2 February 2010
One of the things that I’ve been wondering (e.g. in re my last post on serials subscription economics) is how this rent v. own dichotomy for books is going to play out.
Because the fact that e-resources subscriptions are like renting, not like owning, is very salient to librarians, and was not obvious to some of my non-librarian friends — but it will be. Because we are all eBook owners now*, so people are tripping over this issue more and more. The inability to lend his electronic library really bugs my friend John, and the related DRM issues really bug another, famous John.**
This seems to me like a good thing because what we really need is not so much a set of policies as a cultural consensus — what does it mean to purchase, to access, a book? How does intellectual property interact with ownership, copying, access, all those strange things that are constrained differently when property is physical? What do, and what should, we expect in terms of our interactions with electronic resources? Those strike me as questions that can’t be answered inside institutions, can’t be answered until they’re crowdsourced, munched on by the slow machinery of culture until new paradigms emerge.
[*] In point of fact I’m not. Come back to me when there’s something with both eInk and good PDF support, including annotations. Or when you feel like giving me one for free.
[**] Sorry, John-that-I-know. When your robot army crushes the world beneath its overlordly boot, you, too, will be famous.
23 January 2010
Helpful thinking on ebook purchase strategy, from the Letters page of The Economist:
SIR — One of your readers urged us to “remember the lesson of Betamax video” when considering which e-book reader to buy. One of the factors in the demise of Betamax was the availability of pornographic movies on VHS.
I bought a Kindle. Perhaps I should have waited to see on which e-book reader Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt choose to distribute their magazines.
8 December 2009
Amazon loses $2 on every ebook sold?!? This makes exactly as little sense as you’d think.
(h/t Jim Henley, via Google Reader.)
8 October 2009
Thing-ology has an interesting post on the economics of ebooks in libraries. They argue, essentially, that libraries need site-licensed copies of ebooks rather than ones tied to specific physical devices; this will split the library and direct-to-consumer ebook markets and allow for runaway rental/licensing costs for library ebooks. There’s an apt comparison to runaway journal costs for academic libraries.
I think this argument has a lot of merit to it (although I do think the markets aren’t entirely split, and the existence of the consumer market puts a cap on the licensed market; your site license for 25 simultaneous uses can’t cost much more than 25 direct-to-consumer, device-linked copies before buyers start fleeing). It also reminds me of the horrible angst that is the textbook market — it points out that for many books prices are held down because used books compete with new, and this downward pressure stops holding in a rental-based model, because there is no secondary market. There is, of course, a thriving market in used textbooks, but one which publishers vigorously combat via incompatible new editions, included software, and (soon and increasingly, I’m sure) digital textbooks on a rental model — just like the ebooks picture Thing-ology paints for the library.