American Libraries: What's In Store for eBooks

American Libraries has interviewed four experts in the eBook area, speculating on the future of eBooks (and print) in retail and in libraries:  Andrew Albanese, James LaRue, Michael Shatzkin, and Maja Thomas.

We at RF would have liked to see somebody from DPLA, ALA's DCWG, Library Simplified--or perhaps RF itself :-) --included on the panel. Someone active in libraries today, with a stake in the game, would have been a good addition. Still, the article is wide-ranging, thoughtful, and well worth a look. Covering the potential and problems raised by Indie publishing, the importance of libraries in the market, and the need for innovation, the panelists hit on vital points:

RF wishes to thank Mr. Albanese for these words:  

"It would be a mistake to accept the current restrictions on library eBook lending as the way things have to be. For example, I don’t see any reason why a library should not be able to buy ebooks like they buy print books, and at the same prices. To me, there is virtually no difference between a print book and a copy of a digital book that is locked down and can be read by only one user at a time. And I have yet to hear a compelling argument otherwise."

"Amazon and Netflix are redefining consumer expectations for accessing digital content, and libraries cannot allow themselves to settle on a plateau of mediocrity. I understand the fear and caution that came with the early days of digital. But publishers and libraries are invested in the same things. Together, they should form a bulwark against companies whose innovation in the short term comes with a price in the long term."

Despite recent gains in access to content, today's library eBook experience is still inadequate to support robust reading. The wait for content, coupled with that same content's inexpensiveness to consumers, provides only the mediocrity Albanese fears. Why wait for a title from the library when it can be had so cheaply, instantly, elsewhere? While carefully choosing titles of local interest by local authors is a laudable goal, will our readers flock to get the latest Indie, library curated eContent? It's time for a change to multiple pricing models on the content most readers want, subscriptions with simultaneous user access for libraries, and a technologically simplified reading experience. In 2016, we hope more libraries will join ReadersFirst in saying so.  You have nothing to lose but your readers.

Michael Blackwell, St Mary's County Library