Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kindle Sharing

Big developments in the world of ebooks over the last week. Well, one big development at any rate. Amazon has announced it has decided to start allowing the sharing of Kindle books. There are strict boundaries to what they'll allow right now--each person may share a book one time (and one time only) for up to two weeks. During that two week period, the book can't be read by the sharer--only the sharee. So this is quite similar to what you can do right now with regular books: you can loan it to a friend for a few weeks so the friend can read it. The friend returns it, and then you can read it again.

I personally think more of this needs to happen--without the silly "one time only" clause--for ebooks to really flourish and take off. Everyone's talking about the death of the printed book like it's a bad thing, as if it signals the death of the book publishing industry as a whole. I find this idea silly. I mean, look at the music and film industry. We've had many years now when you can get those songs and films without the need of buying a physical copy. People can record their own songs or make their own movies and share them using the same channels that music or film companies use. However, you don't suddenly see the collapse of the music industry or the film industry. What's changed is the method of delivering the material, not the demand for quality material itself.

Yes, everyone can now write his/her own book and publish it online. So what? The fact is that most of the stuff people write and publish on their own is (more or less) garbage. I'm sure it's very interesting to that person and his five closest friends, but that's about as many people who are going to read it, in the end. Publishing companies--editors and their buddies--will still need to exist. They act both as a wonderful filter for all the rest of the garbage, and as a refiner for the end product itself. When everyone can and does publish an ebook, you need to be able to go to a place where you know you can find quality material.

So this brings us to the question of why there's such reluctance to enable borrowing in the digital era. I mean, it's not like people can't obtain copies of whatever they want to watch, listen to, or read for free. There's this thing called the internet, and it excels at connecting people to pirated material. So why not turn on borrowing privileges on ebooks, with no limit? After all, people have been lending friends their books for years, and that hasn't done in the publishing industry--it just promotes more reading and spreads the word on good authors. If someone really likes the book, then they can go and get an e-copy of their own.

I know I for one would be more inclined to buy an ebook if I knew I could then turn around and lend it to others. That way, I'd feel like I was getting more bang for the buck. I suppose the biggest concern would be people would start setting up online communities where one person would loan out their book a hundred or a thousand times to different people. Of course, that's sort of the exact model libraries have been using for a long long time, and again--the publishing industry seems fine to me.


I know I'm oversimplifying some of this, and that there are greater issues at hand, but in the end, I think that the more owners of content try to control that content with an iron fist, the less likely those owners will be to succeed.

What do you think?


  1. I completely agree. If I buy a book; read it--and have enjoyed it--I ALWAYS pass it on. In turn, I know that person has passed it on to another, and so on and so on. Considering I have been doing this for about 25 years (and I can't be the only one) coupled with the fact that the literary world has not come to a screeching halt; I can only assume that the ebook world will continue to thrive (for all the reasons you've stated regarding quality and the filtering of trash)for many years to come once they lessen their iron grip on the free will dissemination of their product.

    I'm not a librarian, but your post got me to thinking about libraries...

    Where I expect to see a huge paradigm shift is in the actual physical structure of the library itself. In the near future, I foresee a world where libraries will need to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant to their communities.

    Will they serve as a stage to loan Kindles out to their members? How will the footprint of the library change when thousands of square feet used to house hardcovers are no longer needed? What new services will (should/must) the library be able to provide? How will this affect staffing in the short and long term? We're on the precipice of a brave new world. How will the library evolve to meet this challenge?

    Librarians, care to weigh in?

    Celeste B.

  2. I certainly agree that the upcoming technology changes will necessitate dramatic changes in the world of libraries, as well. I think in general they will become smaller, but at the same time, there are many services libraries offer beyond hard copy books and magazines.

    On the public library side of things, libraries offer access to technology that many people don't already have access to. As more and more information migrates to online only, there needs to be a delivery mechanism in place for people who don't have internet or computers to still be able to access that information.

    On the academic library side of things, with the dramatic increase in the amount of information available, students need more help learning how to navigate it properly, not less. Just because the library isn't the house for all the physical resources students and faculty need doesn't mean that its offerings are irrelevant. eBooks, online journals and databases are incredibly expensive, and someone needs to negotiate those contracts, keep track of them, organize them in a way that lets people use them easily, instruct others how to use them, etc.

    Libraries also act as great physical spaces--good for studying alone or as a group. On a residential campus like UMF, there's often not a place for students to study peacefully other than the library. Mantor has seen a dramatic rise in the number of students using its facilities for study.

    The fact is that libraries have been evolving over time to meet the changing needs of society--it's society's idea of libraries that has stayed stagnant. Many people dismiss libraries off hand, without discovering that what we have to offer these days is so much more than books.

  3. I completely agree that libraries offer wonderful services beyond the scope of lending out hard copies of books. I am an avid user of my community library on a weekly basis.

    And while I fully support, endorse and welcome continued library development and evolution; I am also very cognizant of the continued budget slashing occurring nation wide regarding libraries (state wide as well as community libraries).

    For example, here in my state; community libraries are facing shortened hours and branch closings. When I asked a local government official to justify these decisions (regarding reduced hours and branch closings) he referenced the budget crisis we are facing, and indicated that usage and traffic warranted the decision.

    If society is perceiving libraries as stagnant, then libraries must figure out a way to change the perception. Failing to do so, the perception will continue to perpetuate. And then we all lose.

    Celeste B.