Monday, October 17, 2011

Killing Librarianship

Killing Librarianship

This may seem like an hour wasted, but for me it was an hour well spent indeed. I found this on my Google Reader a few weeks ago and just had to share. David Lankes offers some insight into how to keep librarianship alive. This fresh and entertaining perspective was most enjoyable to listen while working on my homework. So well I was able to use it in an assignment that week. Libraries are dying for ideas... dying being the operative word here. If an hour is time you just don't have I recommend the first ten minutes. Check your email while you listen and enjoy some chuckles as Lankes offers options into having libraries not only survive, but thrive with INNOVATION!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

E-Books: Business Models for the Future

Most everyone wants to get excited about E-Books and who wouldn't? Those cute little Kindles or swanky new Nooks all appeal to the avid reader. I wanted a place where I could pick and chose what I was reading at the time without having to carry eight books with me, which I have done before. Yet libraries are playing the “Red Light Green Light” game with the idea of E-Books in the collection especially public libraries due to the headaches of the digital business models. When it comes to purchasing and acquiring digital books, it can be literal nightmare. While publishers and distributors have tried to make workable business models for the acquisition of digital books, there has yet to be a model that truly captures what both sides are looking for. While I will not promote myself as a business model expert here, I offer these two business models to examine the heart of the conflict and how it can be improved.

First let's look at what is in practice today. In an interview with Library Journal's Katie Dunneback HarperCollins's Josh Marwell discusses the current business model they are using. HarperCollins is using a twenty six checkout limit model (Carmin, Dunneback, and Sheehan, 2011, October 1). Even he confessed that it was a “work in progress”, but that is completely unacceptable for a broad spectrum of books and genres. True some books may not use up that checkout limit for a few years, but there are many books especially in the bestseller and children's areas that exceed that checkout limit very quickly. They admit this model is not the best. So what are some other options?

Scenario 1: The Netflix Model

One of the first ones that popped into my head was Netflix. Despite being under heavy fire the past few months their business model was a sound one. Much like how library reference databases work, libraries who want to use the collective database have to pay a subscription fee. Netflix took an awkward online database and made it very user friendly. Users can find exactly what they like and if it is not offered then the user can recommend it to be purchased. This aspect of browseability lends itself to be an attractive feature for libraries who are constantly trying to find that perfect match.

The model would be a collaborative feat of epic proportions bring together distributors and publishers, librarians, and users to allow licenses for as many digital books that people can download. This model would offer unlimited check outs for everyone. Two people can check out the same book at the same time unlike Overdrive where it is one digital book per checkout. Offering that option to libraries will mean that users will be able to see what is out there and do not have to wait for the next person to check it out. Libraries can subscribe to the service and allow their local branches to use it. The libraries who benefit the most will be the ones who use it the most. DRM would be protected by the same software that deletes the E-Book after a it's checkout time limit. This idea has been explored through the use of Overdrive, but this would be on a much larger scale. The collection would be the largest collaborative force ever. Much like Netflix's work with movie distributors, this business model would work in a similar fashion.

The attractive pros for this feature is fantastic user friendly browseability that will have patrons looking at the library with renewed appreciation. One of the most irritating feature of E-Books in libraries is the confusing and complicated browsing features that leave most patrons ready to just buy the E-Book outright from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Especially if they have a Kindle since only until recently Amazon did not let their E-Readers read anything, but proprietary Amazon approved books.

Another pro to this is the Netflix concept of instant gratification. Netflix started out with DVDs traveling to people in the mail and then the users were able to keep it for as long as they want for no late fees which we all remember what a pain those were. Now Netflix has shifted their business model from a DVD focused to an online focus. They sought to create a business where all content would be found online and they are working on that model. This instant gratification will allow library users the ability to check out E-Books from anywhere at anytime. From their public library to their home, patrons will have the opportunity to find a book and check it out instantaneously.

Another pro is the ease of pricing. One price to access the collection and no check out limits! This way the libraries who use the service more will reap the benefits of the service. That gives the librarians an element of control. They can market and promote their services to boost their uses. This also eliminates the wacky pricing models that have been proposed before. Instead of complex pricing strategies there is one blanket price that can be made affordable as more people join.

On the other hand this would be the possible pricing options headache. Libraries differ in size and budgets, but would have to either pay the same price or use pay tiers to be able to tap into this service. This could add some confusion, but allow some latitude with smaller libraries so they are able to provide the similar services. Similar to how Netflix uses there Unlimited Streaming package, libraries could be offered affordable options to the collection. This may mean limited the amount of uses or the genres of the collection. It would take negotiations and strong trust to ensure that everyone was being offered a fair chance at the collection.

Another con is who would run it? Netflix is a third party that negotiates licensing with film companies to add to their collection. Would this be the best route for an E-Book collaborative collection? And who would take on such an endeavor as to be the go between libraries and publishers? To answer that question, I am not sure who could take on that. If a third party were to take this database on, there would be a lot more headaches in deciding who got what and how much. The upside to this would be if there was a third party, they would be able to negotiate the best deals out publishers and libraries.

This brings me to my final con of this scenario and that is this idea is enormous. So huge that it would take more power than possible to maintain. While libraries collectively make up large numbers in the United States, these libraries all act and spend their budgets in different ways. There is no overlord of the libraries telling them what individual libraries can and cannot spend their money on. Not to mention the scores of publishing houses out there. There are many publishers out there and they all follow their own mission statements and prospective vision. To seek a distributor such as Amazon to undergo this project might help, but as we have seen with Amazon thus far is that they do not like to share either devices or technology.

On the other hand, maybe instead of seeing this be the model we should have in the next four to eight years, a highly unlikely scenario, we see this as a model to aspire to eventually. This business model would be a glimpse of the future. A possible future that we could tweak to our specifications. It is helpful that Netflix has made some mistakes with this model and so librarians and publishers can learn from these.

Scenario 2: The Physical Equivalent Model

This model is based off the premise that physical and digital books are equal beings just stuck in a differing format. If the argument holds water then publishers should not have a check out limit per say of their digital copies. This means that libraries and even users should be able to purchase the E-Books out right and own them, not have them merely licensed to them. One of the biggest annoyances of digital collections to librarians is the fact that they do not have any control over the digital books they acquire. Most books come with an expiration date. A date that under normal wear and tear needs to be replaced. The number of uses these paperback or hardcover books go through before the need to be replaced differs with each situation, but with a little math a number could be found and it would be quite a bit larger than the twenty six HarperCollins seems to deem appropriate. The number statisticians would find (and there is a way to figure that out) would be the number of checkouts a digital copy of a book would be bought for and then libraries would simply repurchase the book the again.

This gives the library a small sense of ownership. John Dupuis states that “If I have a digital file and I say I want to share it, that's great. But to somehow to say I can only share it with a certain number of people for a certain period of time is absurd.” (2011, March 3). Digital copies are simply physical copies in a different format. It is DRM and publishers who want to make everything separate. To the user a digital copy is not all that different from a physical copy. They buy the digital copy and get for how many uses they would get out of the physical copy. This would keep the publishers from robbing libraries blind by forcing them to constantly repurchase books they already had bought. The good and bad thing about digital books is that they are intangible so they cannot get ripped or torn or wear out like a physical copy can. This has publishers crying and gnashing their teeth at the thought of not being able to sell more copies later down the road. Dupuis also noted that “Libraries potentially blow up the scarcity of digital content by mutualizing community resources to share purchased or licensed digital content.” (2011, March 3). Libraries offer options that oppose publishers monetary aims and that can cause some tension. While understandable, it can get a little silly when they restrict E-Book circulation and not a physical book's circulation.

This is a chart of librarians' opinions across the board for models preferred. Most of the offered models today have a 32% preferred rating for Public Libraries and less for both school libraries and academic libraries. This shows that librarians would like more access and freedom when it comes to their collections. The best models libraries like seem to be where they have unlimited access or have the digital book treated like its physical counterpart.
(Singer, I. 2011, October 13).

Now it is true that many librarians do believe that digital content is different than physical copies, but I would argue that to the user they are not and to really ensure a good business model, publishers and librarians need to think and see this from a user's perspective as well. This was what caused Netflix so many headaches in the past few months. They stopped looking at how their customers were going to perceive their big transition (Bohyun Kim, 2011, September 19). To avoid that, librarians and publishers must work together to see that not only do they need to make good business decisions for themselves, but also for the users. Patrons do not see a difference between a physical copy of Pride and Prejudice and a digital copy. They are essentially the same thing.

The pricing would be different for Hardcovers and Paperbacks since there is a difference in the physical copies in quality. Hardcovers typically hold up longer than their paperbacks counterparts. This could cause some confusion when placing orders, but would be much easier to gauge by since E-Books essentially cost less to produce.

There are some negatives to this scenario and one of them is the individual purchasing. Not only do libraries have to purchase an individual physical copy, but also a digital one. For a library to purchase a book, they have one set of procedures to go through, but to buy a digital copy they have a completely different procedure to go through. Not only that, but keeping track of those circulation end dates would be difficult to maintain. It is not like a physical copy where the librarian can plainly see if he or she will have to buy a new copy. A way to ease that would be to have strong communications with publishers and distributors of the digital copies and possibly some combination sales packages that publishers could offer libraries.

Another negative would be the math. The math would need variables and those variable vary from library to library. While some communities are able to keep books in good condition for years, other communities may be quicker at destroying materials. This would have some arguing that since these libraries repurchase items more frequently than say another library that they should have less checkout times than others. Since the digital book is not going to undergo any kind of 'wear and tear' then all libraries should use the digital book the same.

All in all, I really like this business model, because it helps everyone. Publishers win, because they get to place end dates for their digital materials and DRM would still apply outside of library circulation. Libraries would also win, because they would be able to have some small sense of ownership for they would be able to add a digital copy of a book to their collection and have for as long as their physical counterparts. Since digital copies are typically less expensive to create, the library could save money by investing in some digital copies of their most popular books. Best of all, the users win, because we get the greatest collection our library can offer for an affordable price tag. If libraries offer more E-Books with an easy to use card catalog, then users will use the library more often and that is great for everyone.

Are these business models perfect? Heavens, no, but they do offer some options and shed some light on the growing concerns of librarians and publishers. The key to both of these scenarios is to work together. Stop being greedy and work to provide the best possible services for the users. Librarians have complex models for purchasing and acquiring materials, but most are willing to brave the dark depths of the digital world for their patrons. Publishers do not want to get left behind in the dust by E-Books, but have to remember that libraries do provide a great service and if a patron really likes a book then chances are they are going to buy it. Despite my love of free services at the library, I have purchased several books because I loved it so much. These models offer food for thought. Who knows, my posting here might inspire someone else who then inspires someone else and from there launches one of these models better than I ever imagined.


Albrecht, C. (2009, February 6). Netflix: It Feels Like the First Time. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from:

Carmin, J., Dunneback, K., Sheehan, K. (2011, October 1). Our Ebook Future, The Digital Shift. Library Journal. Retrieved from:

Dupuis, J. (2011, March 3). Towards a library ebook business model that makes sense. Retrieved from:

Kim, B. (2011, September 19). Netflix and Libraries: You Are What “Your Users” Think You Are, Not What You Think You Are. Retrieved from:

Singer, I. (2011, October 13). 2011 Ebook Survey Overview Public, School and Academic Libraries [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from:

DRM: The Darker Side of E-Books

There has been an explosion of new technologies in the association of E-Books. Several years ago, it was nifty or kind of fun to have an E-Reader and buying digital copies of books. Now E-Books are finally hitting their stride, strutting about like the cool new kid on the block. E-Books have found themselves a cozy home in American society. Despite their appeal there is a dark side to this new format and that is Digital Rights Management, known as DRM, which is challenging libraries in their pursuit of information for all.

A lot of people may be confused about DRM. Its premise is simple: it is the technologies put into digital media formats to control who, how, and when digital formats may be used according to their distributors (Agnew 2009). The goal of DRM is to protect the creative copyright of the author/artist and the companies who hold the rights to that. The danger that lurks with DRM is when those companies who hold the copyrights begin to censor what users and libraries are able to obtain.

For libraries, copyright and DRM have slightly different meanings. According the American Library Association, libraries are more affected by the business models those companies who hold DRM chose to use than DRM technologies themselves (2011). The government supporting these business model practices such as 'pay-per-use' in the information industry is crippling libraries and other public institutions ability to provide information for all (2011).

Distributors of media such as Apple or Amazon are very particular when it comes to users using their products. Instead of buying a CD or a book, you are licensing out the song or E-Book from the distributor. That means when you buy something you still do not own it, you are simply licensed to have it (Doctorow 2009). This is exactly what distributors and publishers have done with E-Books. They use a 'pay per use' license where libraries pay for a title to be used only a set number of times and then they have to buy the title license again. A library can purchase the physical book Pride and Prejudice, a must have in a public library, and it can be checked out thousands of times, but a digital copy of the same title-the exact same book in a different format is only licensed to be checked out a set number of times. This begs the question,where is the sense in all that? This probably explains the on going headaches librarians are experiencing when trying negotiate with publishers and distributors for E-Books.

To counteract with this massive 'control freak' vendetta libraries are using multi-publisher to make E-Books available to the public. Platforms like MyLibrary, OverDrive, EBL (recently purchased by ProQuest), ebrary, and Net-Library (Herther, 2011). These services give a small taste of digital books to library users, but as digital collections grow these platforms may not be able to service the users' demands. With publishers and distributors heightening their DRM control, growing E-Book collections may come to a slow petty pace.

There is a certain amount of control people are generally willing to accept, but push too far and these distributors and publishers will have severe backlash. Just ask Amazon two years ago when they deleted George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from people's Kindles despite the fact that the users had purchased the E-Book legitimately from Amazon (Davies 2009). This blew up in Amazon's face. People not only noticed their E-Book was deleted, but the title was very telling as well. Most were offered an apology and a thirty dollar check, but Michigan teen, Justin Gawronski, found that was not enough when not only his copy of 1984 was deleted without warrant, but all of his notes and annotations were deleted with it. He sued Amazon and received a $150,000 settlement (2009).

How was Amazon able to do delete E-Books that people had already paid for? That is part of DRM technologies. Now Amazon has put into policy that they will not delete a product from Kindles without the user's consent. Despite their policy they still have the ability to delete items in certain circumstance which is quite an eye opener for libraries. The implications of having that much control over purchased materials is disturbing to libraries to say the least. This is just another reminded that users do not actually own digital material, they are licensed to have it. This begs the question what would it take for a publisher or distributor to remotely at random delete a book from a library collection?

This backlash is an example of when a copyright holder takes DRM too far. Libraries should not be afraid to dive into E-books, because they are a part of our patrons and users' lives and are going to be a part of their future. That does not mean that libraries should just tow the line and follow along to whatever distributors and publishers demand. Libraries and librarians are collectively massive and can use that to their advantage. Making sure that publishers and distributors remember that while piracy is a big issue, they only hurting themselves by not working with users and libraries. By molding new business models librarians and publishers can find a middle ground to improve browseability, increase collections, and possibly get rid of the 'pay per use' model.

DRM has its place and libraries respect that, but not at the cost and freedoms of our users and patrons.