Category Archives: information industries

Local Food (for Thought) Movement

LJ Academic Newswire reports that U Penn is the latest to offer scan-on-demand with quality print output. Emory uses the same Kirtas machine to offer a curated collection of books relevant to Emory and to the South, unique in their collections. UMich, which has a rich collection of books scanned through their own efforts and with the Google project, has an Espresso machine standing by reading to instantly print copies. Cornell sells thousands of scanned books printed on demand through Amazon’s POD company.

And Boston Public, in a partnership with the Open Library that seems to have gotten far too little press, will digitize a public domain book of your choice within a matter of days, letting demand drive mass digitization. All you have to do is press a button in their catalog. How cool is that?

It’s interesting how these efforts are described. “An ATM for books.” “Library as Bookstore.” “Library as publisher.” “Amazon partnership.” We’re not quite sure what to call this effort – which is making public domain books available in multiple formats to as many people as possible while recovering costs. Basically, it’s interlibrary loan of non-returnables that happen to be book-sized and often go direct to the patron. It’s a terrific development. But . . . you knew there’d be a but, didn’t you?

By now some of you will have twigged to the fact that partnering with Amazon – particularly for POD fulfillment – is going on my “hey, wait a minute” list. Amazon is a hugely successful company that is able to set terms because it is so big. Their strategy is vertical integration and ownership of every piece of the industry that can be integrated. The only POD company they support is the one they own. The only e-book format they will sell is the one they bought – MobiPocket (which also fuels Kindle). They are the Microsoft of books. Don’t like the way we do things? Tough, ’cause we’re the biggest. You go through us, you get the audience, but you play by our rules.

The more we partner with Amazon, the bigger it gets and the harder it is for local independent bookstores to survive. It’s the same Faustian bargain libraries stuck with Google to digitize books, but it’s harder to argue it’s totally win-win. Independent booksellers lose. That’s a choice we make.

I suggested an even more radical partnership partnership in Library Journal last year, but so far no takers. I’m not really surprised, since it would require regional library consortia having a new-generation machine and expanding delivery of print-on-demand books to local booksellers. But a partnership of publishers, regional library systems, and the local book trade could lead to a greener, more reader-driven supply of books to borrow or buy – and a healthier local community.

I recently caught a blog posting from a bookseller who said of hard times “it’s Mardi Gras over there at the library!” We’ve all seen the news stories about the surge in library use. We have the mojo to refresh a broken book culture using new technologies and new ideas, but before we fashion ourselves as publishers, we should think about what that means to our communities near by.

I know a lot of indie booksellers, and they are dedicated to connecting people to books because they believe that connection matters. They aren’t getting rich. They aren’t trying to boost their profit margin. They’re just trying to pay the rent and stay open. My own campus bookstore is one of the few that isn’t outsourced. It’s an independent bookstore, and I’m proud of that.

If we’re going to become part of the book business, let’s think about how to do it in a way that doesn’t screw over our local partners in connecting books and readers.

The Paperless Dorm Room

It’s always good to start the day with a good laugh.

Joseph Storch has an idea (behind the Chronicle’s pay wall) to deal with textbook piracy – have all publishers put their books on a common electronic platform and let the colleges negotiate a subscription on behalf of students and dole out royalties to publishers based on use. Students will be fine with it because online is where students are at, and if a few students insist on printing content, well, even so “the system could save considerable paper.” And publishers might even start creating some digital content to supplement textbooks. What a concept!

Evidently Mr. Storch, an assistant counsel in the State University of New York’s Office of University Counsel, knows something about intellectual property law, but hasn’t paid much attention to the textbook industry and the masses of expensive online content they bundle with books, or to how students prefer to read. I don’t know about your students, but at our college most students print any online content that they want to read with care. Like most of us, they hate reading long texts on screen and even those suffering from ecological guilt prefer reading, marking up, and (if they’re on the ball) bringing their materials to class so they can refer to it. Professors want students to refer to texts under discussion, but are not universally delighted to face a classroom full of students with their noses buried in laptops. Not all students have laptops. Not all classrooms have wireless access to handle all those laptops at once. (I won’t even touch on the silliness of an ecological argument that landfills full of printed textbooks are a bigger problem than landfills overflowing with electronic junk, heavy metals and all.)

I applaud any attempt to improve the situation for students who have to spend so much on textbooks, but solutions should be proffered with some rudimentary research done beforehand. Libraries have subscribed to bundled electronic content on behalf of students for a long time, and while it means more content is accessible, it doesn’t make it cheaper – nor does it mean students will use more content. And so far, having all content through one platform may be the dream of some of our ambitious vendors, but it’s not likely to happen – or save anybody money.

I also had to laugh that he mentions Harvard Business Review – the outfit smart enough (or should I say greedy enough?) to have licenses with their content bundled into library databases spell out that it cannot be used for courses. For that, you pay more.

[Whoops – as Steven points out in the comments, I read that wrong. It’s Harvard Law Review. I did notice something else, though, that I hadn’t before – the copyright statements on full-text articles in Academic Search Premier vary from publication to publication, and a lot of them specify articles can be downloaded “for personal use.” It makes me wonder if that’s to wriggle out of use of these articles in courses, with links in syllabi or e-reserves systems. But that’s a paranoia for another day . . .]

A cheaper solution? Nice thought, but I doubt it.

Another Case of the Missing Library

Steven just remarked on the Educause training toolkit for information literacy that somehow missed the fact that libraries have been working on it for some time. D’oh! This presentation on an Annenberg School-sponsored media survey also struck me as a place where “library” as a source of information is noticeably absent. (So are books.) Admittedly, the focus is on how media can recapture people’s attention as a trusted source of information, and it’s really focused on “how do we get consumers to pay attention to our advertising so we can recover that revenue stream.” But still … the survey asked about where people turn to find trusted information. The library is not one of the options. (See especially slides 20 and 24.)

The survey focused entirely on sources of information that can be optimized for advertising dollars – and how to drive the public toward news media for purchasing decisions – so they may have just decided libraries don’t belong on the list. But when they ask about “where you go for information” and libraries aren’t there, it suggests value is only attached to information sources that exist to generate advertising dollars and stock dividends.

The study reports that people are increasingly skeptical about mass media and that “word of mouth” is more important than being told what to read through PR and marketing. In other words, you PR flaks have shot yourselves in the foot and are now trying to learn how to talk like a human.

Maybe our users need to get a little more outspoken. Libraries have net assets worth billions! You can claim your dividend every time you use them! You can use them online with no pay wall! And no harvesting of personal information or annoying banner ads!

I think we have an edge, here, if only we were able to get the word out.

Take Two

A follow-up on some previous posts . . .

Today’s New York Times has an opinion piece about the use of UK’s plaintiff-friendly libel laws to suppress publication of books in the United States. The authors, professors of law and of Jewish Studies at Emory, call attention to the way Cambridge caved when a billionaire Saudi banker objected to passages in Alms for Jihad and call for legislation that will prevent US courts from enforcing libel judgments issued by foreign courts – what they call “libel tourism.” We raised this issue a couple of times here.

I was reminded of how much easier it is to preach than practice once again when reading, in LJ’s Academic Newswire, that UK publishers are hammering out OA issues, followed by a summary of an article on the value of venting published in the ALA-APA’s newsletter – only open to subscribers. Well, I’m venting again – how are we supposed to lecture publishers about open access when our own organizations aren’t practicing it? There, I feel so much better.

But while I’m at it, let me applaud ACRL for making their publications accessible. As Steven pointed out in an earlier post, the much-awaited ethnographic study of the University of Rochester library is browseable online. It’s fascinating! I’m going to go order a copy so I can take my time reading it.

It seems to me, ACRL is not only doing the right thing, they’re doing the smart thing. As the RIAA continues to threaten our college students, the marketplace is embracing DRM-free solutions; trade publishers such as HarperCollins and Random House have created digital depositories so their books can be searched on their own sites, not just at Amazon and Google Books. (Random even has cool book widgets so you can run them on your own website.) Open for business – what a concept.

Times Selects “Open”

The rumor reported in the Post a few weeks ago got it right – The Times is no longer charging for its web content. They were making money on subscriptions, but they realized, apparently, they can make more on advertising if the doors are open. I’m sure their columnists are also happy that bloggers can point to them without a subscription wall getting in the way.

I got into a spot of bother when I asked ProQuest whether they had any response to the Times wooing my students and faculty with free select accounts shortly after my library plunked down lots of cash for the same content. (It bugged me that the Times would act like my students’ best friend when, after all, I’m their best friend and had just purchased them a really shiny, expensive bauble and was trying hard to get them to notice.) Apparently ProQuest asked the Times and the Times said “oops, never mind” – and librarians (me in particular) were blamed for pulling the plug. But this development is exactly what I’d hoped for and I’m delighted with it.

Those of us who subscribe to the Historical New York Times will have to make clear why it’s different and worth using – there’s content and search capability that won’t be at the Times’s site. But that’s okay. And when our students graduate they won’t lose both our version and a temporary freebie from the Times.

The real news: here’s yet another example of bean counters figuring out that open is better for business than closed.

I’m still not sure what to think of their Knowledge Network, though, as reported in Inside Higher Ed a while back.