The Future is Now!

E-books are HOT in Sacramento right now.  It seems like every adult just got – or is getting – an e-reader, and many non-residents are driving into town to get their Sacramento libary cards so they can take advantage of our e-collections.

E-books are hot at ALA this year, too, and one of the most eye-popping sessions was “The future is now: e-books and their increasing impact on library services.”  It looks like there are two movements converging: libraries buying and circulating e-book readers, and the provision of DRM-free e-books that can be read on many devices.

Jamie LaRue contends that “the bullet has gone into the brain of established publishers; we’re just waiting for the body to fall.” This is based on stats he presented showing that established publishers are producing only 7% of published e-books now. With the proliferation of self-publishing venues like Smashwords, it’s easy to get your e-books into the hands of buyers without going the agent/publishing house route. He suggested that one scenario has libraries buying the entire output of an e-publisher, and just deleting the titles we don’t want to keep.

Chris Harris gave a brief overview of the available e-readers, and then Brewster Kahle and Peter Brantley talked about Open Library, which buys e-books (rather than licensing them) and makes them available for loan to the public through participating libraries.

California libraries will soon be participating in Open Library through the advocacy of the California State Library. This will probably put a lot of pressure on publishers and other e-book vendors, and ultimately make the experience easier and more intuitive for patrons who are all thumbs.

Library Ideas, LLC seems to be taking this arena seriously. Freegal is their music download service, and they are just launching a new product: Freading, which will make e-books available the same way its music is: unlimited simultaneous downloads of both new and older titles, but with the DRM that manages the check-out period.

My perfect e-book experience: the titles are discoverable either from within the e-reader or the library’s catalog; they are always available (no hold queue); downloading is simple and can be done from any device; the checkout terms  are clear, and the title can be transferred to multiple devices during the lending period. If I don’t like it, or if I finish it early, I can return it any time during the lending period.

I do not own a dedicated e-reader; I do, however, read e-books on my iPhone during my morning and evening bus commute, and on the iPad while reclining in the La-Z-Boy. I have Nook, Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Bluefire, FreeBooks, and OverDrive apps installed on both. I don’t like to buy books, because I rarely read them more than once, so if publishers, vendors, and libraries can get it together to create a model that works as well as lending print copies, I will be in e-book heaven!


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