Library engines

At the start of the month, I described my participation in a meeting hosted by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). In it, I asserted:

“There is a market for content whose price is effectively zero. Publishers have a choice: serve that market and get paid by libraries; or ignore that market and teach readers how to pirate content. I’m still with the idea that libraries are the first, best defense against piracy.”

For Publishers Weekly, Peter Brantley offered his thoughts on the impact of eBook subscription services (nascent but of note) on the library lending model. He concludes:

“For libraries, the emergence of e-book subscriptions may not be good news. A thriving subscription market might enervate the viability of libraries in ebook lending. Or, it might not. Perhaps library markets could be effectively married with subscription models, despite the costs of managing the synergy. But that would take a degree of flexibility and nimbleness on both sides of the ebook aisle that I have yet to see.”

New models are being tested in a variety of places. Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto includes a chapter about what the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Digital Library is doing. Theirs is just one of several U.S. initiatives.

For The Literary Platform, Hannes Elder reported on a Swedish experiment in which libraries digitize publisher backlists and gain an 11-year subscription at a fixed price. Elder is chief technology officer at Publit, a company working with the Stockhom Public Library and a Swedish publisher on the project.

Forbes has published an extensive overview of digital lending. Its author, David Vinjamuri, recommends that all parties agree to lend eBooks on a set fee per circulated copy. In effect, libraries would become distributors, not curators, a shift whose institutional implications Vinjamuri does not address in his post.

One thing I learned while attending the IFLA meeting: ideas are not in short supply. But as Peter Brantley points out in a separate article about the meeting we attended: the time available for change is likely limited.

Rebuilding the library engine while driving down the highway would be hard under any circumstances. Unfortunately, half of the mechanics are on strike.


About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.