All about e-books

Cover of Views of the E-Book Renaissance

Views of the E-Book Renaissance

The latest issue of Information standards quarterly (ISQ) has just arrived, and this one is a special issue, Views of the E-book Renaissance.

Dedicated entirely to e-books, this issue:

presents the status of e-books from multiple perspectives—publishers and other content producers, librarians, and the many vendors who support their creation, management, sales, and distribution.

In short, it’s got something for (and from!) everyone, covering not only the relevant standards associated with e-books but with offering insights into how different sectors in the e-publishing world interact with one another. The full issue, and individual articles, are all freely available online.

E-books are a blessing to the poor

There is some fear that when paper books disappear from the shelves of bookshops and libraries, that in some way this will cause an inequality of access to books to the poor. In that the poor do not have access to electronic devices to read e-books.

A simple argument, disproved by reality.

Firstly, libraries can of course lend out e-book readers to those who require them, or library patrons could read the e-books on another fixed device such as a pc.

Secondly, the price of e-readers continue to fall and are (at <$130) within the reach of most people in Australia. Especially considering the cost of other pastimes in Australia such as gambling on which the average (unreconstructed) Australian spends $1097 a year.

Thirdly, and more importantly it is such a westernised false construct that the poor do not have access to technological devices.  While, granted,  most people do not as yet have e-readers, very many do have access to smart phones or other devices that do have much of the same functionality. It is a fact that mobile phone usage and ownership is highest among the poorest (everywhere) – merely because the poor do not have the means or infrastructure to support fixed line phones, or broadband or indeed often fixed homes.

The really (as opposed to the western relatively) poor in the developing world as the statistics here show, have very wide access to mobile technologies, far more than they have ever had good access to paper books.

There was no great push for providing books in print to the billions in the developing world, that I recall from book fanciers. And indeed, from an environmental perspective providing books on a western scale to the developing world would be catastrophic. The amount of tree logging, water use, bleach and dye pollution, transportation etc. to provide millions of books is completely ecologically unsustainable.

Far better to provide countless books in electronic form at negligible environmental cost and at negligible monetary cost to the world, as is being performed now.

E-books are and will continue to be the great leveller, providing entertainment, education, social mobility and creative opportunity to all the world, irrespective of locality or cost.

Many librarians have chosen to abrogate their lead in this evolution, so that vendors may do their job for them, but they had better not however continue to get in the way of this change.

Some faux argument that the poor and old in the western world may not have access to books when we go fully digital is just the last desperate overture from those who judge a book by its container.

Just so you know

Amazon announces that they are selling more Kindle e-books than paper books.

Paper books have now become the niche market.

Physical bookshops are closing everywhere, online booksellers are growing.

In 2 years time the only paper books to be mass produced will be romance/crime/biography titles for sale in supermarkets, all serious works will be print on demand only.

In 5 years time there will no longer be any worthwhile mass produced paper books to put on library shelves.

Ebooks and Librarians Matter

Kathryn Greenhill has started off 2011 with a thought provoking set of 11 answers for libraries in 2011.

Q. How do we force publishers to give us ebook content that includes works that our users want and that they find easy to download to their chosen device?


They will not.

It is not in their commercial interests to do so. They are just not that into us.

Kathryn also goes on say that if publishers won’t realise the economic value that librarians bring and make content available to libraries in a manner that is useful for our users, then:

we could save our energy and find untapped sources of content created by our local users and work together to create a single publishing platform and rights-management tool to allow easy creation and access to local content.

I am currently writing a piece on why libraries should cease collecting print books to go into a book (a print one ha!). So the discussions librarians are currently having on eBook integration are valuable. I don’t think however that Kathryn’s suggestion of sourcing local content is viable. Library users want access to worldwide new content (just like ebookstores offer) we need to work better with publishers, and demand more from vendors such as OverDrive (, Ebrary ( and the Ebook Library ( or, alternatively set up our own licencing system but not just with local content, but with all major publishers. The Australian library world already has the NLSA Consortium for organising licencing for databases , this would seem like a natural extension of their work, surely.

The Growing Importance of Ebooks in U.S. Library Collections

Some preliminary findings from a large survey of ebooks in US libraries is avialable at the
Libray Journal website

Most respondents agreed that ebook circulation will be on the rise over the next year. Large majorities of public (84%), academic (77%), and school libraries (65%) believed it would increase, while only 1% in each category believed ebook circulation would decrease.

How eBook Catalogs at Public Libraries Drive Publishers’ Book Sales and Profits

See this paper by OverDrive (“OverDrive is a leading full-service digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music, and video. We deliver secure management, DRM protection, and download fulfillment services for hundreds of publishers and thousands of libraries, schools, and retailers, serving millions of end users”)

Aimed at publishers, it talks of the marketing opportunities available to publishers to increase their sales through the free advertising that takes place in Libraries (especially in their catalogues).

While more than 900 print copies of the book were purchased for Toronto’s library patrons, just 3 percent of the total order (30 copies) were eBooks and digital audiobooks for the library’s “virtual branch.” These 30 digital copies have garnered more than 2,500 online page views since The Lost Symbol’s release in September 2009.
Similarly, New York Public Library owns two eBook copies of Sarah Blake’s The New York Times Best Seller, The Postmistress. Throughout the month of February, these two copies were checked out and therefore not available for others to borrow. However, during February, The Postmistress eBook title page at New York Public Library was viewed 53 times. Each viewer who was unable to check out and download the eBook was able to glean additional information about the title. Libraries are simply not meeting demand for eBooks, but they are whetting the consumer appetite.

As the papers says, libraries are not meeting the demand for ebooks, therefore un-catered for library patrons are going on to buy product. OverDrive is looking to cater to this market by making a buy option available.

Maybe libraries should divert more money from print purchasing, or, renegotiate its DRM licences. I think the former will be easier somehow.

Imagine a world without shelves

empty library shelves

Photo credit Salim Virji

Imagine, it’s not hard to do, a world where knowledge and information is off the shelves and available online at any hour in any community.

Where a stack is never closed to an open mind. Where the only access requirement is an e-reader, computer or smart phone. Where you don’t need an address for a library card, but only the address of a library catalogue, Community Books or Google.

A knowledge rich world, where sharing is more important than ownership.

Let the good incendiaries with charred fingers come! Here they are! Heap up the fire to the shelves of the libraries!

Futurist Manifesto

As librarians, we can realise the possibilities of a connected and open world. We can (metaphorically) burn the shelves and set the books free.

And in doing so achieve Goal 1f of the IFLA Strategic Plan 2010-2015:

encourage the library and information sector to work with partners and users to maximise the potential of digital technology to deliver services that enable seamless and open access by users to cultural and information resources