Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

So Which Way Do the Library E-winds Blow?

The indefatigable Sue Bartle graced my in-box with several links this morning, which comment on one another in ways I thought I’d share. First, as many of you must know, Random House has drastically increased the prices it charges libraries for ebooks: From the ALA itself down to individual librarians this was bad news. Or, sort of bad news: the good news is that RH is still selling to libraries. And if you read more carefully, RH wants more circ data on ebooks from the libraries (aggregate numbers, not info on individual borrowers ala the Patriot Act clash) which to me seems like the beginning of a rational exchange. RH is saying — if we sell you a print book, and it circs well, soon enough you will need to buy a replacement copy. Our business model for that kind of book includes what is called “backlist” sales — that is books first published long ago but which continue to reprint — for bookstore sales, library sales, classroom sales. HarperCollins had tried to account for that with the 26 circ limit. Now RH is trying to load all future gain into the initial price. Both of these solutions may be wrong — but it seems to me that, rather than merely being upset about cost, libraries need to think about what models would make sense — for their budgets, their patrons, the publishers, and the authors. If sticker shock now is the biggest problem, then should a library system work with some reputable organization — the Authors Guild, the association of American publisehrs — to share aggregate circ numbers of print books, thus identifying when a book generally gets replaced, and to arrive at a reasonable scale for when a library would need to pay to refresh a range of kinds of digital publications.

A second article that arrived via Sue-mail was this rather inspiring piece about what bookish apps may become:
And it linked nicely to this third Sue-gram, an interview with Anthony Horowitz about whether authors needs publishers:
The Horowitz fits with the Martinez essay in that they both identify where there is, and where there is not, real potential in the eworld. Horowitz imagines a digital reading experience in which ebedded in the “page” are clues the “reader” (more like experiencer) can pick up: for example, if a character speaks, the reader has ways to discern if s/he is lying. Similarly Martinez talks about the cheap or free tools already available for developers to experiement in app creation. Horowitz argues that self-publishing in e-land is something of a mirage, since so often authors (he expressly includes himself) need editors. Martinez makes a kind of parallel argument for the “law of surprise and demand” — to gget buyers to go to a new technology it must offer a new kind of experience.

So adding it all up — we are battling over how to circ digital versions of print books in both our physical libraries and the library extended via devices, but at the same time we just beginning to figure out what new kinds of digital creations can be as tech marches on. I’m wondering if the crossing point is that idea of the library extended — the library bot, the curation collection mindset that is available to patrons anywhere and on anything — knowledge as we invent the future — that’s the frontier I want to explore.


  1. Matt Bartle says:

    When Sue Bartle speaks, attention must be paid.

    (At least, that’s been my experience!)