At the Computers in Libraries conference last week, there was lots of discussion about ebooks. Angry discussion. Okay some of the anger was in fun, but libraries are in a tough spot when it comes to ebooks.
Thursday’s A202 session, “Ebook Trends: Info Pro Perspectives,” started with Andy Woodworth quoting Louis C.K.: “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.” Click through and watch Louis (He’s on Conan, so there’s no swears. From 1:55 to 6:08 or so is his bit on this). His take, and Andy’s, seems pretty right-on. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have imaged the conveniences of today’s information technologies. But we get seriously upset today when it doesn’t operate at maximum convenience.
I don’t think our complaints about ebooks are about inconvenience. Libraries are about giving everyone equal access to content. “Sharing wins,” says Andy. “Sharing will always win.” Sharing isn’t this optional thing you might or might not do in your lifetime. Boy, another month without sharing anything with anyone. Nope. “The inclination to share stories, thoughts, ideas, and concepts is more philosophically compelling than the rules around them.” Yep.
So if sharing wins, why are libraries still getting skunked? I think it’s because we forget that this system causes our patrons more pain than it causes us. We’d like to offer The Hunger Games in ebook format and not just as a downloadable audio book, but it’s patrons who can’t get the ebook.
And patrons don’t know why they can’t check out the ebooks they want to read. They don’t know that this ebook isn’t available from this publisher at all, or that that ebook just tripled in price from that publisher. My question isn’t if ebooks are worth getting upset about. It’s if libraries are the right ones to be upset. Shouldn’t it be our patrons?
After all, our frustration doesn’t get us a better seat at the bargaining table with the publishers and Overdrive. (Do we even have a seat there?) When Random House “experiments” with 300% price increases on ebooks, libraries have to buy fewer copies or buy from other publishers.
Issues like that are invisible to patrons, who likely don’t know the publisher of the book they want to read at all. They just want to read. We need to make these issues visible, because it’s patrons who are really getting skunked here. When they see enough examples of publishers gaming library budgets and cutting off access to ebooks, they’ll have the “Aha” moment we already have.
They’ll hit bingo. They’ll start making this argument about access to ebooks for us, and there are a lot more patrons out there than librarians. We’re talking about these issues already, but we need to talk about it where our patrons can hear. At the reference desk, sure, but in the local newspapers, local radio, our websites. I don’t enjoy getting skunked, but it’s a lot easier to take if it gets patrons closer to that bingo moment. Let’s make sure it does.
Here’s a quick update. I sent Pottermore a question about what format you get when you “buy” a Harry Potter ebook. They responded (very quickly, I might add) that you aren’t buying a format. When you make a purchase it appears in your “My books” list. From the “My books” page you can download the ebook in whatever format you like, up to their limit of 8 downloads.
So you could link your purchase to the Amazon store, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and still download the EPUB file to sideload onto an e-reader using Adobe’s Digital Editions and have only used 4 of your 8 available downloads. That’s pretty cool. I hope other books, authors, and publishers will be able to create similar agreements so that buying content doesn’t tie you to a specific device or store.
This is really good news for consumers. I’d still like to actually own the ebooks I buy, though, when I’m paying for a book I want to keep. DRM or not, I want to be able to do what I want with the copy I bought. That doesn’t include making multiple copies to pass around. But I should be able to loan my copy to a friend without being labeled a pirate.
On the other hand, I don’t want to own every book I read. That’s why I go to the library. I’d be willing to rent an ebook and pay $.99 or $1.99 to have it for 30 or 60 days. That’s not the maximum I would pay, necessarily, but those prices would be an easy sale. I’d get to skip the hold list at the library and hopefully have a longer period of time to read the book. But when I’m done, the file goes away, and I’m not saddled with an ebook I can’t resell or even donate.
Is this crazy-talk?
Today’s library twitterstream is buzzing with the news that the Harry Potter ebooks are now available at Pottermore. Books 1-3 are $7.99 each , and books 4-7 are $9.99 each. Or you can get the whole collection for $57.54. They also have audio books available for download. $29.99 for 1-3 each, and $44.99 for 4-7 each. Or get the whole shebang for $242.94.
While having these available as ebooks is news, the way these downloads work with devices is really interesting. For one, the ebooks don’t have DRM restrictions. Instead of DRM that locks the ebook to a specific retailer’s system, ebooks are “personalized” and watermarked with your name. So if you share your ebook files on the internets, the Pottermore crew can easily track who shared it.
The ebooks are also available in formats compatible with pretty much every available e-reader. Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Android devices, iOS devices: check, check, all of them yes. Audio books are available in MP3 format, so they’re compatible with every device with a headphone jack, as well.
Wait, the ebook you buy at Pottermore works with the Kindle and the Nook? Yes indeed. When you purchase an ebook, you can connect your Pottermore account to your Amazon or Barnes & Noble account. (I’m still hunting down whether you can connect to both with a single purchase.) By connect, I mean the Pottermore site opens a window where you can sign in to your Amazon/B&N account to link accounts. Your Kindle-compatible ebook will then get loaded through Amazon, but the entire purchase process happens at Pottermore. You can see this in action at Pottermore’s YouTube page.
Why would Amazon, and others, do this? Why would they let you purchase an ebook through another store and load it onto your Kindle–something they’ve never done before, according to this article at The Bookseller? With no inside information at all, I’d guess they just want it that bad. Same for Barnes & Noble, Google’s new store called Play. (Pottermore currently doesn’t have an agreement in place with Apple to link to the iBookstore, but the DRM-free file can be added to the iBooks app through iTunes, very easily.)
So you can buy the Harry Potter ebooks in one place and use it on the device of your choosing. And further, you can download the ebook a total of 8 times, in case you lose the file. Pretty nice. Here’s the bad news: you don’t own the ebook. Here are the details, straight from their Terms & Conditions page:
12.1 When you buy a downloadable book from us, what you are buying is the right to use that book in the way we explain below for your own personal, non-commercial use only:
The text describes how you can download content and use it on your e-reader. Under section 12.2 comes the next little nugget.
You may not and may not permit others to do any of the following things in relation to any book or extract:
§sell, distribute, loan, share, give or lend the book or extract to any other person including to your friends (except in the limited circumstances explained at 12.1 above);
You can’t sell it. That’s when you know you don’t own something. Pottermore files don’t have DRM to enforce this. All the same, you’re forbidden from loaning the ebook file to a friend, let alone selling it to a stranger on Craigslist.
If that takes the shine off, visit your local library’s ebook collection on Thursday, when the Harry Potter books should be available to read for free on the e-reader of your choice.
If you’ve been to a conference of any kind, you’ve probably been in this session: The Tour. At The Tour, you see lots of photos and read plenty of lists off the screen. You may even see a video with a techno soundtrack as a miniature tour within The Tour.
I tend to check out of these sessions pretty quickly, if what they built isn’t something really new or unique. If I can understand what you’ve done by visiting your website for 10 minutes, I didn’t come for The Tour. I want to know how you built the thing you’re showing off. How did you get funding? How did you decide how to spend it? Do you have one-time or ongoing funding? How did you decide how to set your goals? How did you identify your audience?
To be fair, these are difficult questions, and they’re often pretty personal questions, too. But just because they’re local questions or issues doesn’t mean that they can’t be instructive to others. Sometimes these are the key questions others struggle to answer. All your funding came from one very generous family? I can’t replicate that, but maybe I will consider grants differently if I see that that’s funding my project in other cities. (That’s a good thing to mention to possible funding orgs, too.)
Like one of the speakers this morning said, I’d rather try and fail than not try at all. Similarly, I’d rather hear specifics that I might not be able to apply than get The Tour and walk away with nothing but pictures.
Jeffrey Phillips, VP of OVO Innovate on Purpose. Already sounds like one of the programs we’d have at the library, right? His talk was about innovation, not innoventing (which is a word made up by Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on “30 Rock”).
If the speaker’s title alone makes you want to striking a finger-gun pose, hey me too. And thinking about the range of libraries SWON represents, I want to shoot those finger-guns up in the air. Lots of our libraries don’t have an Executive/Middle Manager/Staff setup like a Fortune 500 company. So I don’t think there’s a direct translation for a lot of his ideas to libraries.
But I do think we need to build innovation in to what we do. That is, we need to create processes around innovation. How do we describe new ideas? What vocabulary goes with them? How can we allow ourselves to entertain questions that don’t match up with answers we have in place already? How do we discover new trends and look for ways to build off of them? Without processes, these activities will come as a surprise. We won’t be sure how to respond to them. And coming up with a way to respond will burn energy that should go into the idea process.
Building processes builds a culture that accepts and searches for innovation. If we create a way to talk about it, we create value for the process. And we need to talk about it. It’s great to see front-line staff on Twitter, talking about the new ways they’re engaged with patrons and technology (to barely begin a list).
We need library leaders, whatever their title, to be vocal about changes they see and changes they want to drive forward. This doesn’t need to take place on Twitter, but it needs to take place where people can see it. That is, not just in board meetings or private conversations. If you want this to be part of the mission of your library, show it by telling people about it.
The next session’s about to start. To quickly end, this process-building isn’t up to each of us individually. Let’s work this out together.