The Latest ebook Frustration

I’ve mentioned a few times here my frustration with ebooks and their lack of functionality in libraries. The saga continues:

“HarperCollins—citing the explosive growth of e-book sales—announced a new e-book lending policy beginning March 7 that will limit the length of its library licenses to a maximum of 26 loans per e-title.” (Calvin Read – Publishers Weekly, March 2, 2011)

Eiffel Girders ©Brian Farrell

The irony in this for me is that I have just this week been in contact again with OverDrive about possibly starting a subscription to their library ebook service now that they support the iPad and iPhone. OverDrive is the very company that is bowing to HarperCollins’ demands of limiting the number of circulations of each ebook to 26 loans per title, and so I now have to face the moral issue of whether we should support them or not.

Author and blogger Cory Doctorow has been writing for years about how awful any sort of Digital Rights Management (DRM) is, and I’m starting to understand why. Publishers like HarperCollins are now starting to realize their power given these tools, and are lashing out in a bid to keep themselves relevant. Not surprising, given that authors are realizing that in the ebook game, publishers are irrelevant and they can do just fine on their own, thank you very much.

How Google and Apple can make a lot more money

I’ve been working on a couple of projects lately and have come up against some frustrations.  Some of this is a bit of a rehashing of things, but I haven’t posted in a while, so here goes.

Ebooks.  There’s still no easy way for a library to process these.  As I’ve vented about before, we’re stuck with choosing between systems from library vendors (eg Follett) that work well in terms of the back of house library processing stuff but aren’t really intuitive or well designed for our users or systems from non library vendors that are intuitive (eg iTunes) but that aren’t set up well to work with a library loan system.  I actually had a chance to share this with a rep from Apple Japan last week, and we’ve got visitors coming from their big house in California next week that will hear the same thing from me.  Being non-library people though, I’m not sure if they fully understand our unique constraints and how we’re different from individual users.  Maybe they need to hire a library consultant…

My other problem of late concerns databases.   I think we have some great ones in terms of content, but again, they aren’t always the most user friendly.  As a result, we have some teachers recommending Google Scholar to their students even though we are paying a lot of money for access to a bunch of other databases (EBSCO, Questia, Newsbank, BrainPOP).  While I’d obviously prefer that we use the products we’re currently paying for, I fully understand why our users would gravitate towards Google Scholar – it’s an interface that they’re already used to, and therefore much less intimidating.  Google just needs to figure out a way to harness this potential revenue stream.  If it meant being able to increase their content, they should find a way to charge our library each time one of our students accesses one of their articles and I’d gladly pay the fee.

Google and Apple, I’ll kindly accept a 10% cut in the royalties for these ideas.  Given the markets of late though, my preferred form of payment will be in pelts or furs or some sort of payment that I can put in a coffee can and bury out in the woods.

My love/hate relationship with ebooks

First off, I must admit that my library currently has no ebooks in its collection.  Neither did the last one I worked at.  Fundamentally, it all comes down to one big problem – logistics.

  • How can we make our circulation systems work with ebooks?
  • How can we ensure that these materials don’t get copied?
  • How can we easily distribute these holdings to only our patrons?

There are various solutions out there, and I will pursue one eventually.  For now, our impending migration to a new circulation system has meant that projects like this are temporarily on hold.

Stanza has been suggested as a possible solution.  People have talked before about Amazon’s Kindle.  Sony has a similar product.  To me they all present the same problem – cost.  I really don’t think it’s practical for any library to pay the same (or often higher) price for a printed title and then to also pay three hundred dollars for readers to view them.

So we’ll likely stick with the system that will integrate best with our new circulation software, and that’s Follett’s ebooks.  They don’t integrate seamlessly with handheld devices (they run on PalmOS or PocketPC – apparently Follett has not yet heard of that new fangled gadget called an iPod).  They’re limited in title selection, and they cost just as much as print copies.

Can you see why I’m hesitant to hurry up and buy these things?

Apple, please save me (and my rapidly decreasing AAPL shares) and make a library solution for iTunes.