This post has been in draft since April, when Meredith Farkas first posted about the Davids and Goliaths in the eContent world. A post today from the Librarian in Black prompted me to dig this out and publish it.
I spent the last couple of years managing online collections for a large public library, and a big part of my time was spent supporting customers’ use of eBooks and eAudiobooks. I also own a Sony Reader and have bought and used eBooks from various places. So, like the Librarian in Black, I figure I should be able to use library eBook services, even if they are a little bit complicated. Apparently not. I recently tried to download an eBook from EBL, and I hit brick wall after brick wall. Notably, I’m pretty tech savvy, have lots of experience with eBooks and am willing to persist because eBooks are my preferred format. And in the end, even *I* gave up (the final straw was that Digital Editions (DE) wasn’t installed on my work PC, and of course, I couldn’t install it – but then, I’m fairly sure that should I have been able to get the software working, the DE authentication probably wouldn’t have worked, because typically it doesn’t in corporate environments. And let’s not even start talking about Digital Editions, which I cannot get working on my personal laptop, despite having totally uninstalled and reinstalled it several times.)
The Librarian in Black is right – it’s time librarians took a stand on this and I second the idea that we need advocacy and a united front. For too long, public libraries in particular have accepted broken models because we want to be able to provide *something* in these formats. We put up with the model because we have no alternative, and because we want to make some attempt to satisfy the needs of customers who want materials in these formats.
The situation is even worse in Australia, because not only do we have to put up with broken models, we also have to put up with a really limited range of content – geographic distribution rights means eBook and eAudiobook collection development is really hit and miss in Australia. We take what we can get, and what we can get is pretty limited (although, I do have to say that there are some vendors who are working to rectify this – but progress is limited and slow).
And it’s a similar story for consumers who want to buy eBooks – we just don’t get the range here. The much hyped recent release of the Kobo in Australia seemed likely to help on the content front, with new eBook stores opening to complement the release of the device. I had high hopes that the Borders eBook store would be the messiah for eBook readers in Australia, but what we ended up with was a meagre 12,000 odd fiction titles available there.
The problem really lies with the publishers, who are just plain scared and blinded by their fear. I think we’ve proved, now, through models like OverDrive’s DRM-free MP3 eAudiobooks, that library users will use content ethically. And I think it’s therefore time to start pushing publishers to allow distribution of DRM free content, so that vendors can implement models that *just work*. It would be wise for vendors to start working with libraries to provide a united front on this issue.
I’m not sure what the best mechanism for doing this might be – is it our associations, or is it, perhaps, our consortia, as Meredith suggested?
I know many librarians in Australia would be keen to be involved in the kind of advocacy group that the Librarian in Black has suggested. Perhaps we should be looking at forming such a group locally, to deal with the added issue of geographic distribution rights. Any takers?