Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Play Mobil Librarian

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012


This post picks up from my previous one covering the move (or lack of movement) to lite DRM ebooks. Here I'm looking at lending ebooks in libraries, both public and academic. Although linked to my previous post the lending of ebooks really is a seperate issue, the very nature of a loan means that some sort of DRM is necessary, otherwise you are essentially giving them away. I'm not making any claims for revelations in this post but I hope to outline what is a relatively complex area.

 I should probably add  that these veiws are very much my own and that I'm offering no reccomendation for any suppliers mentioned here, these are just the ones I'm most familar with.
When Redmayne commented on the success of the Potter ebooks they were keen to empthasise  their success in the library lending charts. Yet increasingly publishers are leaving the major public library lending platform, Overdrive. Such is the exodus that many public libraries must be wondering whether they have  invested in an expensive white elephant. And its not just in the public libraries where there is a problem, some academic publishers are making core ebooks prohibitively expensive unless you have dozens of students studying the same subject.

In public libraries at least the popular licensing model maybe the crux of the problem. To the best of my knowledge Overdrive currently offers a pricing model that  means once a library has purchased an ebook it is theirs forever. The compromise is that only one reader can take it out at a time - if the book is in high demand then the library must buy additional copies. Publishers, understandably see this as a huge threat, not only is the library providing a book to a patron who will (in their view at least) be unlikely to go out and purchase a copy themselves, they will get no repeat business to replace damaged and lost copies.

In the physical world a bestselling paperback might be lent out a maximum of 30 times before it needs to be withdrawn. Some would say that figure is optimistic.  In my library, (an FE College) the lifespan of your average textbook is even less. Even if  the student decides to return it, it's only so long before someone drops it in a puddle, writes in it or lets the dog eat it. I'm lucky if our popular text books last a year and that means continuous repeat business for our book supplier and the publisher. With the Overdrive model they just don't get that for ebooks.

So what's different in the academic world? Well in my library we use Dawson Era and Ebray. Ebrary is a special case because we get it through the JISC FE agreement, I'm currently in denial that this is ending in 2014 and hoping that it will be renewed.  Buying even the top 50 titles in the 3,000 strong collection  would make a significant dent in our budget.

More relevant to this case are the additional ebooks we buy from our regular book supplier, Dawson's, it's their licensing model which is of interest when considering the economic viability of lending ebooks.

The academic model is admittedly slightly different to that of public libraries. It is possible to print or  download DRM protected copies of the books that 'self destruct' after a defined period but really the system is geared up for books to be read online. The model is much more like a reference library than a lending one but there is no reason why one couldn't be adopted by the other.

To the publisher Dawson's licensing model is arguably less threatening than Overdrive's. Rather than purchasing books outright each book comes with a variable number of credits attached to it. Each use uses up a certain number of credits, say one for viewing a page, 2 for downloading the book. Once the credits have been used up we have to buy another copy. We win because the books can be made available to a number of students simultaneously and they can't lose, damage or destroy them. The publisher and supplier win because in theory they will get repeat business once all our credits for a particular book have been used.

Of course Dawson's model isn't unique, I'm sure there are other suppliers using similar systems. What it does is offer a more sustainable model than that currently utilised by Overdrive. If everyone one adopted a permutation of the Dawson pricing model hopefully it would mean publishers could negotiate new contracts that would see more books available on your public libraries virtual shelves. A simplified view maybe but it's got to be more attractive than the current Overdrive agreement.

So we've solved the licensing problem and I've voiced my opinion that DRM probably is necessary in a lending situation. What's the next problem? Those of you who know anything about ebooks in libraries are probably screaming FORMAT right now. One of the things Ebrary, Dawson's and Overdrive all have in common is that with the notable exception of Overdrive in America you cannot download books to your Kindle, they all utilise an epub format not compatiable with the Klindles.  (Ebrary allow you to download an image PDF that can be sent to your Kindle but it isn't text searchable)   So my next post is going to look at the developments in America that has seen Kindel books being lent out by public libraris via Overdrive, the recent deal between Amazon and Waterstones and what impact this might have in the long term. I'm also going to touch on the growing popularity of ebooks and finally address the problem of the author's lending rights in regards to ebooks.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

E-Books Post Pottermore

I've decided to catch up on my musings in the e-book world, there have been several developments over the last month or two that I want to cover and given the amount I need to cover it seems I am going to have to do it through a series of posts over the next few days...

Here's the first.
To DRM or not to DRM?

At the beginning of the month The Bookseller reported that Pottermore had sold £3 million worth of ebooks in its first month of operating with many fans buying a complete set of the supposedly DRM free Harry potter books. Although this DRM approach is not unique, the launch of such high profile titles in a DRM free format is unusual enough to have raised eyebrows within the publishing world and I expect was risky enough to have given publishers Redmayne a few sleepless nights. According to Redmayne the risk paid off, maybe, because as they themselves believe, the books were offered  at an attractive price, in an attractive format.

Admittedly there have been some complaints about whether these copies are really DRM free. Although you can download your purchase up to 8 times you have to download the book direct (rather than through a partner site such as Amazon) to get the DRM free ePub file and even these have watermarks to enable Pottermore to track down individuals who make their copies available illegally. And it's not as if the DRM free format gives you free reign to loan or resell your title as you might a paper copy, the terms and conditions are very clear on that point, you cannot  'sell, distribute, loan, share, give or lend the book or extract to any other person, including to your friends.' So while you certainly have more license to use your copy than with a file from Amazon or Overdriveit can be argued that they aren't really DRM free.

While this development is of interest to me I see it of more relevance to my personal reading habits than my college collection. (My husband has a Kindle while I favor my Sony ereader so an ebook we could purchase once then download to both would be brilliant - assuming that wouldn't breach the terms and conditions) I see selling DRM free (or light) ebooks to individuals as a very different, and much more likely future than lending DRM free ebooks in college, university or even public libraries. 

Publishers in general are very twitchy about ebook lending and are increasingly seeing it as a threat to their profit marginsaccording to The Guardian only Random House and Bloomsbury are still signed up to library e-lending platform Overdrive. The fact is that ebooks are a valuable commodity and represent a growing market to the publisher world, one which they can ill afford to lose.  In the short term at least it's unrealistic to expect publishers to take Redmayne's leap of faith and make their titles available DRM lite. It's even more unrealistic to expect them to provide DRM ebooks to lending platforms such as Overdrive or Dawson.

So that brings me to my next post, e-lending in the current climate. Coming as soon as I've recovered from writing this post. 

Friday, 4 May 2012


If you haven't found Wordle (other word cloud tools are available) I suggest you give it a go. So much fun and also useful.