So says former Google Book Search product manager Frances Haugen in her contribution to the debate on the September Library 2.0 Gang.
This month’s Gang was kicked off by Orion Pozo from NCSU, where they have rolled out dozens of Kindles and a couple of Sony Readers. The comparative success of their Kindles ahead of the Sony Reader appears to be because of the simpler process of distributing purchased books across sets of readers and a broader selection of titles at a lower cost. Currently users request books for the Kindle via an online selection form, then they are purchased and downloaded on to the devices which are then loaned out. There were no restrictions on titles purchased and they have an approximate 50% split between fiction and non-fiction.
The Gang discussed the drivers that will eventually lead to the wide adoption of eBooks. This included things like the emergence of open eBook standards, and the evolution of devices, other than dedicated readers, that can provide an acceptable reading experience. Carl Grant shared his experience of starting a read on his Kindle and then picking it up from where he left off on his iPhone (as he joined his wife whilst shopping).
An obvious issue influencing the availability of eBooks is licensing and author and publisher rights. This is where the Google Book Settlement comes in to play. If it works out as she hopes, Frances predicts that over time this will facilitate broader availability of currently unavailable titles. I paraphrase:
[From approx 26:50] Institutional subscriptions will become available on the 10M books that Google has scanned so far. Imagine in the future a user with a reader that accepts open formats will be able to get access to the books this institutional license would provide. Imagine school children having access to 10M books that their library subscribe to, instead of having to formally request one-off books to be added to their device.
[From approx 44:50] There are a huge number of books that are no longer commercially available in the US, for several reasons. If the rights holders of those books do not opt-out, they will become available for people to purchase access to. One of the interesting things about the way the settlement is set-up is that you will be able to purchase access either directly or through an institutional subscription. What is neat is that cycle will put a check on prices as prices for individual books are based upon the demand for the books. So less poplar books will cost less… So if the price of the institutional subscription ever gets too high libraries can decide to buy one-offs of these books. I think that whole economic mechanism will substantially increase access to books.
The Gang were in agreement that eBooks will soon overtake paper ones as the de facto delivery format. It is just a question of how soon. Some believe that this will be much more rapid than many librarians expect. A challenge for librarians to take their services in to this eReading world.