Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ebook economics: Are libraries screwed?

"Kindling" by Flickr user oskay

The advance of ebooks will no doubt bring much good. As often with technological change, we probably can't even predict what wonderful new things will emerge! But we can see some serious dangers ahead, and try to deal with them. I see three major areas of concern: to libraries, to physical bookstores and to the freedom to read in unfree countries.

This post explores the first of these—the danger to libraries. There are, of course, arguments to be made about the viability of physical libraries in a digital age—that while libraries aren't just buildings, the building still define much of what they do. That is not my point here.

Instead, I want to advance a pricing argument: that ebooks will end up costing libraries far more than paper books ever did.

Premise: Libraries will need a "library model" for ebooks.

A few libraries, such as NCSU have been experimenting with ebooks. Without exception, they are following a "consumer model," buying a large pool of devices and then buying books locked to individual devices in the pool.

This model is great for experimentation—to test what patrons think of ebooks and figure out what to do with them—but it's not a long-term solution. Digital books locked to individual physical devices are worse than physical books. That is, when you take out a physical book, one book is unavailable. When you take out a Kindle with 100 books on it, 100 books are unavailable. NCSU has bought extra copies when students need another copy in circulation. Obviously that's not a long-term solution.

Because the "consumer model" won't work, libraries will need—and publishers and ebook providers—will create a "library model." The library model will involve a "site license" model—a pool of books, with rights to use them on X devices at a time. Publishers are already talking about this.

Thus, libraries and consumers will be using different models. The market will "split." (I understand that Netlibrary and Ebrary, two library-centered ebook vendors, already used by many libraries, work this way now.)

Economic effect: Libraries are screwed.
  1. With regular books, libraries took advantage of the same deal regular people got, but extracted a lot more value of that deal. That is, a regular person mostly got a single use out of a book; libraries got many more uses. We didn't think of it this way, but libraies had a "site license" of sorts—the so-called "first-sale doctrine."

    With the first-sale doctrine sidelined by digital rights management (DRM), publishers will seek to extract the higher value of their books within a library context. This will cause prices to rise.

  2. With physical books, library price discrimination was impossible. Libraries and regular people bought the same stuff, and paid the same prices. If a given edition was pitched to libraries, its price was held in check by the availability of non-library editions. As a result, only purely academic titles had run-away libary prices—think Brill with its $300 monographs.

    Once the market is "split," price discrimination is possible. Publishers will charge libraries more for the extra value they get because they can do so without hurting the consumer market. This will cause prices to rise.

  3. The cost of paper books have traditionally been held down by the existence of a secondary market. Copyright is, of course, a legal monopoly on the production of a given work, but once paper copies have been sold, new sales compete to some degree with the used copies out there. If you don't want to pay $242 for Brill's Collected Papers on Greek Colonization, BookFinder lists 25 used copies under $215.

    Because ebooks are non-transferable—and if such ability is added, it surely won't allow a consumer to pass an ebook to a library under library terms—no secondary market will exist. Until copyright expires, libraries will have to go to a single source—the publishers who have the copyright monopoly. This will cause prices to rise.

  4. The "library model" will be inevitably pushed toward "rental" not "ownership." As many have remarked, ebooks are already more like "renting" than "owning," with no right of resale and at least the technical ability for the book to vanish at whim. Libraries, afraid of buying goods that a technological change or company bankruptcy will obliterate, will seek to avoid the "lock in" of ownership. Publishers will also see opportunity in offering large "packages" to libraries—packages that provide rental access to a collection that would take years to build up in a traditional buying-and-owning model.

    This logic is how libraries were pushed to renting their journals. It's also at work in enterprise software, either de jure or—through regular version upgrade payments—de facto. Libraries will rent, not buy, their ebooks.

    The combination of monopoly and rental is dangerous. It's how journal subscriptions have risen faster than inflation for 40 years, and spiked precipitously upward in the last decade. (The classic ARL graphic can be found here.)

    The logic of journals is the logic of the site-licensed ebook. Prices will rise unchecked. Some relief may come if the open-access movement goes past scholarly journals into other scholarly publishing—there's really no reason Brill books need to cost $300! But this will take a while, and it will only affect scholarly titles.

    Rental means prices will rise.

  5. In the past, libraries could "coast." Collection development was a long-term thing, and libraries could, if necessary, restrict their acquisitions budget in line with financial realities. When times are bad, you buy less. When times are good, you buy more. As long as you have both ups and downs, the library as a whole stays healthy.

    Rental will change this. Libraries will only be as good as their last subscription check. This will change the nature of collection development (in both good and bad ways), and give politicians new opportunities for both unsustainable budget growth and budget-cutting during crisis. This may not cost libraries more, but it will put their value on the knife-edge.

What do you think? I've started a discussion topic in the "Librarians who LibraryThing" group.


I'm sure there are lots of good arguments against this post. Here are two that came up as people read earlier drafts.

Jason Griffey argues (by Twitter) that prices will be kept in check by wide availability of pirated versions. This is a good argument. The counter-argument is corporate software. It's not hard to get a free copy of InDesign or Photoshop, but corporations continue to shell out nearly $1,000 for each, because the penalties are so steep.

Another correspondent suggested the "dawning age of biblioplenty"—a world in which "millions of books will be available from almost anywhere"—will act to hold down prices, presumably through what economists call indirect competition.

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46 Comments:

Anonymous reading_fox said...

There are already ebook libraries who are distributing limited license ebooks. You download your ebook from them (to your own device not theirs) and have two weeks to read it before losing access - all handled via clever DRM scripts. It's present in the US and beginning to be thought about in the UK. This is as close as we can get to the traditional usage of a library, and won't significantly change costs involved.

The whole ebook pricing structure is yet to be properly explored though. Ebooks do mean that a vast swathe of traditional book related issues will change. Much like digitial music changed the recored industry.

10/07/2009 5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Libraries should simply refuse any DRM on e-books they purchase, or rent, for their patrons. So far this has worked out pretty well for academic journals and monographs.

The bulk deals, made possible by the digital format, have in effect brought down prices of academic journals. The same thing can be observed for science ebooks.

10/07/2009 6:24 AM  
Anonymous Felagund said...

The bulk deals, made possible by the digital format, have in effect brought down prices of academic journals.

While I certainly agree with the anonymous person's opinion on DRM, I am simply amazed by this statement. As far as I can see, these bulk deals have made things worse, and not better! I could agree that they felt like an improvement when they were introduced. At that point, libraries gained access to dozens of new intersting titles (and hundreds of totally useless ones) without paying too much more. It's all been downhill from there:

- the package prices have gone up as steadily as those of the individual journals

- it has become increasingly difficult to save money by cutting subscriptions to the less useful journals since libraries are bound by the terms of the package license

10/07/2009 8:03 AM  
Blogger Alex Grigg said...

I'm mostly with Felagund. Package deals have become pretty much the only way to get online access to journals and so you almost always end up paying for a lot of journals you don't really want or need.

I think that DRM is the key issue here and unfortunately there has been very little pressure on publishers to provide current books in a DRM-free format. There has been some movement in libraries towards making agreements with journal publishers that allow for archiving of the content so that it won't be gone when a particular contract ends. I'm not confident in the overall success of those efforts, but at least people are thinking about it and working on it. All of that is only possible, though, because most journal articles are just PDFs without any DRM. For the same sort of efforts to work with ebooks we would have to first strip the existing DRM off of the books we purchase before we could archive them. This is something most libraries will be unable to do, even if they are able to write archive allowances into their contracts.

On the bright side, for books that are out of copyright there are more and more sources for DRM-free versions. Every library with an ebook reader that allows external content will have as many copies of Moby Dick and The Call of Cthulu as they do readers. Too bad those don't tend to be high demand works.

10/07/2009 8:51 AM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Right.

It is fairly ludicrous when you think about it for people to suggest that mediocre novel X needs DRM protection and Nature does not, given the inherent importance of the two.

People don't get paid to write for journals in genral though I suppose is part of it.

10/07/2009 9:01 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

Regarding reading_fox's comment that downloading books to personal devices won't raise prices.... Perhaps in theory, but that means that if you can't afford the hundreds of dollars to purchase a device of your own, you can't have access to those books. I feel like this probably ties into the "freedom to books in unfree (or impoverished) countries" point at the beginning of this post.

Another concern--what about interlibrary loan services, where you were able to request a book from another library? Sounds like those will be going out the window, too, further restricting a given library's ability to meet the needs of the public.

10/07/2009 9:02 AM  
Blogger MLB said...

A lot of doom and gloom, but on target. If publishers/bundlers will rent ebooks to libraries as e-journals are now and thus price increases for ebooks on the scale and model of e-journals is likely. As renters libraries become subordinated to the owners of books and journals. The whole concept of collection development is altered when the library is a renter and not an owner of books and journals. If libraries nature as libraries is rooted in their
possession and control of collections, then a library that rents is not a library.

10/07/2009 9:31 AM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Ali,

That's not completely true - as there will always be a black market/darknet will stuff will cost nothing but access. The tech for that though is still going to be problematic in many places.

Plus, I often read books on something that you can likely pick up for 10 bucks in the USA - and old computers often get given away.

You do need a little more than that to remove Amazon's DRM though.

On the library rental model - it is only publishers say you can't resell/loan books you have bought - so that is lobbying the libraries need to do. Or be willing to test the legislation. Because clearly then you buy it once, you have it for good if DRM is gone.

Interlibrary loan - the South Australian libraries do collective purchasing - if they did rent access to a big collection then everyone in every public library in the state would have access.

I can imagine the US might not be able to get national agreement on something, but Australia or NZ might be able to, and bargain from a 'give us a decent deal or the whole country says no' (or state).

Faced with that scenario, publishers might prefer individual title selling - which again they get money from, not some software middlemen.

10/07/2009 10:13 AM  
Blogger Chad Sayban said...

Libraries will lose out on one more thing in a digital environment. Currently, they receive a lot of books through donations by patrons. With eBooks, that will be impossible because the purchaser of an eBook doesn't own the book anymore.

10/07/2009 11:22 AM  
Blogger prosfilaes said...

Mediocre novel X is a commercial venture; if too few copies are paid for, then more novels aren't written. Hence the DRM. The authors of the articles in Nature are paid for by, on the most part, universities, which in turn are, on the most part, paid for by various governmental bodies or endowments. The money being spend on Nature does not come back to them, and there's no chance they will stop writing if the journal is pirated, as long as there is some place to publish that's acceptable to the Tenure Committee.

10/07/2009 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Roy said...

I think the jury is still out on both Libraries, and DRM.

Publisher's paranoia over DRM will eventually go away. (Or the publishers that are so afflicted will go away.) People and organisations like libraries have an expectation of perpetual ownership of property they buy. DRM technologies fly in the face of that.

Unlike the music industries, where music labels use their channel with radio stations to get music out there. Books and other written works are more durable in their distribution.

Where a musical work is consumed in a few minutes, and movies a few hours, books are consumed over much longer periods of time.

I can get a movie from redbox for a buck a day, and feel like I got a good deal even if I keep if for a couple of days. But a book? I read fast, but the opportunities are some times fleeting. I have a couple of books that I have been reading for months. No red box there. And if I knew that the book would cost me a buck a day, I probably wouldn't start it.

So I advance the idea that DRM of published works are still evolving. And libraries are going to be evolving too. We don't have to get worked up about what is available now, but we should continue to push for more ownership of published works by the purchaser.

10/07/2009 12:29 PM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

prosfilaes,

Yes, but it isn't logical as it hinders in multiple ways:

it costs time and money for publishers, and also customers

it also lowers sales, which hurts both publisher and author

all of this means fewer novels

10/07/2009 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan Rochkind said...

Your analysis is spot on.

It is of course DRM that fuels this analysis. It's the DRM that means a library can't simply buy a copy and load it on-demand on a device when it's checked out.

I wonder if technological measures were available to get around that DRM, if it would be legal for libraries to use them. Either because of the special exemptions libraries have to copyright use, or because of just general copyright law. But the DCMA probably makes the latter not so; not sure about libraries special exemptions.

10/07/2009 2:55 PM  
Blogger Library Hag said...

My library system gets ebooks from two different vendors. The patron loads it to their device. At this point they are mostly DRM. I would like to see some sort of agreement with Amazon so we could loan books to Kindle users through Amazon. Or otherwise, have some sort of rental plan for Kindle users directly through Amazon. However, the second option sends chills through me as a librarian. That really could kill off a lot of library use.

10/07/2009 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Roy said...

I am active on some publishing blogs, and the impression that I get from them is that readers are not converting en masse to ebooks.

Partially because the technology is not cheap and well worn. And also because there is just something about a book....

Books are social proof that you read, ebooks aren't so much. You don't see them on the shelf, and looking over to find out what someone is reading is a bit intrusive on a Kindle.

These among other reasons will keep us in print for some time to come.

10/07/2009 6:28 PM  
Blogger Andromeda said...

Interesting! Marginal Revolution is one of my biggest blog addictions, and it's fun to see something that could have been an MR post over here in libraryland :).

I put my thoughts about this on my own blog, but the short version is:

-- I like your argument

-- I don't think the library rental and direct-to-consumer markets are *entirely* decoupled, though I agree it's enough to be a problem;

-- It reminds me of the horrible mess that is the textbook market.

10/08/2009 11:31 AM  
Blogger philn said...

There is one publisher that does provide DRM free Ebooks, in many formats, of there current titles. Baen has been doing this for a decade now. They also provide an occasional CD that may be freely copied and distributed.

The CDs would seem to be no problem when it comes to libraries. The process would simply be for the patron to checkout the CD and take it home to copy for their use.

Baen also has a monthly webscription service where the subscriber can get 6 to 8 titles for $15. At least four of these are there release for the current month. A library could get two copies of each new title for about the price of a single hardcover.

I'm not sure how the webscription would legally play out with between libraries and Baen. However, I think I'll contact Toni, the publisher at Baen, and ask her if she would care to comment here.

10/08/2009 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Responding to Roy above:

Interestingly I LOVE books. Always have. Am surrounded by them at the moment. However...I love my ebook reader and would much rather take it with me for reading...anywhere. I am a total convert. The only problem is the silly palaver I have to go through everytime I want to buy a book. And until the publishers sort themselves out, ebooks will not be widely accepted. And they shold be!

10/08/2009 5:13 PM  
Blogger Rob Szarka said...

I'm no fan of ebooks in proprietary, DRM-encumbered formats, but your economic analysis seems a bit off.

It's a standard result of economic theory that price discrimination improves social welfare vs. forcing a monopolist to charge a single price. Yes, when a monopolist can engage in price discrimination, higher prices will be charged to those who value the good the most; but it also means that, overall, more of the good will be provided. In particular, it means that some units will be sold at a lower price, and on the margin some buyers who were unable or unwilling to pay the price that would be charged without price discrimination will then buy the good.

(And, of course, if monopolists can extract more profits ex post, they will produce more books ex ante. So the ability to price discriminate means more new books--something you and I like, though it's not clear whether too few books are currently provided.)

You also suggest that the existence of a secondary market for a good will lower prices, but that's not clear. If a good can be resold, demand for the good will be higher than if it cannot; and more demand means higher prices for the new version of the good. So eliminating the secondary market for a good isn't bad because it raises prices (it lowers them, at least in the "new ebook" market). It may be bad, however, because it lowers the total quantity sold of the good.

One way of thinking about this might be that the two effects above simply trades one form of price discrimination (buying in the new vs. used book market) for another (differential fees charged for new books). If publishers can discriminate more effectively under the new model, this may increase social welfare, not lower it.

10/09/2009 8:54 AM  
Blogger Rob Szarka said...

The point I'm making above is perfectly illustrated by your comment that, "As a result, only purely academic titles had run-away library prices—think Brill with its $300 monographs."

I would dearly love to own a copy of the new edition of the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. The 8 volume set currently sells for almost $3000 new and more than $2000 used. But if the publisher could price discriminate perfectly, there would probably be a "student edition" I could buy for under $1000...

10/09/2009 8:59 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Rob:

Thanks for your note. It's good to get someone actually responding to the arguments--picking holes in them, which is just what I wanted someone to try.

The idea that price-discrimination provides more goods is new to me, but seems obvious, and, however you measure it, it sounds likely to me that the overall result is better. I think this is a somewhat anomalous case, however, insofar as the effect is very focused, and the rights situation is weird.

It seems clear to me that price discrimination would be great for physical books. If bookstores could price discriminate broadly--cheap books to starving students, expensive books to lawyers and doctors--that would be a good thing, and you'd see more books bought. Of course, various bookstore discount programs (eg., cards) have this effect, insofar as people who really need the money follow them religiously, and people who don't can't be bothered. It's too bad bookstores can't examine your wallet before they sell you a book.

I think the effect here, however, would be otherwise. The library market is so small that I don't think there'd be much downward presure on books for non-libraries--except, perhaps, in academic books. More importantly, the situation is complicated by the fundamentally different rights situation, and the fact that libraries aren't consumers--but a sort of proxy for them.

The rights situation is stark. Let's imagine a music club that charged $10/show, but $20 if you were a lawyer. That's the situation here--the library is the rich lawyer, and can now be charged that extra price. What's weird is that the lawyer was never just another customer. Rather, for some obscure legal reason, the club was forced to accept that, whenever the lawyer showed up, he was allowed to run to the back door, open it and admit a hundred non-paying customers.

Libraries had a special deal. Under US law, they got a very different value from the books they bought than other people. (In some European countries, there are mandatory per-checkout royalties to authors, a concept alien to US law.) The result, an outrowth of US property law, had what most considered a good social result. (Authors and publishers sometimes grumbled at it, but attacking libraries is not good PR.)

The proxy argument is this. In a normal price-discrimination scenario a restaurant, by giving students and seniors price breaks, could ensure that more meals were served. Fair enough. But in this case, a small class of customers was really a proxy for many more customers--all the people who got to read a library book. So, while more ebooks may be provided, if libraries buy fewer, that decrease is subject to a vast multiplier effect, and the result is less book consumption.

What do you think?

10/09/2009 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a good can be resold, demand for the good will be higher than if it cannot; and more demand means higher prices for the new version of the good.

The ability to resell an item increases the supply of the good far more than it increases demand, leading to lower prices.

10/09/2009 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Sounds like there are a lot of incentives for libraries and their patrons to stick with paper.

The main problem isn't with paper as a technology but with expectations in an 'immediate gratification' society. But if you have to wait in line for the library's ebook just as their paper book, most people won't see any advantage.

10/09/2009 11:24 AM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Steve

There's an advantage in that you don't have to go to the library.

Which is more significant the further away or less mobile you are.

Tim

I'd say you are right - fewer library books = less consumption, which means in the long term book demand would be lower - bad for publishers and authors.

10/09/2009 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm ordering ebooks, regular books and getting donations. There is a place for all!

10/10/2009 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may be a bit offtopic... I am not interested in reading eBooks and hope that the main business of libraries continues to be with printed copies.

I am no Luddite - I have worked in technology for 15 years and have determined strategic policies for the uptake of new technology in several businesses, however I don't see eBooks being taken up in the same way that digital music was taken up, either by libraries or individuals.

I have grown up with music on cassette tapes and vinyl, then moved to CDs, then bought minidiscs. Although I have a MP3 player, I prefer to buy CDs rather than buying digital downloads for two reasons (1) CDs give a permanent copy (licence?) to listen to the thing (2) for the ability to listen to it on whichever music device I like (even one not owned by me! Like a friend's CD player or car - imagine!)

My disinterest in eBooks is partly for the same reasons that I don't buy music downloads, but also because unlike buying music which always relies on hardware and power, when I buy a book I like the fact that it is a standalone thing. If I take a printed book on holiday or on a plane or wherever, I don't need to worry about hardware failure or being asked to switch it off or how I will recharge it. These reasons will not disappear with advances in design of the hardware. Also, physical books can be passed along between friends, and you can read one in public without worrying about being a target for being mugged.

The only way I see me personally being interested in eBooks is if the reader device is amalgamated with sone all-in-one mobile phone / camera / music player, and I can download a chapter or two for free. That way, I'd try the eBook content at home then go out and buy it if I wanted to read the story. This is like how I use online music streaming - I might listen to a track or two of someone's album online before deciding to buy the CD.

10/11/2009 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any difference at all between the libraries relationship with digital music (CD's) or with Digital Video (DVD Movies). I see ebooks as being the same animal here. The existence of DRM has not caused the price of movies on DVD or of music on CD to skyrocket. I still don't see any argument that suggests that ebooks-pricing would act any differently on a macro-level.

If your prophecy comes true, I think it is safe to surmise that yes: The Library Is Screwed. In its current form, it certainly is. The institution's survival is contingent upon its being able to change into something that has some value (perceived or real) to society. To me, that value is not in the delivery of content. It is in the ASSESSMENT of the QUALITY of that content that the Library has value. I'm afraid that Libraries have not even begun to realize that yet, and are being left behind like Newspapers by their own patrons.

10/12/2009 6:44 PM  
Blogger prosfilaes said...

CDs and DVDs aren't comparable; CDs have absolutely no form of DRM and DVD DRM is only aimed at preventing the copying and the playing on foreign DVD players. In either case, the library gets as good a deal on them as on a book.

10/12/2009 7:28 PM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Plus a robust black market where you can get goods of some of the same utility for the price of bandwidth alone.

10/12/2009 8:41 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

My state lost their contract with Netlibrary because of state budget issues. But Netlibrary was expensive - very expensive. The package they gave us did not include any new releases and they padded their offerings with public domain titles from Project Gutenburg (so the ROI was not good, IMO). In any event this type of model is not ideal because it hands too much control to the publishers on how patrons can use material that was previously available for free from the library as a book. Problems like time limits with no easy renewals, locked down devices, and technical glitches with getting the material in the first place. There are certain rights for the patron which is protected by law. In this kind of scenario, the patrons lose a lot, including their privacy.

10/14/2009 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Roy Hayward said...

Okay, I know this topic is getting older, but I looked at the new ebook reader the NOOK. It alows you to lone a book for 14 days. (during this time you can't read it yoruself.)

Does anyone else see this as great for libraries? (as long as late charges aren't your source of funding.) Libraries can have a nook with all of their titles, lone them to a patron, and in 14 days, it is automatically returned!

I like it.

10/23/2009 1:58 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

The book can only be rented once per book.

10/23/2009 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the Vook (video/book)? Maybe people are heading that way instead, where they don't want to have to read the printed word, they want to see the pictures in front of them or have a combo of words pictures and music.

10/24/2009 3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would that differ from a real book, Tim?

10/24/2009 3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or are you saying it can only be rented once and then never again?

10/24/2009 3:29 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Right. Lend it once for 14 days to someone else, then you can't lend it again to anyone ever.

10/24/2009 3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Truly the adoption of digital music was a result of the ability of computer user's access to illegally copied songs. With e-books this isn't the case so they hold no real value over buying an physical copy. The Hardware is expensive and the price point of $10 dollars isn't realistic when I can wait for the book to be discounted, or if I have to read it now, check it out from a library. In my mind libraries would be better served to stick with the physical book until they no longer exist which I doubt will come anytime soon. Even today music is released in both formats.

10/24/2009 3:36 AM  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

Libraries can still compete *if* privatization is avoided and *if* libraries can evolve into social gathering places with on-line book ordering ability through Powells, Amazon, etc.

Revenues are all. Public libraries were originally started by the then uber-wealthy robber barons of the Golden Age, and came to be financed with real estate taxes (mostly). Some kind of revenues, by taxation, by retail operations, or some combination of the two, are going to be necessary.

10/26/2009 12:32 AM  
Anonymous Tom Corbett said...

I have always been perplexed why librarians, in general, are so anti-DRM. It seems to be that DRM that allows for expiration is the only way lending can work in an e-book world.

Look at the Overdrive model. Libraries purchase multiple titles to keep the request queue at a reasonable level, just like with printed books. Publishers sell multiple copies, consumers queue for titles from the library or purchase the title outright if they can't wait. Win/win -- and this avoids much of the economic problems that are described here in a DRM-less world.

But if DRM is out the window (and this may be the case based on what's happened in the audio world) then the economic realities described here come into play.

By the way, the Nook model for 14 day lending only works within a DRM environment that allows for expiration.

My feeling is that we should as librarians advocate getting the Adobe ePub DRM accepted as a common option across all devices model so that we can continue separating the device from the content. This DRM allows for expiration and, therefore, lending. I don't think the economics change much in that environment.

11/03/2009 10:14 AM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Why should librarians be tech support for Adobe? Not to mention marketing advocates. In this ase, Adobe should be paying libraries.

Why would libraries from countries that company is NOT from want to be beholden to them?

The economics of it mean if there is a monopolist they could keep raising their prices on all ends. Or change their software because of a deal with computer manufacture X or operating system maker Y.

All library software would need to do is this: only allow one bought copy of a book to be checked out to one person at a time, same as anything else.

DRM free open formats mean any patron with any reading technology can use the book.

11/03/2009 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Tom Corbett said...

Quick stream of consciousness in response to Blue Tyson:

DRM free really means libraries are out of the picture.

The Adobe ePub format is becoming a standard across all devices but Kindle. These things happen in a market economy. Commercial enterprises are sort of a part of that real world.

Library software managing access? One book lent at a time? For how long? How about one minute so that the title is available almost immediately for the next patron? Why should publishers ever accept that scenario?

We don't run the show, the marketplace does. However, it might be necessary to promote some reasonable government regulation to make sure the market works with libraries.

11/03/2009 2:01 PM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

Well no, 1 minute would clearly be silly.

Would take a little longer than that to strip DRM to a satisfactory point, took, for DRMed books :)

Libraries do need to force the issue though, I think - what is th law - if you buy a book, can you lend it?

ePub may be becoming a standard, but that has nothing to do with Adobe as such - there is no need to have DRM involved with this particular format, or any format.

11/03/2009 7:22 PM  
Blogger Ray McIntyre said...

Until an elibrary can resolve issues of provision of items to multiple users simultaneously (which a 'normal' library can simply by purchasing extra copies) then I cannot see how they can compete successfully with the older style libraries.

11/11/2009 3:01 AM  
Blogger Quasar said...

Interesting discussion.

Certainly as how I've watched the move to digital journals negatively impact my local academic library I'm rather anti-subscription when it comes to library collections. Add to that issues surrounding regional licensing agreements.

11/16/2009 4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the bright side, for books that are out of copyright there are more and more sources for DRM-free versions

On the not-so-bright-side, no books that are not currently out of copyright will ever be out of copyright...

2/07/2010 8:10 PM  
Blogger prosfilaes said...

On the not-so-bright-side, no books that are not currently out of copyright will ever be out of copyright...

I get seriously tired of people saying this. In India, China, Japan, Europe and the Americas besides the US, new books are going into the public domain every year. In the US and Australia, a previous copyright extension has temporarily stopped new books from going into the public domain. But We, the People have a voice in this, and if our representatives try and proposal a new extension at the end of these, and we demand otherwise, loudly and vigorously, then the proposal will disappear.

2/08/2010 1:52 PM  

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