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The End of Libraries, Part VII

Dec 31, 2011
An Open Letter to All Living Authors:

I would like to address some of my favorite people today in this, Part VII of The End of Libraries, and give you my take on what is happening in the eBook lending world, a brave new world that is as significant to the history of the printed page as the invention of movable type.

I read 93 books in 2011—78 in their entirety and at least the first 50 pages of 15 others. Midway through the year, while attending a library conference, I won both a Kindle and an iPad 2! What luck, hey?

Knowing that my public library had eBooks to loan, and being a borrower of books rather than a buyer (I can’t afford to buy 93 books a year!), I spent time and effort (too much!) learning the Overdrive interface and checked out my first eBook, When the Killing’s Done, by T.C. Boyle. The experience of reading that book on my iPad made me a dedicated eBook reader. From then on, I didn’t care if I ever held a “real” book in my hands again.

I quickly realized how fortunate I had been to find a Boyle at my library. A subsequent search for something to check out revealed nothing of interest. I maintain a list of books I want to read; it is six pages long at the moment. I checked the first 50 titles on this list in my library’s eBook collection (which it shares with 150 other libraries in my state) and found exactly none of them in the catalog. And most of the titles that were there had long waiting lists.

Desperate for eBook reading matter, and eager to see if the Kindle experience was as great as the iPad, I broke down and bought Desolation, by Yasmina Reza, one of the books on my six-page list. Though for me the iPad reading experience is superior to the Kindle (except in terms of weight), I would still prefer a Kindle edition over hard copy.

There followed a month or two of a dry spell, during which I continued to read books wastefully printed on processed dead trees and badgered my state library consortium to spend more on eBooks.

Eager to convert my wife to eBooks, I finally again broke down and purchased for the iPad the enhanced version of Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean. Its many pages of color photos and ten embedded videos(!) gave me a taste of the delights coming our way as eBooks mature and take on features we cannot even imagine today.

Then came the first rumblings of KOLL—Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library—and I began to write this series on The End of Libraries. Once KOLL was announced, and since my company has an Amazon Prime membership, I immediately borrowed my first “free” book from the Lending Library, What It Is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes. Karl will get a piece of a $500,000 pot from Amazon for that loan, as will all the other authors whose books are loaned during December 2011, KOLL’s first month.

KOLL began with 5,000 titles and by the end of December it had almost 70,000, the vast majority apparently coming from authors in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program, in which authors can self-publish their books. In order to be part of KOLL, KDP authors had to commit to a 90-day participation in the lending program and agree to give Amazon exclusive sales rights during that period to the books enrolled in KOLL. Obviously thousands of you thought it was worth the commitment. Why? I think it is because you have become aware of an exciting new fact of literary life that also occurred to me while watching the eBook world and writing this series over the past six weeks: eBooks are for lending, and anyone who can come up with a scheme to adequately compensate authors for those loans will have built the better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to their door.

Amazon is on its way to doing that, all by itself. Monopolies are inherently undesirable, and this one also threatens the continued existence of a vital national resource: our public library network.

You are going to make a lot more money lending AND selling your books in the future than you make just selling them today. You are going to pressure your publishers to get on board with eBook lending and, if they drag their feet, you will do whatever you need to do to find your way to this enhanced revenue generator. As you do, I ask you to read the first six parts of this series (and any future parts: follow us on Twitter for announcements), consider the ill effects of monopoly and the end of public libraries, and get on board with a movement to bring an adequate eBook lending model to public libraries. I suggest one such model—the American Public Library Enterprise, or AmPLE—in Part II. Public libraries serve all 330 million Americans, not the scant few million who may be Amazon Prime customers and eligible for one KOLL checkout in each calendar month. The revenues you stand to gain which today are sitting on the table are enormous, and our public library network stands ready to bring them to you.

How to proceed? Get together with your fellow writers. Get talking. Don’t fret, the way your publisher is fretting (if you have one). A reading renaissance is at hand, knocking on our doors, ready to bring your works to the masses and masses of money to you. Don’t let this take forever, and don’t let Amazon kill libraries by bringing to a few of us what should belong to the whole world.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part VI

Dec 15, 2011
On November 2, Amazon introduced the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL) for its Amazon Prime customers.1 It initially offered 5,000 titles, most obtained from second-rank publishers under contractual agreements and, under some other fairly hazy arrangement, additional titles one copy of which Amazon apparently agreed to purchase at wholesale for every Prime customer that simultaneously borrowed it.

Then, on December 8, Amazon announced KDP Select, a program to enroll self-published authors in KOLL, and, as I predicted, a week later there were over 52,000 titles available for borrowing in KOLL. I predict that number will again increase tenfold within the next 60-90 days as traditional and first-rank publishers cave in to the enormous pressure from their authors and from the changing nature of the marketplace, and begin listing their titles with Amazon’s KOLL.

Meanwhile, Amazon today claimed it has sold more than a million Kindle devices (including the newest, the Kindle Fire) each week for the past three weeks.2 Those devices are primarily intended for one purpose—reading eBooks.

Amazon has been much more reticent about releasing the numbers of its Prime customers, though I can tell you those numbers increased today by at least one—me. And the book I immediately borrowed, What Is It Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes, must have been provided through that fairly hazy arrangement described above. It is most definitely not self-published, and a quick perusal of Amazon’s first five pages of titles from its publisher, the Atlantic Monthly Press, revealed no other titles that were included in KOLL.

Others have estimated Prime customers at around five million, and that was early in 2011, before KOLL was more than a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye.3 If that number was close to accurate almost a year ago, I am probably safe in estimating the number has doubled since then and especially since the introduction of KOLL. Ten million members, all able to check out one book a month, 52,000 books to choose from, and a $500,000 pot to split. I hope after this first trial month Amazon will release some figures relating to KOLL usage; however, whether they do or not, I think things look pretty sunny for many of the authors of those 52,000 books. Not that there isn’t a tremendous amount of controversy around the issue, just now, appropriately enough, among self-published authors.4 Much more is to come, particularly as authors associated with traditional publishing houses begin to understand the unprecedented advantage they are missing out on: payment for books that are loaned as well as those that are sold.

What does this mean for public libraries? I think I have made that pretty clear already in the first five parts of this series.5 More to come, as more develops.
1 The End of Libraries, Part III, from Alltogethernow.org, Nov 6, 2011.
2 Customers Purchasing Kindles at Rate of More Than 1 Million Per Week for Third Straight Week, from MarketWatch.com, Dec 15, 2011, accessed Dec 15, 2011.
3 The promise of Amazon Prime, from Daily Artifacts, Feb 24, 2011, accessed Dec 15, 2011.
4 How Much Do You Want to Get Paid Tomorrow, by David Gaughran, from Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should. This is one of the best sites to read about the concerns of self-published authors. There are many others. Dec 11, 2011, accessed Dec 15, 2011.
5 The End of Libraries, Parts I-VI, from Alltogethernow.org.
tags: Books and Libraries

Noted with Interest, December 2011

Dec 08, 2011

She's Alive... Beautiful... Finite... Hurting... Worth Dying for
By Vivek Chauhan. Accessed Dec 8, 2011.

The brutal logic of climate change
By David Roberts. Your grandchildren are doomed. From grist, Dec 5, 2011. Accessed Dec 7, 2011.

First Nations taxation
By Anonymous. Okay, it's a blog post about a fairly obscure Canadian issue, but this writer reminded me of the great I.F. Stone. From ‚pihtawikosis‚n, Dec 3, 2011. Accessed Dec 5, 2011.

Where Were You When They Crucified My Lord?
By Chris Hedges. Well, where were you? From truthdig.com, Dec 5, 2011. Accessed Dec 5, 2011.

Guantanamo for US citizens? Senate bill raises questions.
By Brad Knickerbocker. Repression by legislation, or, Hey, Dude, Where's My Constitution? From The Christian Science Monitor, Dec 3, 2011. Accessed Dec 3, 2011.

tags: Noted with Interest

The End of Libraries, Part V

Dec 08, 2011
Today, Amazon announced the KDP (Kindle Direct Publisher) Select program, which enrolls independent authors and publishers in a $6 million sweepstakes and, upon its announcement, immediately added 129 books to the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. I predict thousands more will follow very soon.

From the press release:1

The monthly royalty payment for each KDP Select book is based on that book’s share of the total number of borrows of all participating KDP books in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. For example, if total borrows of all participating KDP Select books are 100,000 in December and an author’s book was borrowed 1,500 times, they will earn $7,500 in additional royalties from KDP Select in December. Amazon expects the fund to be at least $6 million for all of 2012, in addition to the $500,000 allocated for December 2011. Enrolled titles will remain available for sale to any customer in the Kindle Store and authors will continue to earn their regular royalties on those sales.
So, for the first time in history (correct me if I’m wrong), authors will regularly receive a royalty payment each time a title of theirs is loaned, as well as each time it is sold.

Amazon’s payment strategy may seem eccentric. However, upon closer examination, it reveals itself as a cautious move on Amazon’s part, limiting their liability. As for what seems to be a rather cruel provision—setting authors against each other in the sweepstakes to win a big chunk of that $500,000 (a month)—well it is really just a reflection of the real world, where bestsellers earn more than literary novels—only in this case the purse is not open-ended.

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos knows something you—and traditional publishers—probably don’t. eBooks are for lending, not selling. Oh, plenty of people will still buy books, particularly the print versions as long as they continue to be around. But the real money will be in loaning eBooks to a vast, global audience. And Bezos intends to dominate that business.

What author will fail to be lured by the sweet smell of the $6 million Bezos intends to put into the shared kitty in 2012—an amount which Amazon promises to reconsider each month on the evidence of the previous month’s activity.

Traditional publishers will feel enormous pressure from their authors to join KDP Select and, if they refuse, they will lose those authors to Amazon’s KDP program.

Can you say “disruptive technology”?2 Brother, you ain’t seen nothin‘ yet.

Meanwhile, where does this leave public libraries? One step closer to obsolescence, I fear. If they, and publishers, don’t get together soon, and forge something like the AmPLE program we outlined in Part II of this series,3 a tsunami of disruptions will be heading their way.

With the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Jeff Bezos put his toe in the water. With KDP Select, he is up to his ankle.

Much more is to come.
1 kdpselect at Amazon.com, accessed Dec 8, 2011
2 Disruptive technology, from Wikipedia, accessed Dec 8, 2011
3 The End of Libraries, Part II

tags: Books and Libraries

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