Over the last few years, as a fifth of American adults have gotten ereaders, ebooks have transformed the book market and reading landscape. The library market is no exception. There’s now an array of established vendors and emerging options for libraries to choose from in order to deliver ebooks to patrons. In my job as the librarian at one of the emerging options (Unglue.it), I’ve seen the pros and cons of various models, and thought about what those mean.
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"eBook reading monitoring can go very deep as in (1) how long it takes to finish reading an eBook (2) what text a reader highlights, (3) what sections the reader skips over, and (4) whether a reader stops reading the book before finishing it in its entirety. Much but not all of the WSJ article focuses on how useful this data can to publishers to help them create books that will hold readers' attention better."
Facebook’s generation-spanning popularity is partly to blame. In a world where it’s considered rude to turn down a friend request, especially from a family member, teens were suddenly seeing their aunts, uncles and parents in their News Feeds. Twitter connections aren’t mutual friendships as they are on Facebook; just because someone follows your tweets doesn’t mean you have to follow them back. Teenaged users like this feature, and they’re employing Twitter’s simpler privacy controls as well, choosing to hide their tweets from public view and sending them only to a select group of friends.
In the words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. Haven’t we all just staggered over to the ebook reality, gotten down with our digital selves, and tried to ease away from those visions of dustcovers dancing at our launch parties?
And now Hugh McGuire is here to tell us ebooks aren’t going to make it, either? Well, yeah, in a way. Despite what may seem like odd timing. After all, we know that eBook Revenues Topped Hardcover in the first quarter, per the Association of American Publishers, as Jason Boog at GalleyCat has dutifully reported.
I am interested in all of these potential paths, but also can’t have fun imagining them without confronting questions that arise from them as well. In the case of Nelson, what happens when you only see opinions that resonate with your own, much as we experience online at this point in time. In Coupland, what types of privacy will be available? I don’t necessarily want my personal reading showing up in business related lists (and vice versa). In Alice, what happens to people who want to read to escape, without having to actively play along? And in any of these, what is the role of the library?
All that being said, they’re still fascinating options, and clearly we have a lot of exciting times head in the world of the book…
Last month, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (named for the Sesame Street early learning visionary) released the results of a “quick study,” a small, exploratory study pairing parents and young children for “co-reading” experiences with print books, regular eBooks, and interactive or “enhanced” eBooks.
You see what's going on here: a proliferation of formats combined with a spiking of costs. Together, they greatly impede our ability to meet public demand for a particular work; they erode the purchasing power of the public library.
We created the crisis in scholarly publishing by ceding control of an intrinsic library function, abstracting and indexing, a decision with inevitable consequences. Consequences like the present need to boycott Elsevier for its predatory practices. Consequences like libraries spending as much money as we can muster on only just minimally justifiable user experiences: bundled interfaces that are confusing individually and often unusable collectively, which is why many libraries spend even more on federating services like Summon in order to offer search to our users in a way that makes sense to them.
An author who wants to give away their work currently has a lot of venues to do so, including Feedbooks, Smashwords, the Kindle Store, and they can even set up their own website. Last week Project Gutenberg threw another option into the mix. It hasn’t gotten any serious amount of attention yet, but Project Gutenberg is now letting authors upload and distribute their own works. The new site can be found at self.gutenberg.org.
Here’s a question we at Unglue.it get a lot on the interwebs:
Why should readers contribute to make titles in your corpus available with Creative Commons licensing when they can already purchase them, in many cases, at a very low price? (In other words, you don’t need to make them available if they already are available!)
(slightly edited; original here)
It’s a fair question that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what ungluing is for — which makes it our responsibility to better articulate that. (For all this “we” language, I’m writing in my personal blog here and my views are my own, FYI.)
So. Why spend a few bucks on ungluing, when you could spend the same few bucks and own the book, one-click?
So here's the deal: we started out with First Sale, Fair Use, and patron confidentiality. First Sale came with ownership: you pay for it, you get a copy of the work, and you can use it, lend it, and sell it. For libraries, that meant that we could move a book around our branches (even without publisher permission), loan it out via interlibrary loan, share it consortially, or keep it forever. Alternatively, we could sell it at discount, or even give it away to kids, churches, schools, veterans, and so on. Because we were talking about a physical item, only one person could use it at a time. Fair Use meant that we could quote it in reviews, use parts of it in other works (academic papers), and so on. We couldn't claim that we wrote it, or make whole copies.
Patron confidentiality meant that what you read was your own business. The library was only interested in what you currently had checked out, so we could remind you to bring it back, or charge you to replace it.
Upon these three pillars rested the public library. They worked. Library use has grown steadily over the years, and we have been a significant force for literacy. And as the data show, we contribute to the success of publishers and writers both.
When ebooks came along, suddenly all of these principles were up for grabs.