subscription libraries, back to the future

Maybe you thought libraries were “the netflix for books”, but in this Wired article, The ‘Netflix for Books’ Just Invaded Amazon’s Turf, it’s not libraries they’re talking about, and it’s not just Amazon’s turf they’re invading. Although they’re talking about the vendor, Oyster, starting to sell books, not just offer a subscription lending library, that’s what they mean by “Amazon’s turf.”  Still, one might have thought that lending books was the “turf” of library’s, but they don’t even get a mention.

Before the existence of public libraries, paid subscription libraries were a thing, both as commercial entities and private clubs, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Books were comparatively expensive then compared to now.

The United States played a key role in developing public free libraries, democratizing access to published knowledge and cultural production.

It might be instructive to compare the user workflow in actually getting books onto your device of choice between Amazon and Oyster’s systems (for both lending and purchase), and the vendors and solutions typically used by libraries (OverDrive, etc).  I suspect it wouldn’t look pretty for library’s offerings. The ALA has a working group trying to figure out what can be done.

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