Facing the conundrum: reports from the e-book field

I often start my presentations on e-books by sharing a scene from Anchorman, the Will Ferrell movie.  In a key scene, two anchor teams from rival channels start to “battle it out.”  Just as they are about to begin, another channel’s team shows up and joins the fight, and then another, and another.   It seems to me the perfect metaphor for the ever-changing battle in the e-book wars.

Internet Librarian West (my favorite of uber-librarian conferences) held a two-day e-book strand this week, which I was able to catch quite a bit of the live stream for.

The complexity of issues involved and the number of entities engaged in discussion are almost staggering.  The strand was a really deep window into what is going on, and I’m going to try to summarize a few of the sessions I caught as food for thought.

In a session on E-books and the future of publishing, Oxford Press representative David Bowers talked about the challenges with reference, because as he put it, publishers are aware that there are a lot of ways to ‘slice and dice’ nonfiction so that users can access the book’s content in many different ways.

Stephen Abrams(Gale Cengage) noted the differences between the types of texts that academic libraries might want as compared to public libraries or school libraries.  But more specifically, he asked a lot of good questions about e-textbooks.   He wondered how publishers can move the ‘hard line’ dividing textbooks and database content, for example, envisioning that the library becomes simply part of the blend of instructional textbook content.  There are things the industry knows: textbooks need to be  device agnostic, browser independent and ADA compliant.  But there are questions that are much harder to answer that Abrams posed:

Should a professor be able to look into a textbook and see if the student even read the chapter?

Should the professor/teacher be able to see inside the etextbook and see what questions the student missed?

Should the owners of the etextbooks be able to gather data from across the school about its use?

How does “social” affect textbooks?

And what violates the students’ privacy?

As for fiction and libraries, Abrams mentioned new models being floated out–like Bookish, a social network for books which a conglomerate of publishers including Simon and Schuster and Penguin are working on; Lendle, which allows lending of a book one time from a Kindle; and 24 Symbols, which is a cloud-based subscription method for accessing books (like Netflix).  How libraries will fit into those pictures is yet to be seen.

A scintillating panel on the future of e-books and libraries included:

Alison Griffin, Account Manager, Ingram’s Coutts Library Service
Michael Porter, Libraryland Watcher
Robert Miller, Director, Books, Internet Archive
Sarah Houghton, Assistant Director, San Rafael Public Library & Author,
Andromeda Yelton, Gluejar
Brian Gurewitz, Director of Content Sales, OverDrive

This panel’s discussion really challenged the relationship between publishers, authors, e-content and libraries and brought diverse viewpoints to the table.

Michael Porter shared his new venture, Library Renewal.org, which is drawing together those interested in e-content and libraries to come up with solutions that include library content in them.  He spoke about possible direct relationships between libraries and authors, or a co-op sort of model.  (Interestingly, Sarah Houghton pointed out  that according to Freakanomics, publishers are making more money on e-books, and authors are making more money on print books.)  Library Renewal is interested in how libraries can deal with e-books that are in high demand (pointing out Overdrive lenders sometimes have exceedingly long waits for books, for example).  As Porter describes it, Library Renewal is by libraries and for libraries, and we don’t have to accept the e-book model that is handed out to us.  (You can imagine the Overdrive representative was squirming by now.)

Andromeda Yelton shared GlueJar’s new model, called Unglue It, which is based on crowdsourcing e-books.   As their vision statement explains, “Gluejar is building a place for individuals and institutions to join together to liberate specific ebooks and other types of digital content by paying rights holders to relicense their works under Creative Commons licenses.”    The community would band together to raise funds to ‘liberate’ as she says, certain e-books for increased access.   Andromeda made an interesting point, that now, content is everywhere, which means  “content isn’t that exciting.   If you are providing the local value add that Amazon can’t do, that’s where the excitement is.”   (and isn’t that what libraries do or sites like Good Reads that build a community around reading?)

Sarah Houghton, aka the fierce Librarian in Black, asked a series of very important questions for libraries:

–Are we trying to create digital content that looks like print content and do we need to?
–What about limited check out periods?–why should it expire at all?
–Why limited numbers of checkouts?
–What do we do about a long term problem for libraries–we license it, don’t own it. How does that affect us as the preservation of record for our community?
Shift in the way that libraries function and it’s not been thought out too well.
–What do we do when some models aren’t even including libraries in the equation like Bookish-where  Simon Schuster, et. al. are  not even including libraries in their market?
–Can libraries work with content creators directly?
–In 10 years, will we see free open marketplace and will books move the way music has?
–How will library access work with other digital media types as we change the notion of what a book is?
–What about locked down systems like Apple?
–What about privacy in models like Overdrive and Amazon’s partnership, particularly for kids?
–Do publishers have a long term role in content creation and distribution?  Or will self-publishing will take off really fast?

One thing this panel discussion made quite clear is that there is a lot of work to do, and a lot of complex questions to be negotiated.  The role of aggregators as mediators in delivering the content, the role of the publishers, how libraries fit into all this, and where all the models leave authors are all complex.   But it was heartening to see so many professionals seriously engaged in thinking about these problems and how they can come up with creative and innovative types of solutions.

My hope?  My hope is that the school libraries and the k-12 readers don’t get left at the roadside in these models, and we’re left to adapt to using models more fitted for other venues with different needs.

More in another post on another e-book panel led by Sue Polanka with some excellent questions for libraries

Postscript:  All of the e-book strand was live-streamed and saved, and when I find that link, I’ll post it.  This link connects to the slides from the conference.  Another good “round up post” is on the Internet Librarian blog and from the Librarian in Black’s blog.



2 thoughts on “Facing the conundrum: reports from the e-book field

  1. Thanks for watching our panel! I loved how diverse the viewpoints were myself (and it is always nice to be called “scintillating” :).

    I know that K12 libraries have a unique set of ebook needs that aren’t generally well-served by the same models that work in a public or college environment. (Used to teach middle school myself.) It’s certainly our hope that unglued books can be useful for schools, too (the CC license would permit you to make as many copies as you needed at no charge, for one thing; very useful for classroom sets, if ereading is a viable option for your students). If there are any books that it would be especially helpful for us to unglue for your school, please drop us a line so we can see if their rights holders are amenable to that. Or any other comments on how we can best work with school libraries — also great to hear.

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