Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ebooks and the existential crises of libraries

Yesterday, I was in Toronto for the first OLITA Council meeting of 2011. OLITA meetings are productive and good fun. At this meeting, we spent some time planning for the upcoming one-day Digital Odyssey  conference. The theme of the conference will be Ebooks (R)evolution and those involved will be approaching potential speakers shortly.

Generally there is not a formal call for speakers for the event, but if you know of someone who has done some work or writing pertaining to ebooks, you can let me know and I will forward your suggestions. Obviously equity is top of mind at the moment and so if you know of a great voice on ebooks that should be heard by a wider audience please let me know.

There was a running joke at yesterday's meeting that councilor Fiacre O'Duinn has a knack for instilling existential crises in others. At last count, I had about four yesterday. Here's the first one. It deals with ebooks.

The topic of discussion was the possibility of ebooks privacy and Fiacre brought up of the scenario when book scanners would drop in price and size to become a common consumer-item.  I said, "well, let's remember what the TV networks did when they saw their viewers go online to watch old episodes. They all banded together to create Hulu" and as soon as I said it, the penny dropped.  What's stopping the Big 6 publishers from creating their own online library to lend out ebooks and bypassing pesky libraries altogether?


I've found much of the discussion regarding the recent Overdrive-HarperCollin's 26 books controversy important but lacking.

I have to admit that I feel that the whole notion of lending ebooks is problematic. Digital copies that disappear after a set limit of time is a model that has not been established for music, newspapers, magazines, television episode, movies, or video games. My feeling is that the publishers are just buying time before they create their own Hulu.

There has been some sentiments expressed that HarperCollins recent actions betray how dumb they are. But maybe they aren't so dumb after all. Eric Hellman has done some analysis that suggests there is cunning in their strategy to strangle the long tail of lending.

In my own reading outside of libraryland, I've learned that Harper Collins is doing some interesting ebooks projects at the moment. From the world of Alternative Reality Games, the blog ARGNet reports in PC Studios Takes the Reading Experience Mobile :

Carman’s other foray into mobile storytelling is Dark Eden, a paranormal thriller targeting the 12 and up demographic, published through HarperCollins. The story centers around seven teenagers attempting to overcome their fears. Sharing the same counselor, the teens are sent into the woods to meet with a man who will help them overcome their fears. Both the book and the app will debut at Comic-Con this July. An alternate reality game that Carman describes as PC Studios’ most ambitious yet will launch on May 10th, offering a terrifying taste of what’s to come.

And from O'Reilly's Publishing News: Week in Review: HarperCollins may be on to something with its all-digital imprint

Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, has launched an all-digital line, Avon Impulse... the imprint will put out one original e-romance a week... Authors do better with e-books however, since they're paid a royalty rate of 25% of the net sale. With paperbacks, they're paid 8% to 10% of the list price, which works out to be considerably less.

Look who's on their way to building their own Hulu?

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