All Your ebooks are belong to us – for a fee

February 26, 2011
Posted in: Board Member Posts

HarperCollins wants to limit ebook use to 26 times, and then have us pay again. That sounds smackingly similar to a subscription model for content. Well dang, David! Libraries would never subscribe to content. That’s just wrong! You might say.

Oh really? Think about this for a sec. Libraries are already familiar with and are actually using this model. Can you say databases, anyone? In fact, some of us have embraced it. Raise of hands, please – anyone know of a library that has dropped magazine subscriptions because they’re now getting full text access to the same thing through a subscription service?

So yeah – we’re familiar with the model, and it’s working. For that matter, my library’s experimenting with a similar model for music – we’ve subscribed to Freegal, which gives us a certain amount of downloads of music per customer per week.

No – I’m not sure if a subscription model is the right model for all forms of electronic content. But it is a valid, working model … and apparently one that HarperCollins wants to try out (though they unsuccessfully attempted to quietly sneak it in through the backdoor – I think the screen slammed on them).

Are we ready for that model to be used with book-based content yet? I don’t think so. Libraries certainly aren’t ready for that, and publishers and middlemen suppliers (i.e., OverDrive) really aren’t there yet, either. Quite a few things need to change for libraries to adapt to a subscription model for our “big business” item (i.e., books) and away from a purchase-an-item, keep-it-forever model.

Things like this:

  • quite a few of our formal policies would need to change – right now, they’re all pretty much written for a “buy the right stuff and keep it forever” model
  • assurances that content wouldn’t be yanked for a variety of back office reasons (remember the 1984 Amazon Kindle fiasco?).
  • how does the preservation of content thing work with a subscription-based model? Who gets that job? Do libraries let other organizations like the Internet Archive handle preservation issues, and hope they have our backs?
  • The whole payment thing. What’s that look like? IIs the cost list price, then after 26 uses, we pay list price again? This is the digital world, and that’s a silly way to price things out. We need a pricing model that’s fair to authors, publishers, middlemen, and libraries. No small task.
  • Can we put certain publisher’s content on any device that our patrons bring into the library?
  • do we buy devices for patrons? Or assume everyone has a device (um, not), and help patrons with their mired of devices – meaning that we’d need to own at least one of each, so we know how to use them too (which we should be doing now)
  • Our current “one check out per digital item” model really needs to be modernized. Justin Keiser said this on Library Renewal’s Facebook wall: “The digital delivery model that libraries should aspire to is Netflix. While watch instantly still isn’t perfect, imagine how successful Netflix would be if only one person at a time could stream a movie”. What’s a better model? Not sure yet. But it’s definitely not the current one.
  • We need to somehow be able to add records and point to ebooks in our ILS systems. OverDrive appears to be moving towards that, finally. But that’s just one ebook vendor, and just l ike databases, I’m guessing that all our content won’t come from a single vendor. They need to play nice among themselves, and with our back-end systems.

Again – that doesn’t mean this is ultimately a bad thing – it’s one emerging model among many that might work, or might fail miserably. But I do know this – Library Renewal wants to be there, and wants to help solve this problem.

So help us out – what am I missing in this list? Chime in in the comments please!

pic by hownowdesign

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