Now is the (digital) hour
At last, we have a real ePublication revolution, already impacting Libraries and Publishers,
and beneﬁtting Readers worldwide.
Librarians and Publishers have always been “in this together” – and together, they will have
to adopt and adapt to the new reality.
What is that digital reality, for Libraries and Publishers?
1. There is no difference between lending and copying. They are the same.
2. There is no difference between a book, a magazine, a newspaper, an article and a blog,
amongst many others, including videos and images.
3. Advertising – particularly newspaper and magazine advertising – does not translate well
to the ePublication world.
4. Exponential adoption of eReading-capable devices worldwide.
5. Internet penetration as a delivery and discovery system is set to be ubiquitous in the
near future – including “the other 3 billion”.
6. Publishing an ePublication is cheap and easy, and anyone can do it. Authoring such a
publication is just about as hard, time consuming, and expensive as it ever was.
7. Customers (Readers/Viewers) ﬁnd Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems intrusive
and unacceptable, and will devise ways to circumvent them.
8. There will be little or no difference between Author and Publisher, and little or no
difference between Library and Bookseller.
If we accept these realities, then we can devise ways to ride the wave.
If we do not accept them, we will drown instead, because this wave is unstoppable.
Customers at Amazon are now buying more eBooks than print, and Kindle owners have
quadrupled their consumption of books as compared to before they owned a Kindle.
Another consequence of the digital future as noted above is that there will be little or no
difference between Authors and Publishers, and little or no difference between Libraries
and Booksellers. Already, US-resident (and now, UK-resident) Amazon customers can
subscribe to the “Amazon Prime” service and “borrow” eBooks. So, Amazon is a great
discovery and delivery service for ePublications, and now lends them too. There is a catch,
though for the reader – it only works on Kindles – which is understandable, as Amazon has
to make a proﬁt – but poses a very dangerous threat, long term, to the equitable access to
ePublications that is the goal of libraries.
How can Amazon lend books, when there is no difference between lending and copying? –
The answer is it does not lend books – it purchases them on demand. Amazon is using the
“wholesale model” of book selling, whereby it pays the wholesale price negotiated with the
publisher/author each time a user “borrows” an ePublication.
Riding the wave
“Purchase on demand” – sounds familiar to librarians (and ex-librarians). The use of this
phrase in the context of libraries is that a large percentage of books purchased by the
library are never read – or read only once. Back in the day when books were books and
libraries were not booksellers, there was justiﬁcation for “collection development” because
if the library did not purchase a book, then it could become unavailable in the future, being
out of print.
But in the digital world there is no reason to collect ePublications in this way – they will not
ever go out of print – so long as they are not in a proprietary format and tied to a particular
eReader, like the Kindle, or as “apps” in their own, closed formats.
Libraries ride to the rescue?
Sorry about the long preliminary. My view then, is that libraries need to move to a
purchase on demand model, for ePublications. This beneﬁts the author/publisher, and the
reader. It allows the library to insist on a non-proprietary ePublication format like ePub,
which is crucial for the future.
And at least some the money is already there in the collection development budget.
In view of the potentially vast beneﬁt to readers, and our society this represents (quadruple
reading – access to vastly expanded resources – instantly – nation wide – at any time) the
budgetary implications should not prevent action – now – or we risk allowing that future to
be taken out of our hands. I believe libraries have a crucial role to play in ushering in an
ePublication future which is fair and beneﬁcial to all.
Newspapers/Magazines: The role of libraries potentially goes much deeper. We are seeing
the demise of metropolitan newspapers and many magazines as the advertising spend on
them dries up year after year. Local newspapers and specialist magazines may survive in
print or as ePublications, but it seems there is no rescuing metropolitan newspapers in
their current form.
If we deconstruct a newspaper, my view is that after removing agency sourced news,
which is increasingly available on the internet generally, we are left with two important
roles – that of being a “publication of record” – for example Family Notices – and local news
reports. Some aspects of local news are already served by “local papers” usually free to
the public. What metropolitans do, in this respect is provide a platform for more in-depth
and investigative articles, which are of great beneﬁt not only to the city, but to the country.
The funding of these activities is unfortunately already eroding – and we are seeing a
reduction in the number of articles of this qualitybeing published as the newspapers
City Council’s will have to step in at some point to preserve these important roles of the
newspaper. They will have a ready made platform and system to do this, in libraries’
ePublication systems. Buy on demand can be applied not only to eBooks, but to eArticles,
Blogs – and any ePublication. It provides a method not only to fund authors, but also to
gauge their “worth” by measuring that demand. Further, the library “ePlatform” could
provide a place for potentially “worthy” but unknown authors to be discovered. Again, the
role of bookseller and library is not distinguishable.
Is there a difference between a basket and a cloud on the internet? Lets just call it a cloud,
and not quibble.
It obviously does not make sense for each library to create an ePlatform for itself. A single
LibraryCloud could be viewed through many lenses, but remain one entity.
The services it would provide are on a technical level are not difﬁcult. I will post a
Knowledge Basket scenario on that shortly.
What remains is the governance aspect. Should the LibraryCloud be a consortium of
Libraries, or should it be a company? I think there is room for more than one solution.
In broad outline, the LibraryCloud would negotiate supply agreements on the “wholesale
model” – the agency model seems to have been dealt a fatal blow recentlywith publishers/
authors and arrange to host their ePubs on the LibraryCloud in a searchable and
browsable database for Libraries and their patrons to access, and then provide the back
end services to support supply on demand. An important requirement is the ability to
archive purchased ePubs in a standard format.
The LibraryCloud I have outlined takes account of all the “realities” I listed above. Perhaps
I should have included 9. Libraries are not ready or able to respond in time, to the above.?