Lending Books, Amazon Style

From the Telegraph:

Amazon is in talks with book publishers about launching a digital book rental service in a similar vein to the popular movie offering Netflix, according to reports.

My reaction, even after reading this slender piece a few times, can be summed up into one word:

Huh.

I’d love to be part of those meetings between Amazon and publishers. After the rows over agency pricing for eBooks (like the infamous Ken Follett one), I’m sure the publishing business is just overjoyed with the prospect of having their books lent out on a flat fee basis, even if it is limited to older titles. With the fall of physical bookstores, Amazon holds such tremendous power that this sounds like it will play out like The Godfather: they are going to make publishers an offer they can’t refuse. With 40% of the eReader device market, a tablet on the way, and a worldwide leader in eBook sales, what publisher wants to hold back their books from this lending service if another major publisher makes a deal?

Even the most cynical of publishers recognizes the power of profile on the (now electronic) book shelf: if you’re not on there, you are not visible to your readers. Yes, the big name authors will continue to thrive, but it is the midlist and emerging authors that will get stomped to pieces if they are excluded from the service. Given Amazon’s suggestion ability, a title missing potentially means a title not read, an author undiscovered, and a connection missed.  

What does this mean for libraries? Nothing, really, as I see it. The library tax or fee is still cheaper than the Amazon Prime subscription, even if it is not by much. Amazon has kept their Kindle off of the library scope save for the announcement of working with Overdrive. Suddenly, twenty six eBook checkouts aren’t such a bad thing when a patron could just get an older title as part of their Amazon Prime account.

Personally, I’m particularly curious as to how Overdrive would take this bit of news since there are hard-to-ignore parallels between what they do now and what Amazon proposes to do. As much as they have streamlined the downloading process for their titles, they can’t beat Amazon on infrastructure. Why would you fool around with the library’s website or the Overdrive app when the Kindle would have everything be a button away? Sure, it might not be new releases, but since libraries can only purchase so many licenses, impatient eReader users may just buy the book anyway.

I wonder if libraries are looking better and better to publishers with each passing eBook market development. They might not get the best deal compared to companies like Apple, Sony, or Amazon, but we’ll still respect you in the morning.

(h/t: Library Link of the Day)

9/11: Ten Years Later

Today I spent the day in the same manner as I did ten years ago: at work. I thought that it would be a fitting tribute to the ten year anniversary. At the time, I was working in commercial horticulture at a company called Medford Nursery. It was a clear sunny warm day, the kind that is perfect for plant growth.

My most enduring memory of that day is revolves around the sky. The company is located between two regional airports and is on the landing path for McGuire Air Force base. All day long, there would be the hum of light aircraft and helicopters along with the occasional deep rumble of C130’s and other large military cargo aircraft. When the FAA ordered the grounding of all aircraft, my sky went silent. Nothing above save for the wisp of passing clouds. In accordance with events of the day, it was the sudden absence of something so prevalent that was hard to ignore that stands out for me.

One of the aspects that comes into sharp focus for me is how the people I know around me (both friends and acquaintances) were affected. A pair of friends who worked for an ambulance company went up to Jersey City and Hoboken so as to triage people as they came across the river. An acquaintance who worked for the Red Cross spent the next six months up in New York City tracking over one hundred vehicles while pulling twelve hours shifts. The dad of my best friend in college was a school guidance counselor and spent the day trying to help his students get in contact in their parents. The neighbor who had worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and attended eight funerals in the following weeks. A gaming friend whose family member was on the flight crew of one of the planes. I was not hit directly by the disaster, but it had hit the people around me.

The library was quiet today, especially for a Sunday. In the ten years between. I have traded one silence for another. And before the day is out, I will take another to reflect back on all those years, all those people, and what the time has brought us. Today is a time to remember those gone and tomorrow will be a time to set the path for those yet to come. Such as it is, such as it will always be.

The Librarians Who Stare At Goats

After reading the editorial entitled “’Annoyed Strikes Again”, I feel Francine Fialkoff owes the readership of Library Journal an apology followed by an immediate correction to the situation. Of course, the issue that I am referring to is the use of “hissing cat with hackles raised” image for the blogger avatar of the Annoyed Librarian. This is a blatant case of false advertising at the basic animal representation level. Simply put, the Annoyed Librarian is not a irritated cat, ready to pounce or scratch or claw upon those things that cross its path, tearing them apart bit by bit into tiny pieces that cat owners tend to find in their shoes and/or sock drawer. If anything, they have more hiss than actual claw or fangs because that would require more effort than simply writing a commentary on a trade journal website. No, the Annoyed Librarian should not be represented by a hissing cat, Francine; the Annoyed Librarian should be represented by a goat.

The prevailing reason that a goat would be the best animal representation is due to its reputation of being able to chew on anything. That’s what the Annoyed Librarian persona does in its wide ranging topical commentary; it is subject omnivorous without regard to popularity or sentiment. That’s why Library Journal hired this blogger in the first place as roughly detailed in Francine’s editorial “Librarians Too ‘Annoyed’”, although it was as much as business decision as it was an editorial content one. (“Both critics and supporters have pointed out that AL has helped us reap more hits on our web site. Numbers count in our for-profit world, as they do in your nonprofit one.”) In establishing this relationship, Library Journal has hired the services of this metaphorical goat to write critiques on all manner of library topics, both tasteful and unsavory.

I’m disappointed in Francine’s attempt to create a barrier between Library Journal and the AL by saying, “AL is not LJ, and LJ is not AL.” If you’re willing to spend the time and money to own this proverbial goat, don’t shy away when this blogger does the things you hired it to do: generate page hits and create discussions on the website. (As to this latter point, there is a world of difference between discussion and its useless cousin known as agitation. For an individual who wishes to debate on the merits of an issue, the AL tends to have their salient points be outshined by overly distracting insults and the occasional cheap shot.) If LJ is going to pay for their prose and promote them as one of their blogger voices, then LJ should stand by their investment in one of the few online commentators that they’ve chosen to include on their website.

It should not be forgotten that while librarians are the intended audience of Library Journal they are not the shareholders in Media Source, Inc., the company that owns Library Journal. Keeping the doors open at Library Journal is a priority as a for-profit company as mentioned by Francine above; if hiring such an individual as the AL helps them do that, then LJ has made its move. On the opposite side, librarians also play a role in this equation as consumers. We have the option of taking our wallets and pageviews elsewhere; judging from some of the responses LJ has received, some of my peers have taken that option.

It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, view it, link to it, or otherwise promote it. A letter or phone call to LJ is a courtesy to tell them your reasons for doing so, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as an unrenewed subscription card or denying them web traffic through avoidance. If you still really feel strongly, then organize a boycott or write a letter of protest and send it to Media Source executives. There are still avenues of outrage and indignation left to explore, although I don’t see this as anything more than just flipping the channel and never returning. I can understand the disappointment and disapproval, but I can’t see the continued rage over a commercial blog written by an anonymous writer that was hired to draw people in to the LJ web domain.

If there is any group that the library collective should be disappointed with, it really should be with ourselves. If the most viewed online opinion voice of a popular professional magazine is that of an anonymous satirical blogger of varied reputation, then what exactly does that say about us? If they were not getting the page views and the advertising revenues generated with it, the same business rationale that brought them to LJ would be the one to see them off the site. There is a demand for this kind of content which makes me wonder as to why. Does this blogger brings something to the library commentary world that no one else in the community is fulfilling? Can we not have open discussions on the so-called sacred cows of library science, from intellectual freedom to the greying profession myth to divergent approaches to the profession’s common problems? Is there a reliance on satire and sarcasm as a means to introduce a controversial subject? For as awful, horrible, angry, and wicked as people proclaim the Annoyed Librarian to be, its status as being the most widely read blogger at LJ says something for librarians as the intended market. In this instance, I find fault not in the writer but with the audience.

As regular blog readers here will note, this just generates deeper questions for me. Does the profession have a problem being honest with itself? Can librarians have discussions that are controversial, difficult, and otherwise unhappy as adults? For a profession that prides itself on showcasing divergent voices in the collection, have we abandoned it in our professional discourse?

Or, simply put, what’s up with all the angst?

duty_callsFor myself, I’ll still continue to read the Annoyed Librarian blog. Why? As I see it, it’s part of the job of being a librarian blogger. In striving to be informed across the vast range of the library blogosphere, it means reading lots of viewpoints from lots of sources, including Library Journal. My personal opinion is outweighed by my desire to remain widely read and knowledgeable about what people are saying in different corners of libraryland. I’m proud to say that my Google Reader reflects this ideal. While I certainly respect and encourage people to take the action that they feel works best in a situation such as this one, I’m headed in the opposite direction. For all those fleeing the flames of particular locations of internet discourse, I am headed into those fires. It’s just who I am and what I want to do.

Labor Day Jottings

bulletin-board

In New Jersey,  Labor Day is the other bookend to the prime time summer season that starts with Memorial Day. As people wind down and prepare their beach houses for the winter to come, I started this day by cleaning the apartment, shopping for odds and ends, and organizing for the week ahead. I’ve been stealing glances at my project bulletin board (pictured above; left side is NOW, right side is FUTURE, and yes, it is deliberately out of focus) and wondering which ideas or projects should get attention in the near future. Not everything that goes up there will come to fruition, but some ideas stick around to the point where I feel I have to jot them down or lose them forever. Hence, it goes on an index card and makes its way to the board.

In looking back on the past two to three weeks, I didn’t realize that in saying “I feel tired” I really meant to say “I’m going on a bit of a hiatus”. As much as I should have declared a blog vacation, history has proven that I tend to immediately break that fiat by finding something to write about and getting right back on the blog horse. Even so, despite stating that I felt a bit worn down by a year’s worth of various activities, I am a bit of a fibber since I’m working on a project* right now that has been going on for the last few months as well as organizing the Librarians Online poll which has over 1,100 replies as of the date of this blog entry. (Many thanks to the people who promoted, shared, and otherwise helped in getting the word out.)

I’d like to chalk up my lack of blogging to a slow news month, but that’s not entirely true. I’ve been following the ongoing story about how Amazon is cutting school libraries out of their Kindle world (most notably written about by Buffy Hamilton; follow her blog if you are interested in hearing how her eReader program progresses using Nooks). There’s the terrifying implications of a Second Circuit decision regarding First Sale and country of origin for books. (“In last week’s ruling they decided that first sale did not apply even when the work manufactured abroad was sold in the U.S. with the authorization of the copyright holder.”) Last week I noted that Wikileaks opened its entire archive to the world, thus continuing the debate as to the value and merit of organizations like Wikileaks and the true historical and archival value of these diplomatic cables. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, I’ve been waiting to get more news about some libraries in New Jersey that got walloped with flooding and wind/water damage. (At the time of writing, there appears to be another weather system coming through that will bring more rain to the area.) Perhaps slow news month is a fib as well, but it’s better than the word volcano of “yes there is news but the majority of it did not rise to the level of actual commenting” statement.

In cleaning out a pile of papers and junk mail, I happened upon a piece of paper with a quote on it. It was in my handwriting though I could not remember when I had made note of it. It’s from Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road and I thought it appropriate for a question that’s been on my mind.

But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

I’ve been thinking about the voices I read or listen to in the profession lately. In looking at my Google Reader at my “must read” list, I compare them to the voices of our trade publications. While I am happy to find some crossover (Jason, Roy, Meredith, Will, Joyce, and Liz), it’s the dissonance between my list and the trade publications that makes me wonder. Perhaps I am not the intended audience for some of these columns and articles; I can see that as not everything revolves around the public library world. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter since the people I can listen to is not limited to the trade publications anymore with the rise of the personal soapbox known as the Internet. It’s just been an interesting thought experiment to look at the differences between what our professional magazines think is important versus where I think the future trends and actions of libraries exists.

Who are your ‘mad ones’ to follow? If you have other thoughts on that question, please share them. I look forward to any comments. Otherwise, for my American peers, I wish you a restful Labor Day holiday; for all others, enjoy your Monday.

 

*Since I can’t really talk about the particulars of this project at the moment, I will give you the “STAY TUNED” teaser because I think people will enjoy it. Yes, I probably should not have mentioned it in the first place but I wanted to confess that even when I’m saying I’m tired I’m still working on something. I don’t know if this is more of an indication of dedication or madness, but it certainly keeps me out of other kinds of trouble.

Wikileaks Opens Its Archive

wikileaks-archive-open

It came out on Twitter at 9:21pm EST so it may be awhile before it comes to fruition. The Twitter feed for Wikileaks certainly indicates that this is the mother lode coming out, but considering the recent leak of their own material it is hard to say. (As an aside, I wonder the people who were involved in the Wikileaks resolution for ALA will think of this gigantic disclosure.)

Certainly, it is something to watch. I cringe at the potential revelations contained within and the possibility that people will get hurt or killed from it, but another part of me is excited and curious for the insights that will be found. I certainly hope that there will be some curation of this 60gb collection for the benefit of future generations.

Integrating Library Borrowing into eReaders

From Library Journal:

Sony unveiled its latest ereader device today, Reader Wi-Fi, which will be the first dedicated ereader—though not the first device—to offer wireless borrowing of OverDrive library ebook titles. The Reader Wi-Fi, which the company calls “the lightest touch screen 6″ eReader device ever” in the announcement, will be available for purchase in October.

According to Sony Electronics spokesperson Maya Wasserman, the ereader will feature a dedicated icon on its touch screen’s main menu to connect to the OverDrive system, in a similar manner as the OverDrive Media Console app currently available for other devices.

On first glance, this is a very interesting development here. Rather than have people download the app or go through the current loops, it is now part of the out-of-the-box bundle. It removes a few steps out of the eBook borrowing process and makes it something I’ve been wishing for: more integrated. Of course, whether people use it or not is another question but it won’t be from a lack of opportunity.

For me, I see integration here as a step towards integration elsewhere. It means that it is possible, there is one major company that is willing to try it, and that it could become a standard feature of future eReader and tablet computers.

I won’t hold my breath, but no one has ever passed out from crossing their fingers. So, fingers crossed.