Oct 30, 2013
Oct 05, 2013
Time for an update.
In my first posting on this issue, in October 2011, I said, “I do not believe I am being an alarmist. We are in a political climate where public services are being privatized, downsized, or eliminated at a rapid rate. And if [public] libraries cannot begin to serve their patrons’ eBook reading needs—and they don’t come close to doing so today–and an Amazon or other commercial endeavor steps in to fill that need, libraries are finished.”
Shortly after I wrote that, Amazon introduced the book-lending add-on to its Prime account service: Prime members could now borrow one book a month with no due date. This was in addition to other Prime advantages: two-day delivery and a video collection made available for streaming. It was an effective sweetener to the $70-per-year Prime account and today Amazon has over 430,000 titles available to Prime borrowers.
Still, Amazon Prime lending isn’t much of a threat to libraries—yet. Real readers need a good deal more than a one-book fix every month. And the content remains problematic. Most, if not all, current bestsellers (or even second- or third-string bestsellers) are not available for Prime lending. But if you're a slow reader and happy with the ten-thousandth knockoff of Twilight, Prime lending may very well be providing a disincentive for visiting, or supporting, your local library.
However, two new commercial endeavors pose a far greater threat: Scribd and Oyster. The former has been around a while, providing online documents in a rather eccentric presentation mode. They and new startup Oyster are offering Netflix-like subscription plans for “all you can read” at less than $10 per month.
Oyster touts 100,000 titles, mostly consisting of the HarperCollins backlist (again, no current hot-ticket items yet available) and a few smaller publishers. Scribd doesn’ break out book numbers from its claim of having “40 million documents.” I could not find a facility to search either collection for the titles on my six-page To-Read list, though I suspect I would not find many, if any, of them available.
So content remains a problem. Your latest Grisham or Grafton is almost certainly at your public library (though not digitally, and you may have to be on a waiting list—but it is there).
Still, these vendors bring us another important step closer to The End of Libraries. By offering all you can read at a price affordable by most middle-class readers, they have gone the next mile in obviating the need for a public library for those individuals most likely to utilize and support it. All that remains now is the content puzzle. Once a Scribd, Oyster, or Amazon figures out how to convince publishers of the financial benefits of making all their publications, including new ones, available to their programs (see part II of The End of Libraries), then it is game over for public library support, and we will see libraries close at an even great rate than they are closing today.
And Our Banana Republic will be that much closer to becoming a reality.
Copyright © 2008 All Together Now.