Saturday, September 25, 2010

random babble about eBooks

We had an assignment for work to read articles about eBooks, eReaders, and their growing popularity then post about it. Well, as usual, my long-winded self went on too long so I had to edit my official reply down to a few short paragraphs. But I'm going to post all my thoughts here, if only for my own amusement:

I was a Page back when we had our first “eReaders” – which were so bulky and unmanageable, it was no surprise they died out pretty quickly (plus, I think they only ever had the Dictionary, Alice in Wonderland, and a random James Patterson book loaded on them). So, needless to say, I am very skeptical when it comes to this new crop of eReaders.

My biggest issue right now is that the Kindle, Sony eReader, Nook etc. are all Uni-taskers – all they do is download reading material. If I ever felt the need to purchase something that allowed me to read eBooks on-the-go, I would mostly likely opt for an iPad or less expensive PC tablet so that I can do more than just read. Because, let’s face it, these devices appeal to people who travel a lot and does that person really want to pack an eReader AND a laptop, or just take a single device that does it all? I agree with the ‘Race to the Bottom’ article from Crunch Gear – these devices have a finite lifespan because computers themselves are getting smaller, lighter, and cheaper and as more companies put out eBook programs, allowing you to read on your computer or phone. I think eBooks are here to stay, but I think the readers themselves will disappear as soon as Windows launches whatever their answer to the iPad will be.

I think it is great that the library provides eBooks and eAudiobooks – patrons are asking for them and want them. The biggest drawback is the librarians’ ability to help patrons with these formats, which we’ve really never had to do before. No one ever asks “well, how does this book work?” or “how do I get this CD into my player?”. But now the phone rings and patrons want to know how to transfer the PDF file to their Kindle – and the librarian has to do one of the hardest things for a librarian to do (at least for me) : tell them they can’t. I HATE that. With any other request, I will FIND materials for them, but when it comes to these devices, until the DRM war ends, I have to tell patrons “Sorry, you can’t do that” and it bugs me.

I know this is not Overdrives’ fault – it is Amazon trying to wage a war with the rest of the eBook world. They want the Kindle to be the iPod of books and they will not release the .AMZ format to the public until they have cemented that position. It’s a sound marketing strategy (that’s $100 for the reader and another $10 for the book) but like so many DRM-related issue, it’s the consumer that suffers the most. I think with library patrons, the eReaders that can handle Adobe Reader files will win the day, but the early adopters that jumped on the Kindle bandwagon will be stuck buying books until Amazon gives up the .AMZ file battle.

But this seems to be a constant theme right now. Movie studios are attempting to bring down Netflix because they think people are not buying enough DVDs because they can rent them (they don’t realize that number of crap movies they put out every year is really what’s slowing down sales). Video Game companies are fighting with Gamestop and other retailers that sell used items because they say it is hurting their revenue (again, they should stop making crap games and charging $60-$70 for them). And ePublishers are putting different DRMs on far too many books and they say it’s to keep the titles from being pirated (but really it’s to make people buy their specific eReader) and consumers are getting frustrated.

As the NPR article pointed out, people feel that digital editions should cost less because there is no physical item being created and publishers are freaking out because they want that money from the initial release. But why are publishers acting shocked and apauled by this? Were they not paying attention when iTunes released downloadable music? Did they not watch as people went from paying .99 cents per song to $1.99 with very little fuss? It’s not too big of a stretch to see people paying less for the book now and then raising the price back up after you’ve lured enough people into the eBook market.

The real question is how flustered we, as librarians, should be over this whole thing. eBooks are popular but the patrons percentage that is using them can’t compare to people who are using the library for physical books, newspapers, magazines, databases etc.. As the Mobile Opportunity blog post pointed out, only 2% of book buyers have these devices and these book buyers clearly have some disposable income or they would never have dropped the money for the device in the first place. And I still deal with patrons on a daily basis that are shocked we have computers in the building and DVDs to borrow! We are stereotyped as the quiet place for children, students, and seniors. Perhaps this is our chance to get our names in the papers again and use this new format to promote libraries as keeping up with the times (something we know we do but that people in our service areas might not be aware of) and full of new technology that appeals to more than the elementary school set.
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