Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Future of eBooks Forum - part one

Today I attended a forum at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) that was all about ebooks. Librarians and student librarians were tweeting throughout the event, and socialising over morning tea and lunch on the slightly chilly terrace.

Presenters included:

Martin Taylor - founding director of the Digital Publishing Forum for digital publishing in NZ, publisher and managing director at Addenda Publishing.
Kate Eltham - CEO of QLD Writers Centre since 2006, founder of if:book Australia.
Sherman Young - Assoc. Professor and Assoc. Dean of Learning & Teaching in Arts at Macquarie, author of The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book.
John Scott - Burdekin Library Services Manager (via recorded video)
Jacinda Woodhead -  associate editor of Overland literary journal, runs blogs Overland and Meanland.
Jennifer Moran - panelist and contributor to Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.

Ebook lending may be the way forward for libraries, but there are many challenges along the way. Ebook channels are still evolving and the lifecycle of the ebook is not yet stable, so although there is room for error, there is also room for experimentation.

Martin Taylor had a tough job today - speaking from the publishing side. If you're unfamiliar with the cloud over publishing lately, Harper Collins USA has been very unpopular with libraries and librarians since they changed their terms of service to allow only 26 checkouts per ebook before requiring the library to repurchase the title. They say that is the average number of checkouts a paperback can withstand before it needs replacing. Some librarians have responded with an intention to boycott, and others are fighting to increase the arbitrary number of loans.

Taylor expects that ebooks will eventually follow a model not unlike the movie industry, where cost to the user decreases post-release, and the publisher makes more money in the long run than in the opening days of a release. He says public libraries will face new challenges for patrons' time, and that the greatest threat to libraries' digital success will be a bad customer service experience. He adds that terms are needed to manage channel conflict (ie; publishers-authors-libraries-schools), and that libraries will face new competition.

A partnership between publishers and libraries is Taylor's hope for the future. Within this partnership, they would talk directly to authors and publishers, challenge traditions by "opening the door" to a hybrid paid/free model, and help the public understanding of the need to experiment and change. As to the libraries themselves, they should consider and trial several access models, creating options that work at each point in a book's economic lifestyle.

Kate Eltham discussed ebook lending, both in libraries and peer to peer. New consumer models include commercial peer to peer services, which she likens to 18th century private libraries, where chosen members could borrow books. The Lendle (Kindle) and Lend Me (Barnes & Noble) "matchmaking service" style services available to US ebook readers is a step in the right direction, but it's limited by geography and a single-loan model, neither of which helps Australian libraries.

Eltham notes that the library sector is shackled with policies at the moment, but believes that libraries will deal directly with self-published authors in the near future. She thinks the internet can tackle issues of geography, access, and convenience, and that we should think about the book as a service, not as a product.

More tomorrow... if you follow me on Twitter, you can read my feed from today, or other public Twitter feeds by searching for #slqteb

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