Home About ATN


My Four-Star Books in 2017

Dec 31, 2017
I rate the books I read (I finished 74 in 2017, my second-highest number since I started keeping track in 2003). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended; and five stars is "Drop whatever you are doing and read this book NOW!" Here are my 31 four-star books from 2017 (alas, no five-star books this time around). The ones in boldface were particularly memorable.

The year of the runaways, Sunjeev Sahota (Jan 2) ****
Then we came to the end, Joshua Ferris (Jan 8) ****
The orphan master’s son, Adam Johnson (Feb 19) ****

Nothing to be frightened of, Julian Barnes (Mar 23) ****
The Duke of deception, Geoffrey Wolff (Apr 2) ****
Emma, Jane Austen (Apr 8) ****-1/2
The card catalog, The Library of Congress (Apr 9) ****
Nutshell, Ian McEwan (Apr 30) ****
Prisoners of geography, Tim Marshall (May 14) ****
The enchanted, Rene Denfeld (May 21) ****
Pale fire, Vladimir Nabokov (Jun 1) ****-1/2
Selections from Lincoln’s Addresses, Abraham Lincoln (Jun 18) ****

The north water, Ian McGuire (Jul 6) ****
Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 (Jul 23) ****
Lessons from the wolverine, Barry Lopez (Jul 27) ****
A horse walks into a bar, David Grossman (Jul 29) ****
Giving up the ghost, Hilary Mantel (Aug 6) ****
The plot against America, Philip Roth (Aug 31) ****
Autumn, Ali Smith (Sep 3) ****
The uncommon reader, Alan Bennett (Sep 9) ****
St. Urbain’s horseman, Mordecai Richler (Sep 23) ****
Exit west, Mohsin Hamid (Sep 29) ****
The unthinkable thoughts of Jacob Green, Joshua Braff (Oct 6) ****
Do no harm, Henry Marsh (Oct 9) ****
Small world: An academic romance, David Lodge (Nov 10) ****
Goodbye, vitamin, Rachel Khong (Nov 24) ****
Home fire, Kamila Shamsie (Nov 30) ****
Dirt road, James Kelman (Dec 7) ****
A pale view of hills, Kazuo Ishiguro (Dec 9) ****
Jesus’s son, Denis Johnson (Dec 21) ****
Outline, Rachel Cusk (Dec 31) ****
tags: Books and Libraries

My Four-Star Books in 2016

Jan 02, 2017
I rate the books I read (I finished 60 in 2016, a bit below my average). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 30 Four-Star (and one rare Five-Star) books from 2016. The ones in boldface were particularly memorable.

The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
Another life, Michael Korda
The book of Aron, Jim Shepard
Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass
The ginger man, J.P. Donleavy
Fourth of July creek, Smith Henderson
The Blackhouse, Peter May
Dumbing us down, John Taylor Gatto
The white boy shuffle, Paul Beatty
The 6:41 to Paris, Jean-Philippe Blondel
Someone, Alice McDermott
Madison’s gift, David O. Stewart
The catcher in the rye, J.D. Salinger (five stars, simply masterful)
Nine stories, J.D. Salinger
All the light we cannot see, Anthony Doerr
The smartest kids in the world, Amanda Ripley
One of us, Asne Seierstad
The dog, Joseph O’Neill
The UnAmericans, Molly Antopol
The Federalist papers, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay
That night, Alice McDermott
An unnecessary woman, Rabih Almeddine
The sellout, Paul Beatty
Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
Tenth of December, George Saunders
The son, Philipp Meyer
The souls of black folk, W.E.B. Dubois
Men we reaped, Jesmyn West
The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Play it as it lays, Joan Didion
After this, Alice McDermott
tags: Books and Libraries

My Four-Star Books in 2015

Jan 31, 2016
I rate the books I read (I usually finish about 64 a year). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 26 Four-Star (and one rare Five-Star) books from 2015 (the most since 2011). This was the year I discovered Mary McGarry Morris, a great teller of tales. Bold-faced items are standouts:

Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis
The blazing world, Siri Hustvedt
Closing time, Joe Queenan
Just mercy, Bryan Stevenson
History of the rain, Niall Williams
And so it goes, Charles J. Shields
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
How to build a girl, Caitlin Moran
The collected short fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman
How it all began, Penelope Lively
Preparation for the next life, Atticus Lish
An army at dawn, Rick Atkinson
England and other stories, Graham Swift
The trees, Conrad Richter
Songs in ordinary time, Mary McGarry Morris
Euphoria, Lily King
American rust, Philipp Meyer
Vanished, Mary McGarry Morris
Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Philbrick
A dangerous woman, Mary McGarry Morris
Pride and prejudice, Jane Austen (A rare five stars)
A hole in the universe, Mary McGarry Morris
Honeydew, Edith Pearlman
10:04, Ben Lerner
The god delusion, Richard Dawkins
Mislaid, Nell Zink
Persuasion, Jane Austen

tags: Books and Libraries

My Four-Star Books in 2014

Jan 01, 2015
I rate the books I read (I usually finish about 64 a year). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 21 Four-Star books from 2014 (the fewest since 2005). Though there are some standouts, it wasn't a great year for reading. Bold-face items received 4.5 stars:

Julio’s day, Gilbert Hernandez
At last, Edward St. Aubyn
Bad news, Edward St. Aubyn
Mother’s milk, Edward St. Aubyn
Stitches, a memoir, David Small
The infatuations, Javier Marias
Castle Richmond, Anthony Trollope
Lady Anna, Anthony Trollope
Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope
The apartment, Greg Baxter
The colony of unrequited dreams, Wayne Johnston
Three strong women, Marie Ndiaye
The unwinding, George Packer
The light of Amsterdam, David Park
To rise again at a decent hour, Joshua Ferris
How to read and why, Harold Bloom
Swing, hammer, swing, Jeff Torrington
The sense of an ending, Julian Barnes
The dog of the south, Charles Portis
Norwood, Charles Portis

I'd love to hear your reaction to any of the above. Happy Reading in 2015!
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part 18

Nov 01, 2014
Amazon has introduced the Kindle Unlimited (KU) service. For $9.99 a month, subscribers can download and read an unlimited number of books on Kindle and Kindle-enabled devices from a collection of over 700,000 titles (up from 600,000 when it was first introduced). Subscribers also have access to thousands of audio books from Audible.

This takes the one-book-a-month service to Amazon Prime subscribers a giant step further on the road that may one day see libraries replaced with a for-profit subscription service. For less than $120 a year, readers can now read their fill—no limit to the numbers of books they read, no due dates, no late fees. I wrote in Part XVII of this series about Scribd and Oyster, two other subscription services whose offerings are similar in scope and cost to KU. Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla, however, and KU is a more serious threat to public libraries than other subscription services. Of course, 700,000 titles are a small portion of the millions of titles available in digital format today, and you can bet that many of your favorite authors and newest bestsellers will not be any more available on KU than they are today, digitally, at your public library.

However, who can doubt that if and when Amazon finds an acceptable way to recompense publishers and writers equitably based upon actual circulation, we won’t see that package expand exponentially? “Actual circulation” today can not only track downloads, but methods are even available to determine whether someone actually read a downloaded book, a portion thereof, or none at all. And in Part II of this series, I outlined a method for public libraries to recompense publishers and writers which Amazon could easily adapt to its purposes.

As noted in Part I of this series, “If libraries cannot begin to serve their patrons’ eBook reading needs—and they don’t come close to doing so today—and an Amazon or another commercial endeavor steps in to fill that need, libraries are finished.” Public libraries are not doing a significantly better job of serving their patrons today than they were doing back then, over three years ago.

Amazon Prime’s book lending feature is insufficient to threaten libraries; KU’s is not. A recent article in Forbes, for instance, advocates closing all the libraries in Great Britain and purchasing a KU subscription for every citizen, arguing that such numbers could warrant a low “bulk rate” from Amazon that would save the country money. I have no doubt such thoughts are rolling around many a publisher and writer’s head, and you can bet Jeff Bezos is thinking the same thing.

I’m a big fan of Amazon and always have been. If they manage to kill libraries, I won’t blame them. They are doing what comes naturally. We aren’t. We (publishers, writers, readers) are sitting by and watching the privatization of our dearest resource, and the passing of it into the hands of a monopolistic entity whose only concern is maximizing profit.

tags: Books and Libraries

Announcing bookaworld

Mar 16, 2014
bookaworld is a 501(c)(3) public charity which, on March 4th, received its tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. Since I first applied for that status in September 2012, you may imagine my delight at finally receiving it.

bookaworld’s mission is to place an eReader, stocked with 1001 titles representing the world’s most illuminating, entertaining, and educational books, into the hands of every child in the world. We will begin with those children who are not able to provide such an advantage on their own.

Reading informs, humanizes, and develops the mind and spirit. Yet billions of people have severely limited access to reading matter. Its delivery has, until now, been an onerous and expensive proposition, almost inconceivable on a global scale.

eReader devices and the Internet change all that. Today, we can place a small library—the equivalent of 50 cartons of books—on a six-ounce piece of hardware and into the hands of any individual for less than the cost of a few books. And if that individual has access to the Internet, their small library becomes a huge one.

If we are to meet and overcome the existential challenges confronting our world today—political, economic, environmental—we must engage all the brain power we can. This means liberating our fellow beings from the scourges of ignorance and want. Education and the printed word are vital in enabling this liberation. bookaworld exploits a unique moment in history to take new and dramatic steps in support of this effort. We hope thereby to help inspire and enable recipients of bookaworld eReaders to deliver themselves from ignorance and poverty, and, in time, to lead their villages, their towns, their nations, and their world to a peaceful and sustainable future.

I invite you to become a part of the bookaworld family. Our labor is all donated, and there is much to do. The bookaworld story is told at http://bookaworld.org. Please give it a look, and let me know what you think.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XVII

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.
tags: Books and Libraries

Noted with Interest, August 2013

Aug 25, 2013

The Comforts of the Apocalypse
By Rob Goodman. Much food for thought. Why are we here? Where are we going? What does it all mean? From The Chronical of Higher Education, Aug 19, 2013. Accessed Aug 25, 2013.

The Blip
By Benjamin Wallace-Wells. What if everything we've come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course? (And note the Comments.) From New York Magazine, Jul 21, 2013. Accessed Aug 1, 2013.

UK Report Recommends Author Payments for Library Ebook Lending
By Ian Clark. The UK is way ahead of us in bringing eBooks to public libraries, though even they still have a long way to go. From Library Journal, Aug 1, 2013. Accessed Aug 2, 2013.

tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XVI

Apr 17, 2013
Let’s forget about using the term “Used” in connection with digital music, movies, or books. Let us stipulate to the fact that a digital file remains in its original pristine condition, unless it is corrupted in some way, in which case it usually becomes useless.

And let’s forget about allowing anyone to use the term “Licensed” when referring to the purchase and sale of digital media. When I buy a book, I buy it, I don’t license it, and I don’t care if it comes in a parchment scroll, a bound monograph, or a digital file.

And then let’s establish the finding that the First Sale Doctrine applies to copyrighted material regardless of its embodiment—parchment, paper, or bits. There are plenty of ways to insure security against copyright infringement for eBooks. Look at Amazon, which has a pretty impressive method in place already, and has been loaning books through its Prime service since 2011. If there has been any successful or widespread abuse of that system, I haven’t read about it.

If we don’t establish the First Sale Doctrine as applying to digital media, public libraries could lose the right to loan eBooks. And since eBooks will soon be the primary embodiment of books, public libraries could lose their relevance, their funding, and their existence. This must not be allowed to happen, for the sake of our democracy.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XV

Apr 07, 2013
The trial court decision on Capitol Records, LLC, versus ReDigi Inc. was handed down in March, and the news is not good.

Read the decision HERE and google “Capitol ReDigi” to learn the details on this case. This piece addresses what I see are the dire implications of the decision, if it is not overturned on appeal.

The First Sale Doctrine, recognized by the Supreme Court in a 1908 decision, establishes the right of the purchaser of a copyrighted work (book, music, movie, painting, etc.) to dispose of that work in any manner they wish without requiring further compensation to the original copyright holder (typically the publisher of the work). The purchaser may loan, resell, give away, destroy, or do anything else they want with the work except copy it.

The First Sale Doctrine enables libraries to purchase books and subsequently loan them to their patrons at no cost or compensation to the original seller. In the first entry in this series, I made the argument that physical books were on their way to joining the Dodo bird and the dinosaurs, owing to a number of factors. One may say the same for all of the copyrighted materials noted above, and not just books. The world is moving inexorably to digital manifestations of music (iTunes); movies (downloads, streaming); and books (eBooks). The economics in the case of the latter are simply too irresistible. No trees to cut down, paper to manufacture, type to set, pages to print, or heavy books to bind, box, and ship all over the world. And one could say the same for CDs (vinyl and tape having long since passed from the scene) and DVDs.

Judge Richard J. Sullivan, in handing down his decision in Capitol, failed to recognize this new digital world, and rejected ReDigi's business model on the basis that it violated copyright. Consideration of the First Sale Doctrine, given a violation of copyright, was therefore not reached (“Because the Court has concluded that ReDigi’s service violates Capitol’s reproduction right, the first sale defense does not apply to ReDigi’s infringement of those rights.” (p.11)) Judge Sullivan needs to learn the difference between File Copy and File Move.

So let us imagine a not-too-distant and all-too-likely future when physical manifestations of books have become as rare as hen’s teeth, found largely in museums and private collections. And let us imagine the Capitol decision has been applied to digital manifestations of books (as it more or less has been by default in this decision). In this scenario, libraries will lose their First Sale Doctrine right to loan books. That is to say, they will lose their reason for being. Already, major publishers refuse to sell eBooks to libraries (e.g., Simon and Schuster), charge exorbitant prices when they do (e.g., Random House), and/or place draconian restrictions on lending (e.g., HarperCollins). And all of them that do sell to libraries insist on a sales/pricing/distribution model which utterly fails to take advantage of the revolutionary possibilities afforded by digital media, to everyone’s loss: their own, their authors’, and their readers’ (see Part II of this series).

No publisher will ever be sorry to see a library close. This wrongheaded decision may very well enable them to close them all.

tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XIV

Mar 21, 2013
This is a big deal.

The Supreme Court recently decided a case which has a direct impact on the First Sale Doctrine I have been addressing in this series. And it’s good news!

Kirtsaeng v. Wiley (PDF) involved a Thai student studying in America, Supap Kirtsaeng, who discovered that his expensive textbooks were for sale for much less back home in Thailand. He had relatives buy a slew of them there, imported them to the U.S., and sold them on eBay, netting himself a bundle. One of the text publishers, John Wiley & Sons, objected, and a long court case ensued. I am not sure how Kirtsaeng ended up being the plaintiff; however, the bottom line is that he won, in a case in which interpretation of the First Sale Doctrine played a pivotal role.

In brief, the court ruled “. . . that to impose geographic limits on the first sale doctrine would make no sense. . . .”

In my view, to impose limits on the First Sale Doctrine because of the medium of delivery would be equally senseless. A book is a book, regardless of the manner in which it is delivered to the buyer.

Unfortunately, Kirtsaeng does not explicitly determine this. We must wait for Capitol Records v. ReDigi (see Part XIII of this series) to take the next step toward that determination. However, this ruling is a big first step to establishing First Sale protection to buyers of eBooks. And when that is done, libraries will be empowered to purchase eBooks via any route available to them, including via personal purchase, and lend them to their patrons. A bright day may finally be dawning.

Read more on the case and the decision at this NPR page.

tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XIII

Mar 18, 2013
I closed out my series on “The End of Libraries” last June, having said all I had to say on this sorrowful situation. Other than the fact that Amazon has since almost doubled the number of titles it now offers for loan through its Prime service (310,948 as of today), there has been no substantive change in the status quo in the eBook lending world. That situation may be about to change.

In an article in Communications of the ACM (March 2013, v56#3) praiseworthy for its clarity of style and explication of legal issues, Professor Pamela Samuelson (UC/Berkeley) has written about the case of Capital Records, Inc. v. ReDigi, Inc. ReDigi has an online business reselling music originally purchased from iTunes. Capital Records is challenging the legality of that business on copyright and other grounds.

The outcome of this case, which at present is at the trial level with at least two appellate levels to come, will determine the manner and extent to which the First-Sale Doctrine should be applied to digital media. This doctrine, which I mentioned in Part XII of this series, confers on the first purchaser of a copyrighted item (book, video, music) the right to loan it, give it away, or resell it without compensation to the original seller. The First-Sale Doctrine, in essence, makes libraries possible.

Capitol Records v. ReDigi will determine whether this doctrine should be applicable to digital, as well as physical, media. It is a case which, in Professor Samuelson’s understated words, “really matters.” She has kindly allowed me to post a PDF of her article, which I encourage you to open and read.

The trial judge heard oral arguments last October; his decision should be imminent. Though the losing litigant will almost certainly appeal, a well-considered and well-articulated opinion will be difficult to overturn. Let’s hope the trial judge understands the importance of the task before him.

tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XII: Final Thoughts

Jun 10, 2012
With this entry, and barring new and dramatic developments which I do not foresee occurring in the near future, I bid farewell to my series on The End of Libraries.

Since my last entry on Feb 21 things have not changed materially. Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library now has over 160,000 titles and continues to grow at a rapid rate. Publishers continue to be obdurate, shortsighted, and, well, just plain stupid.

Straining after a bit of good news: Public libraries are inching towards greater activism in defense of their patrons’ interests, and, for the first time, I have come across someone else’s recommendation for pay-per-use lending which I first suggested last October, in Part II of this series. For examples of both, see Top Libraries in U.S. and Canada Issue Statement Demanding Better Ebook Services and note the Comment to which I replied.

Meanwhile, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall was published six weeks or so ago. My wife and I have been eagerly awaiting Bring Up the Bodies since the day we closed the cover on the unwieldy dead-tree Wolf Hall hardcover we both loved. We had had to wait for Wolf Hall for over a year, since it hadn’t come to my attention until after it had won the Booker Prize, and by then there was a long waiting list for it at my library. However, this was a new day. Today, I had my iPad and my Kindle. We weren’t going to wait until 2013 to read the sequel!

My public library, six weeks after publication, does not show the title in our eBook catalog. If they did get around to purchasing it, when would that be, and how long a wait would we have, since they can only loan it to one patron at a time? And when we do get it, I wondered whether we both could read it in the two weeks we will have before it magically disappears from our eReader? Probably not.

So I broke down and bought it, for $12.99, for my iPad. It felt like a defeat, after all that I have written about in this series. What ought to have been the scenario?

The eBook should have been available for checking out on my public library site on the day the book was published. As many patrons as wanted it should have been able to check it out that day, and the library’s eBook lending budget would have been decremented a certain reasonable amount (I have suggested 50 cents) for each checkout. There should have been no due date, though I would have to “return” the book by having it removed from my iPad before I could check out another in its place. The result: Hilary Mantel would have been an overnight millionaire (again), the publisher would reap a huge reward from the millions of people who would have borrowed it on Day One, public libraries would be filled with pride at the ease with which they have served their patrons, and we happy readers would be happily reading.

Instead, I caved in and bought something which, thanks to digitization, I should have been able to borrow as quickly and as easily.

What will be the likely result of all this? Unless the situation changes drastically, and

  • libraries are accorded the right to purchase any available eBook (some publishers will not sell them to libraries at all), and at their standard discount (some publishers charge libraries several times the retail price); and
  • libraries are guaranteed the same First-Sale Doctrine rights they enjoy for printed materials, and;
  • the lending model is altered to enjoy the advantages of digitization,
libraries will be unable to serve their patrons as those patrons are going to expect to be served. Those who can afford to purchase their books, as my wife and I can, will do so, and will no longer be willing to support the public libraries upon which they used to depend. The libraries will cease operation, and the millions of readers who cannot afford to purchase their books will go without, and authors will go without their readers.

Instead of the global reading renaissance which digitization promises, we will enter a global Dark Ages in which the printed word is reserved for the few who can afford it, further widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots which we have been haplessly and helplessly witnessing for the past 35 years.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XI: KOLL vs. Bilbary

Feb 21, 2012
Although Amazon has not produced a press release on the usage of their Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL) for January, as they did for December, I have been in touch with a writer who has taken part in the program. He has been able to extrapolate numbers from his own January activity. As a result, we believe KOLL loaned about 435,000 titles in January, paying authors or publishers around $1.60 per loan. Compare these to the figures for December which Amazon announced in their press release of Jan 12, 2012: 295,000 checkouts paying out $1.70 for each.

Amazon increased the royalty pot for January by 40%, from $500,000 to $700,000, and a good thing. There were almost 50% more checkouts in January, and without that extra money, they would have resulted in considerably less payout per loan. There is no word yet on whether the pot will be increased again for February. If it isn’t, and if February lending again increases by anything like the same amount, the per-loan payout will drop considerably.

I predict Amazon will sweeten the pot in order to retain their list of titles. Authors who entered the program in December will have the option of dropping out in early March (after their 90-day commitment). At present, there are just over 110,000 titles in KOLL. We will see how those numbers hold up as we move into March.

Meanwhile, we have discovered a new threat to libraries over the past two weeks. Bilbary is a commercial startup that has reportedly signed agreements with five of the Big Six publishers and is negotiating with 2,300 others. (See Bilbary Seeks to Heal the Digital Rift Between Publishers and Libraries, by Mercy Pilkington, on GoodEReader (undated).

Although paying lip service to the importance of libraries, Bilbary founder Tim Coates plans not only to sell titles on Bilbary, but to offer a lending component as well, probably on some pay-per-loan fee structure. Unlike Library Ideas’ Freading, which we reported on in Part IX, Bilbary is also wisely reaching out to self-published authors who, probably not coincidentally, provide the majority of the titles offered on KOLL.

This second commercial resource for eBook lending, if it actually materializes, is potentially an even bigger threat to public libraries than KOLL, as it will undoubtedly relax the restrictions—one checkout per month from a smaller pool of largely self-published titles—which are enforced for KOLL customers, who must also be affiliated with Amazon’s Prime service ($79/year).

I expect publishers are attracted to Bilbary as a potential antidote to the monopoly Amazon is pursuing in the book-selling, book-publishing, and book-reading businesses. Those 110,000 titles participating in KOLL, remember, can only be purchased at Amazon (in print or eBook format), and the eBook version will only run on the Kindle line of products.

Where does this leave public libraries? Where we have been throughout, I fear: Out in the cold. Unless we become better organized and more militant, entities such as KOLL and Bilbary threaten to both balkanize and commercialize the business of accessing eBooks, to the detriment, and possible dissolution, of our public library network.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part X: A Call to Action

Feb 11, 2012
Macmillan and Simon and Schuster have never sold eBooks to public libraries. Penguin yesterday ceased selling eBooks to public libraries. Brilliance Audio (owned by Amazon) and Hachette Book Group (which includes Little Brown) do not sell eBooks to libraries.

Many publishers who do sell eBooks to libraries charge much more for them than they charge you or me when we purchase the same product, or, in the case of big six publisher HarperCollins, restrict the number of times an eBook can be loaned out before it has to be repurchased. And even charging libraries two or three times the price an individual pays, libraries are still forced to treat eBooks like they treat their print books, loaning them to only one reader at a time.

Overdrive, which acts as the middle man in most eBook lending by public libraries, charges our state public library consortium $12,000 a year just for the platform, never mind the cost of the books. Now, Overdrive is no longer accepting consortia, and every tiny public library in the nation that wants to loan eBooks is going to have to go it alone.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library now lists over 103,000 titles in its collection, each able to be loaned to as many Amazon Prime customers at one time as want them (though each customer is still limited to one loan per month).

For those of you who are following this issue, and have read the first nine parts of this series, you know that things are getting worse, not better. The public needs to take a stand, and they need their libraries to lead the way.

I propose a boycott on any and all book purchases from all publishers, regardless of format (print, eBook, audiobook), until such time as the publishers respond to the outcry from readers and writers which is sure to result. And when publishers do come around, I propose holding out for a sane lending policy for digital materials, similar to the AmPLE procedure proposed in Part II of this series or the Freading model described in Part IX. Both are pay-per-loan models, advantageous and fair to all parties. In addition, I would require publishers to make all their books available in all eBook formats, from the date of print publication. In other words, nothing more nor less than the privilege libraries (and their readers) enjoy today for print materials.

Remember the bottom line: Writers want readers and readers want eBooks. Facilitate that relationship and you will thrive. Stifle it and you will die. Publishers and Overdrive are stifling it and libraries, as much as they would wish to facilitate it, cannot in the face of publishers’ intransigence. And meanwhile, Amazon marches on, adding on average more than 1,500 titles every day to its lending library since its inception in early December 2011, and poised to grab all the marbles. The Big Six publishers will not be missed after they self-destruct. But threatening the continued existence of our public library system imperils our democracy.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part IX: A Glimmer of Hope

Jan 25, 2012
In Part II of this series, I laid out a plan for public libraries that would provide what I thought was an appropriate eBook lending model. I called it AmPLE, for the American Public Library Enterprise. Something like it has recently come to my attention and I want to describe it.

Library Ideas, Inc., is offering public libraries a product called Freading (meaning, I suppose, “Free Reading”). It matches Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) in its essential feature: multiple patrons of a public library can have the same title checked out at the same time—no waiting lists.

As I suggested for the AmPLE model, Freading works on a pay-per-checkout basis. Libraries are charged $2.00 for checkouts of new books (published any time from today to 6 months ago); $1.00 for older books (7-24 months); and 50 cents for books published more than 24 months ago. Checkout periods are for two weeks, with one renewal allowed. Renewals of the newest books are $1.00 and are free for the older ones.

Freading enables libraries to limit the number of items any patron may have checked out at one time. Libraries allocate virtual weekly “tokens” to their patrons. One token is worth 50 cents, though patrons don’t necessarily know (or need to know) this. A very new book (a $2.00 checkout) requires four tokens. If a library allocates its patrons four tokens a week, then a patron can check out one very new book, two newer books, or four older books each week. This helps libraries control their eBook budgets.

Library Ideas reports current agreements with about 50 publishers (and 20,000 titles), including none of the Big Six, which are still holding out in the fear they may lose a nickel in sales while ignoring the millions they can earn in loans. Their authors know what they are missing, however, and they must be champing at the bit to get in on royalty payments for eBook lending as well as sales.

Library Ideas displays a blind spot in their plans by having no titles from self-published authors in their collection—and no current plans to add them! They are aware of the 90,000 titles, largely from self-published authors, currently being offered by Amazon’s KOLL (an add-on to their Prime service); however, the fact that 295,000 of those titles were checked out by 295,000 separate Prime subscribers in December does not seem to have registered with them. In time, of course, and probably in a short time, the ranks of those self-published authors will be swelled by the addition of “mainstream” authors who will tire of their publishers’ foot dragging on the lending issue. Library Ideas: Take note!

For now, Amazon’s KOLL serves primarily self-published authors and Freading serves small publishers. The day will come, however, and in the not-too-distant future, I predict, when the full-fledged AmPLE vision will be here: Every book, on publication, will be available for lending to all readers on any eReading device, at a reasonable cost and under reasonable terms regarding numbers of simultaneous checkouts. Freading is helping to blaze that trail, and I wish them well.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part VIII: Rebirth

Jan 12, 2012
So the latest blockbuster was published a while back and I immediately went onto my public library web site and, with a few clicks, borrowed it for my iPad. AmPLE (American Public Library Enterprise), the nonprofit company that manages eBook lending for every public library in the country, announced the next day that 2,516,241 others had also borrowed the same book on the first day of its publication. This resulted in gross receipts for the public library loans of that title of $1,258,120.50. AmPLE took 3% for administrative costs and, at midnight on that first day, electronically transferred the other 97% to the publisher’s bank account. (Note that if that blockbuster had happened to be self-published, that entire amount would have gone into the author’s bank account.)

I was only about halfway through the book by the end of my two-week checkout period, so I went back online to my public library web site and, with a few clicks, I bought it for $20.00, the price set by the publisher (or self-published author). AmPLE’s periodic statistical reports revealed that over three million others had also purchased this blockbuster through their public library “store” during those two weeks, for an additional $60 million in income, $58.2 million of which had already been distributed to the publishers or author of this one book.

When I finished the book a few days later, since I now owned it, I loaned it to my wife to read on her Kindle. This also took only a half dozen clicks and minimum input on my public library web site. The book continued to appear on my eBookshelf, though it was no longer available to my iPad, and would not be, until my wife either returned it or the loan period I had specified ran out. When that happened, it “disappeared” from her device and was re-enabled on mine, automatically.

When it was re-enabled, I decided to resell it and I let AmPLE do it. Of course, the sale price was still $20.00 (there is no such thing as a “used” eBook). Once sold, AmPLE took 3%, sent 10% each to the publisher and author (or 20% to the self-published author), and deposited the remaining $15.40 in my account. I could have asked for a check but, instead, I decided to donate the $15.40 to my library’s eBook account, and did so with a few clicks at my library web site. The donation is tax-deductible, and provides my library with an additional 30 eBook checkouts via AmPLE.

Okay, this is my fantasy, but it is not a fantastic notion. This could happen. This should happen. And this can happen—now. The alternative? I don’t even want to think about it.
tags: Books and Libraries

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

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

The End of Libraries, Part IV

Nov 12, 2011
There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Internet over Amazon’s new Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. A Google search will turn up many more instances than I could hope to footnote here. Be sure to read the reader Comments on the news articles for a full helping of the panic and despair sweeping the world, particularly among writers.

I am not sure they have as much to worry about as they think they do. However, Amazon has been less than forthcoming regarding the details of their financial arrangements with publishers and authors. Let’s look at what we know about those arrangements so far.

In a Wall Street Journal article published the day after the Lending Library was announced,1 the following was revealed regarding the finances of the deal:

Russell Grandinetti, vice president for Kindle content, said “the vast majority” of participating publishers were receiving a flat fee for their titles, while a more limited group is being paid the wholesale price for each title that is borrowed. “For those publishers, we’re treating each book borrowed as a sale,” he said.
Let’s look at these two remittance models, starting with the flat fee arrangement which covers “the vast majority” of titles. I at first thought a flat fee arrangement would have to favor one party over another. However, an article from Bloomberg via Gulfnews.com2 reports that Amazon’s flat fee payment for “a group of books” is good only “over a period of time.” This being the case, one assumes the parties would be able to renegotiate terms after that period of time (whatever it may be) had expired.

However, it is this arrangement which may deservedly cause concern among writers regarding where their share is coming from and how much it will be. Until more is known about the details of this arrangement, I cannot come to any reliable conclusions. If I were an author, however, and my book was included in the Kindle library under this remittance model, I would be speaking with my publisher by now, if not my lawyer.

I feel on firmer ground when examining the other arrangement, wherein Amazon purchases a copy of a title when it loans it out. On first glance, this struck me as a lunatic move, but upon closer consideration I think it reveals Amazon to be crazy like a fox.

If Amazon is buying a copy of a book at the same wholesale price which they would pay to the publisher when and if a customer bought the book through them, then they own that book just as a public library does and I would grant them as much right to put it into their “Lending Library” as any public library could. If they then loan that copy to an Amazon Prime customer and another customer wants it while the first one has it, Amazon will need to buy a second copy of the book before lending it out to two people simultaneously, in order not to be in violation of copyright. I am assuming that is what they are doing.

If so, writers—and readers—should be ecstatic. Amazon, overnight, has declared itself a SuperLibrary. Anyone with a $79 annual Prime membership can check out any of 5,000 titles. If a thousand customers check out any one title under this arrangement in the first month, a thousand copies of their book will be sold to the Amazon Lending Library. Amazon then retains those thousand copies to loan out to additional Prime members who ask for it in the second month, at no additional cost to Amazon.

With this model, everyone wins. The publisher sells as many copies of a title as there are interested Prime customers in a single month, with (I assume) standard royalties accruing to the authors. The Prime customers don’t have to wait to check out a desired title, which most of us have to do now in borrowing through our public library.

You may be sure the one-a-month limitation on loaned titles won’t last once everyone realizes how much money there is to be made by opening the floodgates of digital book lending, though subscribers will undoubtedly pay more for enhanced services.

If Amazon can pull off a real Netflix model for its Lending Library, they will have me as a customer for life. That model, however, must come close to including the following features:
  • Essentially any book I want to read is available to me;
  • I can read it on any eReading device;
  • I can have at least three titles checked out at one time;
  • My annual limitation on loans is determined only by how fast I read;
  • And the price is kept under $2 per title on average (which is about what I pay for Netflix movies). I read about 65 books a year and start, but don’t finish, another 15 or so. To borrow 80 titles a year, I am willing to pay $160, or roughly twice what Amazon Prime costs now.
Publishers and public libraries still have time to forge an alliance similar to the one laid out in Part II of this series. And although I there recommend a lower rate in the public library lending model, I am convinced the substantially higher number of checkouts would more than make up the difference in revenue generation.

With the announcement of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, the clock is now ticking. If Amazon can pull this off, as I said in Part I of this series, I will still vote to support my public library. Millions of others, however, will not, and public libraries will fade from our landscape as quickly as blacksmiths in a world of horseless carriages.

And Amazon’s triumph will be a national tragedy.
1Amazon, Now a Book Lender, by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Stu Woo, from the Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011. 2Amazon offering free titles in e-library, from gulfnews.com, undated, accessed November 12, 2011.
Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part III

Nov 06, 2011

It has begun. Last Wednesday, Amazon announced its new book-lending add-on to its Amazon Prime service.1 What it offers is fairly meager and the model, particularly in its remittance to publishers, is, to my mind, seriously flawed:

  1. Customers may check out only one book per calendar month.
  2. A mere 5,000 titles are available, and none from the top six U.S. publishers.
  3. Loans can only be read on the Kindle family of products and not on other devices, even if they run the Kindle app.
  4. The service costs $79 per year which, if the customer only uses it for book lending, works out to $6.58 per loan. Many Kindle titles can be purchased for that price or not much more.
  5. Remittance to publishers is either by flat fee, in which case one of the parties is probably getting a crummy deal; or, if I am reading the WSJ story correctly, Amazon is paying the publisher for each loan the equivalent of what they would pay them for a sale.
Regardless of these shortcomings, the door is open, and you may be sure Master Bezos has firmly planted his foot in it. Additional titles, supported eReaders, assorted features, and (undoubtedly) pricing structures will follow as soon as publishers realize how profitable it will be to loan their books to millions of readers instead of selling them to thousands.

Meanwhile, librarians have already begun whistling in the dark2,3, their arguments relying primarily on the weakness of the initial Amazon product. Still, that product is already miles ahead of what is being offered by most public libraries where, if a title is even available to you in eBook format, you will almost certainly have a long wait for it.

In the final analysis, readers want to read and writers want to be read. Any institution which facilitates that relationship will flourish; any that inhibits it will fade. At present, Amazon is facilitating and libraries and publishers are inhibiting the relationship. If the latter don’t get their act together—and fast—they will render themselves redundant. Publishers may come and go, but America will let its public library network fade at its peril. This further blot on our already tattered escutcheon is not one from which we will easily recover, in our headlong pursuit of oligarchy, mediocrity, and irrelevance.

1 Amazon, Now a Book Lender, by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Stu Woo, from the Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011.
2 Why Amazon’s Lending Library Is Not a Threat to Public Libraries, by Bobbi Newman, from Librarian by Day, November 4, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011.
3 Amazon Starts Lending Ebooks, but Head of ALA Says Libraries Still Offer Best Value, by Michael Kelley, from The Digital Shift, November 3, 2011, accessed November 5, 2011.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part II

Oct 22, 2011
The threat facing public libraries is real.1 It has not made itself manifest as yet, because no commercial enterprise has assembled the eBook lending package which is demanded by an eReading public starved for content.

The threat facing traditional publishers on the other hand, is here, today, and it is equally serious. Not only is Amazon publishing authors directly themselves (122 titles are coming out this fall alone2 and many, many more are planned for next year), but authors are increasingly self-publishing on the Internet and many nontraditional publishing entities besides Amazon are springing up to help them.3,4

The authors whom publishers are likely to lose first are the ones who are most secure in their earning power and therefore of greatest value to them. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, for instance, will be selling the eBook versions of that popular series exclusively on her own website,5 Pottermore.6

Public libraries and traditional publishers can save themselves only if they act quickly and boldly. The following is what I think they need to do, and the only alternative to this course of action, as far as I can see, is a not-so-slow but an ever-so-painful death.

Publishers: Convert every title, new and backlist, to eBook formats that support every device out there. Give them all to a nonprofit business entity, which we will here call AmPLE, for American Public Library Enterprise. AmPLE will manage the eBook distribution to public library patrons.

Public Libraries: Determine your eBook budget for the coming 12 months and send a check for it to AmPLE.

AmPLE: Get your site up superquick and start lending to your libraries’ patrons. For every checkout, decrement the eBook account of the borrower’s library by 50 cents, send 45 cents to the publisher, and keep 5 cents for yourself. Patrons can check out up to three titles at a time regardless of whether one or a thousand other borrowers have borrowed them at the same time. And no due date. When a reader wants another book, they will return one.

Do the math. In today’s model, a publisher might sell—let’s be liberal—2000 copies of a blockbuster new title to 50 state library consortia (the standard arrangement today) for $20 each, or $40,000. Period. End of transaction. The consortia then sets about loaning these 2000 copies to their 330 million patrons, 2000 at a time for two-week checkouts. Ridiculous.

Or. Check out that same blockbuster, which the publisher has provided to AmPLE free of charge, to—let’s be conservative—a half a million readers on Day One, at 45 cents a checkout, or $225,000—almost six times the amount the publisher would have received on the old model, and that’s only on Day One. That one title continues to earn money for the publisher throughout its term of copyright—until 70 years after the death of the author.

The 50-cent “charge” for a checkout is a reasonable figure, arrived at by dividing the average library’s annual budget for new acquisitions by the average annual circulation7. This figure ranges from 25 to 75 cents for most libraries.

Today, everybody loses, and this includes the authors. They need the expert services of traditional publishers. They need the nurturing, the editing, the production, and the management of their work, freeing them to do the work itself. We readers need traditional publishers, for their selectivity and the imprimatur of quality which their selectivity exhibits.

And we all need public libraries, one of the last bastions of egalitarian democracy in the U.S. Through public taxation, public libraries provide us all with equal access to knowledge and a wealth of information services which must not be relegated to the sole province of the well-to-do. Study after study8 affirms the huge return to our society on investment in our public libraries.

As eBooks gradually—or perhaps not so gradually—replace the physical book, we need to ensure that our public libraries provide these resources as widely, efficiently, and economically as the technology allows. A system like the one described above does just that. Under this system, public libraries will flourish rather than fade, and everyone else wins as well—authors, publishers, and readers.
1 The End of Libraries, Part I. AllTogetherNow.org, Oct 18, 2011.
2 Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of the Deal, by David Streifield, from the New York Times, Oct 16, 2011, accessed Oct 22, 2011.
3 Lulu.com
4 Publishgreen.com
5 Harry Potter Ebooks To Be Released in Open Google Ebook Format, by Pamela Parker, Jul 20, 2011, accessed Oct 22, 2011.
6 Pottermore
7 Data File Documentation, Public Libraries Survey, Fiscal Year 2009 (.pdf), from IMLS, Jul 2011, accessed Oct 22, 2011.
8 The Value of Public Libraries, links assembled by Stephen Abram, accessed Oct 22, 2011.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part I

Oct 18, 2011
I am a library manager, a convert to the eBook format, and very worried. Although speculation regarding the collapse of public libraries has been in the infosphere since the advent of the internet, the public library’s continued existence has never been more uncertain than it is today.

First, consider that in the face of growing demand, libraries around the nation are cutting back on new acquisitions, hours, and staffing. In tough economic times, public libraries, which are almost always primarily funded at the local level, are easy targets for cost cutting, and they are being targeted practically everywhere.

And then consider the advent of eBooks, which are exploding in popularity. Amazon sells more of them than they do hardcovers and paperbacks combined. There are four good reasons why eBooks will marginalize, if not eliminate, the paper-based book within a few years:

  1. Portability. You can access an unlimited number of books on one reader.
  2. Economics. For the publisher, the economics are irresistible—no trees to cut down, paper to manufacture, type to set, or books to print, bind, store, and distribute by truck, train, and plane to the four corners of the world. In time, those irresistible economics will filter down to the buyer of books in the form of greatly reduced prices, at which point Amazon’s eBook sales will go through the roof.
  3. Value Added. You can index, search, cut-and-paste, bookmark, and annotate eBooks. You can embed audio and video and Internet links in them. In time, eBooks will add values and features we aren’t even dreaming about today.
  4. Access. For the first time in history, you don’t have to go to the book. All you have to do is want it and, in a few seconds, anywhere in the world, the book comes to you.
Eighty-two percent of American public libraries offer their patrons eBooks, most of them through Overdrive’s online service. So what is the problem? The problem is content. There isn’t any. Too few books are available in the eBook format. Too few of those that are available are purchased by public libraries, typically through statewide consortia that share a central collection of eBooks among many libraries. And too few of the purchased titles are available for checking out. The checkout model itself is fatally flawed, where one purchased copy checks out to one library patron at a time for two weeks, just like a paper-based copy. Most titles in my state’s consortium have long waiting lists and a recent check of 50 books I have on my “To Read” list found exactly none of them available in my library’s eBook catalog.

And finally, consider Amazon.com. If they are successful in their current effort to get publishers to allow them to loan eBooks through their Amazon Prime service, the single most important motivation for supporting public libraries, at least to middle-class readers like myself, will vanish overnight. I will continue to vote for municipal taxes to support our public library, because I understand the vital importance of public libraries to a democracy. However, millions will not, and libraries from coast to coast will begin closing their doors.

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 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.

In my next posting, I will discuss how public libraries—and, for that matter, traditional publishers (their existence also being threatened by the internet)—can not only survive but flourish to a greater extent that they ever have, in this brave new eBook-dominated world.
tags: Books and Libraries

Copyright © 2008 All Together Now.

Contact Us

Webmaster |


TwitterEmail AlertsTimeWeather


The End of LibrariesNew Political PartyNoted with Interest


20162015201420132012201120102009Oct-Dec 2008Jul-Sep 2008May-June 2008