I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how sad it is that libraries seem to be left out of the migration from hard copy books to ePubs. The news that HarperCollins was forcing Overdrive to expire digital content (Joe Atzberger’s post, Librarian by Day’s post) after a certain number of circulations (26, to be exact) was the last straw for me. Something has to be done here, we cannot continue to support a publishing economy where ePubs are forced into the existing paradigm of hard copy books.
“My gosh,” you must be thinking, “what on earth model could we possibly use? We have no choice here! We are at the mercy of the publishers and content providers!” Wrong, I say. There is at least one model that I can think of that might work very well for all parties involved.
Let’s first take a look at how Amazon lends Kindle books. A happy Kindle user buys a book, reads it, and has licensed this book for their personal use. That Kindle user is allowed to lend that book to another Kindle user one time, for two weeks. After this one lend, the book cannot be lent again. This model won’t really work for libraries, but I think that with a subtle change it could be workable for all involved. Interestingly, an intrepid group of library geeks have put together the service Lendle to help Kindle users connect to other Kindle users interested in borrowing their books. Super cool, but limited in usefulness by the fact that each book can only be lent once. That won’t work for libraries. It doesn’t even really work for Kindle users.
So let’s say there is a magical content middleman who sells ePubs. This magical content middleman allows libraries to buy licenses to ePubs that they can lend to patrons. The catch is, the patron can only receive the book, a la Kindle, a single time. The content also expires after two weeks, providing the patron the option to purchase the item at the end of their circ period. There are no limits to the number of times this ePub can be circulated: the only catch is that a patron can only check it out for 2 weeks, a single time.
With this model, publishers and content middlemen have great opportunities to make money: they get the ePubs into the hands of readers, they make a little off of the library when the library buys the ePub, and the opportunity to sell another copy to the end-user (patron) when the 2 week lending period has expired. To me, this seems like everyone wins!
It occurs to me that Apple already does something similar with movies: they allow you to “rent” a movie for 24 hours. They make a few bucks, and hope that you like it enough to buy the full movie with special features. It’s not all that different, and no one can deny that Apple makes a boatload of money off of iTunes purchases.
“A lend from a library is never as good as a purchase. People do it because they are readers, and they put up with it because it is really, really expensive to support a flat-out voracious reading habit on your own dime.
Publishers, if you make it impossible for young people–those in the “under 25″ category–to support a good reading habit on their own dime, these people are not going to start magically spending money on books when they start making a decent income. No; at that point, they’ll already have started spending their time haunting hulu instead, where they can actually get free entertainment. And when they start making money, they’ll be buying iTunes streams of those shows they watched for free.”
So, content providers, libraries, publishers, somebody: build this, and libraries (and our users/members/patrons) may come.
So, shoot me down: why won’t this work?