by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine
It’s more than a rumor. It’s probably the truth. Ebooks have crossed the tipping point. People everywhere are getting their books delivered in the blink of a Wi-Fi eye for half or even a third of the price. Why it took this long is a question. Some people think that it was caused by a technophobic reluctance to read book-length content on a screen shining a light into your eyes. Actually, I would put the blame on pricey, proprietary readers, but now companies like Amazon have given up the demand that you pay them several hundred dollars for the privilege of dragging another piece of semi-delicate equipment around — and a dumbed down piece of equipment at that (no array of PDA or smartphone functions, e.g.). At first, in return for your payment, you ended up having to buy all your books from Amazon. Puh-leez!!
But that has changed. Amazon now sends its customers importuning messages begging them to download Kindle apps for any healthy computer they may have. Amazon has also lowered the price of the new Kindle and smartened it up some. Nonetheless, Amazon has a new competitor engendered, I imagine, in part by its slow generosity. Apple has arrived with iBooks to feed the iPad momentum. This could be tricky for Amazon, by the way. In a sense, Apple could prove to be Amazon’s evil twin. Basically, Amazon sells Kindles so it can sell books, while Apple sells iBooks so it can sell iPads. Somewhere in between those conflicting marketing strategies, the consumer could see a path to cheap and cheaper ebooks. One way or another, ebooks have arrived big time. And that big time could become a great big time when Google Editions launches later this year.
Speaking of generosity, I have begun reading books supplied by both Apple and Amazon on my iPad. (Am I not au courant? Yes, I am au courant!) Despite some concerns about a life somewhat sated with screen time, I think I have adapted rather well. Aging eyes enjoy the ability to adjust font size, for example. In fact, the personal book-buying policy of this Amazon-aholic (with a shot of Apple juice on the side) now includes a rule to always look for ebooks when faced with a book only available in paperback format. Hardbacks I’ll still buy.
However, there is one major glitch in my ebook reading experience. What do I do when I have finished the book? In the past, my policy has been to donate the book to a nearby library with a pitiful annual book budget. The practice has given me a double dose of satisfaction — one for having proved to the world (indifferent though that world may be) that I have finished another book, and the other more respectable one for helping out the library patrons served by that impoverished library. By the way, I recognize that the library may choose to sell the books rather than add them to its collection, but it’s still a much more satisfactory solution than a paper recycling bin or — heaven forefend! — storage in my small abode. I’ve read the book. I’m not going to read it again. Get it to someone who will read it.
And my ebooks should have an afterlife. After all, I’ve paid about the same price as a good paperback, but not only can’t I give it to a library — or anyone else in most cases — I’m still looking for instructions on how to delete a book entry from my Kindle or iBook “libraries.” By the way, if anyone from Amazon or Apple or any other book reader/vendor operation happens to be reading this editorial, here’s a suggestion. Instead of adding the latest book purchase to the end of the “e-library shelves,” put it at the front. A LIFO (last-in-first-off) approach will make it easier for busy book-buyers to find the books they haven’t read yet. In fact, as the ebooks pile up, having to page through lists could discourage future purchasing, especially as people realize how many ebooks they have acquired but left unread.
So what about donating ebooks to libraries? With electronic books, one might have different options available. Rather than a permanent acquisition, it might go into a temporary access route — five reads, 10 reads, etc. — with licensed access done under the library’s auspices off the library’s website. This would give the ebook seller the option to meet new potential customers and perhaps the library the opportunity to open up some advertising revenue to support its website. For privacy freaks, the library website could carry warnings and maybe advise the nervous user to come in and read the book on the library’s computers. Already discussions have begun about letting people pass a book on to a friend. What’s more friendly than a library?
But how are we to bring this development about? Let’s think. Have you noticed how many commercials these days have taken on a public service tone? Some guy trying to sell you a car wants you to know that each sale means money for breast cancer research. In fact just visiting the car dealership means a donation will be made. Other commercials seem aimed at developing a higher moral sense in the populace, saluting those who help strangers with no expectation of reward. Seems these tough times have given businesses a higher mission than just selling product.
So maybe Google would like to launch its Google Editions with a pro-library innovation distinguishing it from existing competitor products. And if Google did, how long before the competitors would follow suit? Obviously there would be some problems. Arrangements would have to be made with publishers. But it should be feasible provided the ebook dealers and publishers have someone to work out the arrangements with the library community. Now who could we get to handle our end of the action? Hmm. Who already has close relationships on behalf of libraries with Google and Amazon? OCLC comes to mind. Google already uses OCLC in Google Books for all those “Find in a Library” referrals from WorldCat.org.
Do good and do well. That’s the golden rule. Let’s see if we can get some action going. My iPad is itching to pass on those books.