06 October 2011

An open letter

October 6, 2011
Online world

Dear Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harper Collins, Ebrary, EBSCO, and any other publisher/vendor dealing in ebooks (which is probably a good number of y'all),

I'm sure by now you all are tired of hearing from libraries and librarians about ebooks.  I mean I don't even really need to list what's been said about y'all do I?  But I want to take a bit of a different tact so please do keep reading.

First of all let's just go ahead and agree that both sides--publishers/vendors and libraries/librarians--need to work together on this, because neither of us can live without the other.  And yes I said that you need us.  Because let's go ahead and be honest when someone gets confused about how their ereader works, how to get library ebooks on it, how to use the thing...who do they really come to?  That's right, they very often come and visit their local library.  They know (or figure) that we should know how the thing works and also be able to recommend more great books to them.  And where would these folks find out about more books without us?  But we need y'all as well.  Ebooks, whether people like it or not, are a big part of the future of library world and y'all make them.  So we need to work together on this.

So what now?  Well how about we come up with a couple of compromises for both sides here.

I'll start with the library side first.
1)Getting paid and how often:
OK I'll admit HarperCollins had a good point a while back about ebooks not wearing out like regular books and the desire to get paid again, just as if a replacement copy had been ordered.  I'll also state that the checkout limitation was completely and utterly ludicrous.  So why not come up with something different?

How about an annual charge for the books.  And no I don't mean the full cost or limitations on how many times it can be checked out.  Let's just talk strictly about books that are in the $8-$25 range, which are popular books, best sellers, stuff that a large number of people are likely to read.  What about an annual fee (after the first year) per book of .50-$2.00 depending upon the retail price of the book?  That way a library has it for a year, they get a chance to look at the circulation of it and decide whether or not they want to keep it, kinda of like we do now.  If they do keep it they pay a small charge and it goes to you.

Now granted we get a lot of things through packages through vendors so things might need to change there as well (with vendors offering the chance to switch out books perhaps,) but that can be a conversation down the line.

2) Data
Let's just go ahead and be honest we all know that you collect data (some of you a bit more than others.)  And libraries are loathe to get up lots of data, because we try to protect our patrons.  But what if we compromise a bit? Let's strip out the patron name and the street address out of the data.  That way you can't associate it with one person and if the government decides to go crazy, you don't have that information to give them.  You still get some info that's useful to you and we make sure that we continue to protect our patrons privacy.

What you need to change:
1) Format, and this is the big one:
This idea that you'll only provide ebooks in one format or your ebook reader will only read one format it's ludicrous.  Y'all are acting like this is the battle between Beta player and VHS instead of what it really is, a battle between Sony and Samsung players.

Look the format is already out there, epub, just go ahead and use it.  Let people read their books on whatever device they have and not trying to force them into having only your device and no other.  DVD's companies don't do this.  I mean seriously can you imagine the chaos if you had to have 10 different DVD players to enjoy your favorite movie?

I get it, really I do.  You want to get people to buy your device.  But why not get them to buy your device based upon what it offers, not that they have to buy their books just from you.  And for their books?  Let them come to you because they know what service that you offer and the price that you can offer on ebooks.  Because come on now, they're buying their ebooks based on that anyway.

1a)Vendors and ebook readers:
This is a subset of the first conversation, but y'all seriously? You're going to let us buy ebooks and then say "sorry you can only read it on the computer."  That kind of defeats the purpose of an ebook, you know that right?  So let's start making it so that we can read ebooks on ebook readers without having to download a piece of software that doesn't work on every ebook read (looking at one of you in particular here.)  We can find a way to make it work.  You know it. I know it. So let's make it happen.

2) Talk to us:
And yes I mean really go out there and talk to us.  And no the librarians that are on you staff don't count.  Nothing against them, but once they start working for you doesn't that kinda of limit their experience with interacting with patrons on a daily basis?  Form a group.  Include people that you know are pissed off at you, but are reasonable (yes there are some out there.)  Get our input.  Include the input of your customer base.  Share it.

We can't exist in a bubble and it's time we both stopped living in aspects of them.

Now I'm only one librarian and I can't speak for them all so this is just me talking.  But let's just keep talking and see where it goes?  What do you say?
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