Thursday Threads: HarperCollins (again), Digital Public Library of America, Kindle Millionaires

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Last week’s DLTJ Thursday Threads theme of ebooks continues again this week, and the top story from last week is the top story again this week: the debate over the limited checkout ebooks terms set by HarperCollins. While there seems to be nothing new from either HarperCollins or OverDrive (except for the new license terms coming into effect on Monday the 7th), there is still a lot of discussion on the biblio-blogosphere about what should be done. Another entry this week focuses on the Digital Public Library of America effort that is now getting underway. The last entry is about a young fiction writer who is making a fortune by selling ebooks through Amazon/Kindle and keeping most of the profit.

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Ebooks: durability is a feature, not a bug

Whether a HarperCollins book has the circulatory vigour to cope with 26 checkouts or 200, it’s bizarre to argue that this finite durability is a feature that we should carefully import into new media. It would be like assuming the contractual obligation to attack the microfilm with nail-scissors every time someone looked up an old article, to simulate the damage that might have been done by our careless patrons to the newsprint that had once borne it.

The controversy continues over the unilateral changing of the terms by HarperCollins for ebooks lent through OverDrive. The quote above is from an opinion piece by Cory Doctorow in the U.K. Guardian newspaper. Iris Jastram and Steve Lawson have proposed an ebook plan that includes making libraries a trusted party of publishers and creates a division of labor that mimics the existing publisher/library relationship. Jenica Rogers is not so sure the culture of respect and trust exists right now to create such a relationship. I wonder if there is a role for the Digital Public Library of America (see more info in the next story). In particular, I could see the DPLA serving as an agent that receives ebooks free of Digital Rights Management wrappers from publishers and wraps the ebooks with DRM for the library to check out to its patrons. The American Library Association is trying to coordinate a response while some libraries are making decisions to no longer purchase ebook content from HarperCollins.

Update (10-Mar-2011 at 11:30am EST): I missed these three posts by ALA Task Force on Electronic Content Access member Michael Porter where he was live blogging the meeting.

Report from the Digital Public Library of America Workshop

On March 1, 2011, the Berkman Center convened a group of participants from public and research libraries, government agencies, publishers, and private industry for a day-long workshop focused on the content and scope of a proposed Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Participants were invited to explore intrinsic features of specific types of content and their interrelations and to consider questions of how to deal with vendors and materials under various types of restrictions. The goal of this initial meeting was to make an important contribution to the overarching goal of the initiative: to work towards a shared vision of a DPLA and a set of prioritized next steps. This document highlights a selection of central discussion points and questions; we hope that these takeaways will serve as input into future discussions about a potential DPLA.

The Digital Public Library of America is a project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and the above quote comes from the report of the workshop focused around the content and scope of the project. With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the attention of many respected thought leaders and doers, it is trying to define a cooperative effort to support a national public library. At the moment, there are more questions than answers. Dan Cohen and David Weinberger — both participants in the workshop — posted their thoughts, and project chair John Palfrey posted raw notes for each session. I think this is an effort to track, although I expect it will move at a very deliberate and measured pace for a while as it picks up steam. There will likely be future DLTJ Thursday Threads entries on the topic.

Update (10-Mar-2011 at 2:30pm EST): Here is another good source that I didn’t read until after this Thursday Threads issue was published: a report from workshop attendee Molly Raphael, ALA president-elect.

This 26-Year-Old Is Making Millions Cutting Out Traditional Publishers With Amazon Kindle

Welcome to disruption. 26-year old Amanda Hocking is the best-selling “indie” writer on the Kindle store, meaning she doesn’t have a publishing deal, Novelr says.

And she shouldn’t. She gets to keep 70% of her book sales — and she sells around 100,000 copies per month. By comparison, it’s usually thought that it takes a few tens of thousands of copies sold in the first week to be a New York Times bestselling writer.

The comparison isn’t entirely fair, because Hocking sells her books for $3, and some $.99. But that’s the point: by lowering the prices, she can make more on volume, especially impulse buys. Meanwhile e-books cost nothing to print, you don’t have to worry about print volumes, shelf space, inventory, etc. And did we mention the writer keeps 70%?

That’s the start of a story from Business Insider that describes how this writer is using Amazon’s digital publishing platform to bring her content to users without traditional publishers. A few days later Business Insider runs another story that suggests publishers build a longer-term relationship with readers: HEY PUBLISHERS: Here’s How To Survive (And Thrive) In The Coming Nuclear Winter. A perfect example of this is my experience with technology publisher O’Reilly Media and how they offer free errata updates to the ebook editions. Earlier this year they announced how they retroactively went back and improved the formatting of their ebooks. Sure, it was a relatively simple thing to do, but they offer the updated editions to previous purchasers for no extra cost. That really encourages customer loyalty.

Another data point: with the announcement of a bigger, stronger, faster iPad coming later this month, some are speculating that Amazon is on track to start a program in which they give away Kindles. I wonder, in addition to the scenarios proposed in that article, if a free Kindle device program plus an inexpensive-to-libraries content checkout program targeted towards public libraries be a competitor to OverDrive? Perhaps as a loss-leader (to Amazon) with money made by making an offer inside the device’s user interface to the library patron to buy the book? [Link to CNN story via Eric Schnell]

The text was modified to update a link from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/dpla/March_1_Workshop_Notes to http://dp.la/wiki/March_1_Workshop_Notes on September 26th, 2013.

The text was modified to update a link from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/dpla/Content_and_Scope to http://dp.la/wiki/Content_and_Scope on September 26th, 2013.

(This post was updated on 26-Sep-2013.)