More on trends in ebooks and libraries

Nicole Engard presents a great summary of a talk at some unnamed conference,  Ebook Trends: Info Pros Perspectives. Go read it.

The salient summing up for my perspective:

What we’re using now to facilitate the delivery of electronic content is broken. The current methods are very expensive, very inefficient and very unsustainable. We need something new and innovative.

On the other hand, other participants seem to imply that we don’t need to worry about ebooks, either because people aren’t actually using them (and never will be?) in significant numbers, or because libraries can do just fine without ebooks. (I doubt both those things, perhaps I misinterpreted the paraphrases).

But also very interesting from Engard’s summary is notice of a new organization I hadn’t heard about before:

Michael is here to represent a non profit (Library Renewal) made up of libraries who are trying to facilitate this change. He said it started with a question – what if we realized that we actually have control?

So Library Renewal is an organization that works on behalf of libraries to deal with the publishers. Right now we have vendors going in to secret meetings with the publishers to negotiate costs that benefit them – not us. And they are inviting libraries to come to Library Renewal and take back the control.

For the last 1.5 years they have been doing a lot of research at Library Renewal so they’ve been pretty quiet. They have been negotiating and building partnerships and developing solutions. At this point they are seeking funding to build the infrastructure.

Awesome, that’s so just what we need. I was probably unrealistic to expect ALA to ever do significant public advocacy, lobbying, or negotiating on the issue of ebooks and libraries, although it would kind of make sense if they did, it’s their mission. But okay, new organization, Library Renewal. If I was a decision making administrator at my library (I ain’t), I’d be having us join it.

What’s actually going on to make usable infrastructure, cutting out libraries?

About articles rather than ebooks, but still relevant, rsinger alerts me to deepdyve. Described by some as a “netflix for scholarly articles”, it looks to me like they actually probably charge per-item fees rather than netflix’s flat rate for certain use limits model, but I’m not sure.

They describe their model as “rental” of articles, which probably means DRM. I’m skeptical that a DRM solution is going to ultimately result in a good usable experience, at least beyond certain specific vendor devices, but maybe, it’ll get better and maybe it’s already there.

I haven’t tried the service myself, but I suspect it’s actually pretty good, probably easier to use than what libraries provide their patrons for electronic article access (with the possible exception of the DRM).

Deepdyve describes themselves as focusing on those unaffiliated with a library with good access to scholarly articles….

 Our mission is to make authoritative information more affordable and accessible to users who are “unaffiliated” with a large institution and therefore lack easy and affordable access to these vital sources of information.

But really, I could see them poaching users who are willing to pay (for material their library theoretically already pays for on their behalf), in order to get a more convenient and usable experience than libraries are able to provide. We do a bit better with good interfaces to scholarly article fulltext than we do for ebooks, but we still don’t do great. And it may be that publishers would rather we don’t do great, they’d rather cut the libraries out of the equation.

And per-use payment?

At one point, in the early days of digital online databases, libraries mostly paid per-use for online/digital fulltext. (And in some cases even per search). Then at some point  (around 15 years ago?) we started shifting to paying flat rate contracts for unlimited access to provider’s online collections.

David Walker pointed out to me that the new disintermediated Copyright Clearance Center “Get It Now” service could be considered not just an alternative to ILL (which has always involved per-transaction costs, although none of the payments wind up going to the content owners), — but also an alternative to licensing journal packages (flat rate), for titles  that CCC can deliver. (CCC deliveries are charged to the library per-transaction).

And that in some cases this may actually work better for the library, perhaps even financially. Is the pendulum swinging back around to per-transaction payments instead of flat-rate licenses to collections?

I suspect the the content owners would prefer per-use charges rather than flat rates. Well, at least for ebooks that’s what it’s been looking like, perhaps for articles too. (Of course, the content owners ultimately prefer whatever makes them the most money, just as one of our main criteria is whatever costs us the least for the best service we can give our patrons).

Perhaps a switch to per-use charges will be what allows libraries to stay in the e-content market. Much as I don’t like the sound of it — per-use fees encourage libraries to ration or meter patron access, or in the academic world charge back to departments (meaning bigger budget departments can afford more), or even consider “Why are we paying for these things on behalf of people, why shoudn’t they just buy them themselves?” The library exists (public or in most cases academic too) as a way of sharing costs for information resources collectively, so all members of the collective can access them on an equal basis regardless of financial means. This is a great thing about libraries,  and per-use fees kind of work against it.  But maybe it’s the only path to libraries finding a mutually sustainable relationship with content owners for e-content. But, really, geez, I hope if that future comes to pass it can at least be DRM-free.

2 thoughts on “More on trends in ebooks and libraries

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