In preparation for Tech Wednesday, I’ve been combing the blogosphere for discussions on E-books..and lordy, did I find some. There’s plenty of hand-wringing and garment-rending going on out there.
For starters, there’s the Random House debacle, in which Random House hiked the price of their e-books by about 300%. Random house is one of the few publishers that don’t have a user cap on their e-books, and their reasoning (from what I can see) is that since more people can access the same book in electronic format, they should get paid more per copy. Libraries, naturally, see things very differently. ALA’s response is encapsulated in this article on a series of meeting between ALA bigwigs and publishers. Unsurprisingly, there was not a lot of agreement on where to go from here. I think the most interesting response I’ve seen so far is from Karen Schneider, who points out some eerie parallels between the Random House price hike and old fashioned paper book price fixing, which was made illegal in 1966, due in no small part to the work of pissed-off librarians.
Meanwhile, e-book lending is on the rise, even in the consumer market. Both Amazon and Nook have started instituting programs that allow consumers to temporarily lend books to friends, although your friends have to be using the same device you are and the feature has to enabled by publishers. Overdrive is getting a lot of attention because it’s a major player in distributing e-books to public libraries, but it doesn’t seem to have an academic counterpart-our market is much more fragmented.
What all this highlights for me is that we need to be aware that publishers have yet to settle on business models for the sale and access of e-books, and that this makes the market very unstable. Because we are not purchasing e-books outright in many cases, their prices and conditions of access can and probably will fluctuate, which can certainly affect access. Couple this with the onerous DRM restrictions and measures publishers have taken to protect their intellectual property, and it’s enough to make some of our colleagues question whether we should fool with e-books at all. We don’t even have a standard e-book format yet. It’s like the digital music wars all over again.