.  Who better to promote a book than a true bibliophile? 

I would like to see some solid studies that show the effect of library lending on the purchase of books.  I know that many library users will discover a new author through the library or purchase titles they loved but originally read at the library.  However, I am not aware of any official study that supports this assumption.  Does anyone know?

Over the last few months, the American Library Association has begun discussions with publishers.  Among the many goals of ALA were the desire to educate publishers regarding library use of ebooks (no, not everyone with access to the internet is allowed to check out ebooks) and to find a mutually agreeable business model that was flexible for the many different types of libraries and affordable.  ALA has also raised issues such as user privacy and digital preservation though not information has been given regarding those discussions.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Molly Rapheal, the president of ALA, some questions regarding this topic.  One of my main concerns was the publishers talk of creating 'friction'.  They want to simulate the print book check out process by forcing the users to physically be present in the library to check-in and check-out ebooks.  The publishers are hoping that readers will be more likely to buy the book rather than go through the trouble of borrowing it.  umm..well...of course, but again refer to #3.  Molly assured us that ALA is trying to persuade publishers that this was not the best course of action.


Amazon has been a very active player in the ebook field.  It could be argued that the release of Kindle is responsible for the surge in popularity of ebooks.  One would think that this would excite publishers, but the relationship between Amazon and publishers has been anything but rosy.  This is due in main to Amazon trying to sell ebooks at the low price of $9.99.  To say the publishers balked at this price would be to understate the situation.  Publishers were concerned that they would not be able to sell print books at their full price.  (More on this topic in a moment.) 

Amazon also became competition.  They began allowing and even encourage authors to self-publish through their site.  With the advent of ebooks, self-publishing was already starting to grow. With Amazon offering services to facilitate the process, it has become even a more appealing option to many authors who either can't find a publisher to pick them up or are disgruntled with publishers treatment.


With the surgence in the popularity of the Kindle and other ebook readers, public libraries have jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, there is only one main wagon at this point - Overdrive. Overdrive has not been completely successful with their relations with publishers. Many publishers were upset when Overdrive began to offer Kindle versions of their books. The publishers felt it violated terms of their contracts because the library user had to leave the safety of the Overdrive firewall and travel to the Amazon site to complete the library check-out process. Many libraries also had concerns though their concerns focused on the privacy issues of the library user.


Into this fray steps Apple.  iPad became competitors to the Kindle as some customers wanted a device that does more than just read a book.  Who wants to carry multiple devices when you could have one that does it all.  This led to Apple adding ebooks to their line-up of offering with iBook.  Apple then approached the publishers with the offer of agency pricing or letting the publisher set the prices of ebooks.  There were two caveats.  Apple wanted a 30% cut, and they also required a signed agreement stating that the publishers could not sell to another vendor at a lower price.   This raised the prices of ebooks to around $12.99, and it also caught the attention of...


On April 11, the Department of Justice (DOJ)  brought a lawsuit again Apple and five of the big publishers for price fixing.  The DOJ has already settle with three of the publishers, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette.  The three publishers must now allow other vendors such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon to set their own prices.  Apple along with Pearson and Macmillon have decided to take the suit to court.   Initially, the lawsuit should create lower prices for ebooks, however, it has not affected Apple's stock prices.  Ebooks are a very small piece of the Apple pie, and investors still feeling fairly confident in Apple's ability to weather the storm.   I am very interested in the outcome of the suit and what the resulting repercussions will be.

With the convergence of these different events,the ebook arena seems to be reaching a tipping point.  The two industries that could be affected the most are the publishers and the libraries.  Publishers should cue into recent history and learn a lesson from Borders.  Borders was late to join the ebook game and never seemed really completely embrace it. They are now out of business.  Apple and Amazon are increasing the competition that publishers face making the possibility of them collapsing even greater.  While the publishers may not be in immediate danger of collapsing, it is a possibility with which we should contend. The publishers will either redefine their business model regarding ebooks, or their future outlook is bleak.

Libraries will also be impacted by a tipping point. If publishers succeed creating a new business model, then libraries must prove to publishers that libraries are indeed an integral part of publishers' success.  (Again, formal studies would be of benefit.) If the publishers collapse, or even if they succeed, it may be time for the libraries to reexamine their own paradigm.  Traditionally libraries have purchased titles from a vendor or direct from a publisher based in large part upon reviews or demand for subject matter or titles.  With ebooks, this has morphed into a leasing model where libraries purchase the rights to access the content, but they do not own it and cannot resell it.  Some libraries are now exploring hosting content themselves and buying direct from authors or even exploring the creation of content.  We will determine our own future.  Are we ready?

I cannot predict what the future of ebooks will look like, but I do predict that the next few years will be as exciting as the last few.  What are your thoughts regarding recent events?