Voice of the Industry
Libraries Getting More Active in the eBook Game
By Cary Sherburne
Published: June 29, 2010
I recently interviewed an enterprising author who is making her way to fame by self-publishing electronically after failing to catch the attention of traditional publishers. Karen McQuestion has sold more than 36,000 copies of her ebook, A Scattered Life; Amazon's Encore imprint will publish it in paperback on August 10th; and she even has a movie option. I read her book on my Kindle and enjoyed it very much.
The world of publishing is changing faster than publishers can even imagine, and control is slipping away from them rapidly. Where once the big publishers considered themselves the arbiters of quality for the written word and could control what hit the bookstore shelves, technology is rapidly changing that model. Now libraries are jumping into the fray. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (online!) reports that "a group of libraries led by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library, are joining forces to create a one-stop website for checking out e-books, including access to more than a million scanned public domain books and a catalog of thousands of contemporary e-book titles available at many public libraries...Software renders the books inaccessible once the loan period ends."
The digital project manager at the Boston Public Library, Thomas Blake, adds, "Instead of sitting back and waiting for the people to come back into the library, we want to meet our users where they're living." Brewster Kahle, the founder and digital librarian of the Internet Archive, points out, "We're just trying to do what libraries have always done."
This is a major shift for the book publishing industry. There are still many issues to be resolved (likely in the courts), including what can--and can't--be digitized for inclusion in these types of programs. But this is certainly a groundbreaking development. Along with Google's scanning efforts, this initiative willface some legal challenges, but in the end, both programs will mean more choice for readers--including both what is available and how those books can be accessed.
I hope book publishers are paying attention and considering strategies that offer the ebook options consumers are seeking. Moves like Simon & Schuster's announcement a few months ago that the company would delay ebook publication for four months after hardcover release of many of its top titles is the kind of policy that demonstrates how out of touch some publishers are as they struggle to preserve "business as usual" rather than adapting to the new market realities.