31 January 2014

Strong Current

Ebook distribution diversification is speeding up, many new options were discussed at Digital Book World's conference this past weekend.  Like I have said in earlier posts, we need to figure out the future of digital libraries, so that we don't go the way of the dodo bird.  Digital Book World is full of information on the current trends and thoughts.  This was posted there on September 5th (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/spotify-for-ebooks-oyster-launches/).

Oyster Launches Spotify for Ebooks

The company's flag hanging in its Manhattan office.
The company’s flag hanging in its Manhattan office.
Oyster, the highly anticipated, venture-backed ebook subscription platform for iPhones launched today. The app is available for iPhone devices and will soon be available on other platforms, including the iPad this fall and, later, Android.
The company is launching with 100,000 ebook titles available from publishers such as HarperCollins, Workman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and self-publishing distributor Smashwords. The service will cost $9.95 a month to read an unlimited number of books on up to six devices. The number of titles offered through Oyster will be “increasing over time,” CEO Eric Stromberg told Digital Book World.
The product has been a year in the making, following a $3 million funding announcement last October. Since then, the company has worked quickly to create an attractive iPhone app and cobble together deals to fill the app with content.
The company declined to share its business model, however — just how authors, publishers and other stakeholders are compensated for making their titles available. The company leadership only told Digital Book World that the model was a “win-win-win,” for rights-holders, readers and the company and its investors.
“It was a very hard problem that involved understandnig the needs of authors, publishers and consumers,” said Stromberg, citing that he believes Oyster has it solved due to months of strategizing and in-house know-how from employees like Matt Shatz, who had been a vice president of digital at Random House.
Like any new app, Oyster will be challenged to find users. The company plans on relying primarily on public relations for now, including a series of reporter visits prior to launch that have resulted in a flurry of articles around the app’s release. The company doesn’t currently have any plans to work with Apple on additional app store exposure and currently users who want to buy the service have to request an invitation to do so.
Earlier this week, eReatah, another subscription ebook platform, launched, though it seems to function more like a book-of-the-month club with discounts. It has several tiers of service, starting at about $17 a month for two books. Unlike Oyster, where books are downloaded into the app and then can be read offline through the app with a subscription, eReatah users “own” the ebooks outright once they download them and can access them through the app even if they are no longer subscribers. (As with Kindle ebooks and most others, “own” means license.)
Oyster and eReatah are not the first two companies to offer such services, although in the U.S., they are the first outside of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library to offer it across a wide variety of titles.Safari Books Online offers a selection of ebooks for a professional, technical audience and Bookboardoffers kids ebooks, to name two. And, in Spain, 24symbols has created a general-interest ebook subscription service.
One enticing proposition for publishers around this new distribution model is the possibility of exposing readers to new authors and new books they may not discover anywhere else. Oyster, for instance, will use a combination of editorial, social and algorithmic recommendations to suggest new titles to readers. Users will see book recommendations through editorial lists, Facebook and Twitter integrations and suggested reading based on reading they’ve already done. For now, publishers will not be offered opportunities to pay for extra exposure for their titles.

29 January 2014

Gutenburg's Larger Role in the 21st Century

David Wilk keeps offering amazing perspective on the evolving ebook world.

What is Freedom of the Press in the Electronic Book Era? By David Wilk 


Freedom of the press belongs to whomever owns the press.  Which was, at
the time words were physically applied to paper by printing presses, another way of saying that the only way you can be guaranteed to speak your mind and be heard is to control the means of production.

In the modern networked world, this means that freedom of the press belongs to whomever owns the delivery system and ultimately, the customer relationship.

Publishers used to bump up against printers who had different values than they did, and were sometimes told that the printing company would not accept the job.  That was the printer’s right, and the publisher’s response then was to find a printer more willing to print unpopular or even unappealing words or images on paper.  This made sense, of course, only because there was a reasonable number of printers competing for work.

A similar situation exists today, except the "presses" are devices and networked delivery systems, Amazon and Apple being the two most obvious.  However now, if you want to publish electronic books, you’re pretty much at their mercy.

If being a “publisher” is defined by the act of making written works public, then is it possible to be a publisher without distribution?  Obviously not, otherwise the publisher is no better off than the creator.

In the electronic content environment, distribution is determined by the entities that own the customer relationship, i.e., the means to reach them.  Doesn’t that make publishers dependent on Amazon, Apple and to a smaller extent, the other myriad of niche sites where readers are willing to give up their credit cards and private information in order to be able to safely download content?

Freedom of the press belongs to any publisher whose technology enables readers to access that publisher’s work.  No publisher has that freedom today, nor does any author.  Are there sufficient protections for publishers, authors and readers to guarantee that freedom of expression will actually exist in a digital publishing environment?

Recently, as part of the battle over pricing and terms, publishers have found themselves pincered between Apple’s terms for the new iPad based iBookstore, and Amazon’s terms for doing business with their currently dominant Kindle store.

Publishers who thought that Apple was their savior are learning that it will not be that simple.

The story has not yet fully unfolded, but it appears to me that publishers and authors are soon going to learn the extent of their weakness in an arena where larger entities own the roads they need to travel to reach their customers.

Can we trust the market to protect 1st Amendment rights?  There’s no evidence that large corporations value freedom over profits.  We may need to rethink the rules that apply to near monopolies in the electronic distribution environment, and it is very possible that only the threat of regulation will ever cause Apple and Amazon to tread more lightly when it comes to doing business with writers and publishers.

23 January 2014

What Will Sales Be Like in the Next Five Years?

Take a look at this projection posted here: http://paidcontent.org/2013/06/04/pwc-the-u-s-consumer-ebook-market-will-be-bigger-than-the-print-book-market-by-2017/

Lots of different outlets are trying to project the size of the U.S. ebook market and how fast it’s growing. In its annual “Entertainment & Media Outlook,” set to be released Wednesday, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) estimates that trade (consumer, not educational or academic) ebooks will drive $8.2 billion in sales by 2017 — surpassing projected print book sales, which it thinks will shrink by more than half during that period.
Here’s how the firm thinks the trade print and ebook markets are going to evolve. Note that figures are projected from 2012 onwards.
YearConsumer e-books (US$ millions)Size of the consumer book publishing marketEbooksPrint and audiobooks20082009201020112012(p)201320142015201620170k5k10k15k20k
The total size of the trade book industry, PwC estimated, will be $16.1 billion by 2017 — smaller than it was in 2008, with ebooks not quite able to pick up the slack as the print market shrinks.
PwC also projects that ebooks will make up 38 percent of all book sales — both trade and educational books — by 2017, from 16 percent today.

Wondering how this compares to BookStats?

PwC’s projections are roughly in line with those from other sources. The most recent edition of BookStats pegged the total size of the U.S. trade book industry at $15.05 billion in 2012, with ebooks kicking in $3.04 billion of that. PwC, meanwhile, calculates the size of the market at $15.2 billion in 2012, with ebooks contributing $3.35 billion. But BookStats thinks that the market grew by 6.9 percent between 2011 and 2012, while PwC thinks it shrank by 1.3 percent.
If you’re wondering which one to trust more, keep in mind that they are both projections and that it’s worth looking at methodology: BookStats incorporates net sales revenue and unit data from nearly 2,000 U.S. publishers, then projects the size of the entire industry; PwC says that it looks at “retail spending by consumers on consumer books…and spending on books in electronic formats” and that it derives historical data ”principally from confidential and proprietary sources” — including research group Informa Telecoms & Media — then projects.

22 January 2014

2012 Book and eBook Sales

Interesting stats from the ebook world: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/media/e-book-sales-a-boon-to-publishers-in-2012.html?_r=0.

I guess we have to wait a couple of months for the 2013 stats, but most predictions say that ebooks are gaining ground, albeit at a slower pace.  

The big question that still needs to be answered is, "Will digital natives choose print or ebook?"

E-Book Sales a Boon to Publishers in 2012

E-book sales, especially in the thriving romance genre, gave the book business a lift in 2012, according to a survey of publishers released Wednesday.
In a year that was monopolized by the “Fifty Shades” erotic novels and their various knockoffs, e-book sales in fiction rose 42 percent over the year before, to $1.8 billion. Growth in nonfiction e-book sales was smaller, a 22 percent increase, to $484.2 million. E-book sales in the children’s and young-adult categories increased 117 percent, to $469.2 million.
The survey revealed that e-books now account for 20 percent of publishers’ revenues, up from 15 percent in 2011. Publishers’ net revenues in 2012 were $15 billion, up from $14 billion in 2011, while unit sales of trade books increased 8 percent, to $2.3 billion.
The annual survey, known as BookStats, was compiled by two trade groups, the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. It includes data from about 1,500 publishers, including the six major trade houses.
The numbers reflected a publishing industry where more books are available in more formats than ever before, and where consumers’ preferences continue to shift. Print formats were flat or decreasing, while e-books and downloadable audiobooks boomed.
“You’re seeing an evolution in terms of the way that people are accessing content,” said Dominique Raccah, a former chairwoman of the Book Industry Study Group and the publisher of Sourcebooks, a midsize publishing company in Naperville, Ill., outside Chicago. “Audio downloads are up, e-books are up. There’s a migration in format clearly occurring. Customers can now access books in a lot of different ways.”
Publishers’ revenue from brick-and-mortar retail stores suffered, dropping 7 percent to $7.5 billion, while revenue from online retailers like Amazon boomed, rising 21 percent, to $6.9 billion. The survey was the first glimpse of a full year of book sales after the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders chain in 2011.
Sales of hardcover and trade paperback books were relatively flat: hardcovers accounted for just over $5 billion in 2012, up from $4.9 billion in 2011. Mass-market paperbacks, the smaller format of paperback popular in airports and grocery stores, also decreased in sales.
Another format that continued its rise in popularity was the downloadable audiobook, which had a 22 percent bump in revenues in 2012 compared with 2011, increasing to $240.7 million from $197.7 million. Publishers attributed the increase partly to the widespread use of mobile devices.

21 January 2014

The Big Picture

I have begun to tease apart the many pieces that are in play as we move forward in developing an eLending model for libraries that publishers and authors support.  On Friday, I posted the principles that the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions adopted this October after a comprehensive think tank looked at all the issues.  The comprehensive assessment of the state of affairs can be found here, http://www.ifla.org/node/7447.  

It is aptly named:

The Thinkpiece: ‘Libraries, eLending, and the Future of Public Access to Digital Content’

17 January 2014

Libraries Finding Backbone to Stay Alive in Digital Age

An inspirational step by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions in October.  They created a workgroup in October of 2012 to explore fair and equitable eLending models, then set forth principles that would guide their policies this October.  I found them here, http://www.ifla.org/node/7418.

IFLA Principles for Library eLending

Following the production of the IFLA Background Paper on eLending the IFLA Governing Board tasked the eLending Working Group with developing a set of principles that could guide library professionals as they grapple with the complicated process of negotiating eBook licenses with publishers and resellers.
The principles below are intended to help all library professionals seeking to provide downloadable eBook content to their users, and are broadly drafted to maintain relevance across IFLA’s 150 member countries.
  • Full Version [Word Rev 2: 16 August 2013]
  • Full Version [PDF Rev 2: 16 August 2013]
The arrival of the internet age and the proliferation of digital content have heralded a new and exciting phase in the democratisation of information, ideas, and knowledge – arguably at least as potent and transformative as any other event in recorded history. However, despite the myriad of innovative social and economic benefits attached to widespread digital distribution and access to information and content, there are disturbing signs that in the realm of public access, the clock is turning back in certain areas.


At this stage in the evolution of digital dissemination of text based content, libraries and their users wish at a minimum to be able to obtain and use an eBook in the same way they can obtain and use a print book. However, libraries are facing the new reality where they are often constrained from acquiring commercially available eBooks for their collections under acceptable terms and conditions. For example, some trade publishers and authors are withholding sales when they believe that access to eBooks by libraries may undermine retail sales and thereby reduce royalties.
The exhaustion of rights for digital content is an issue of increasing legal debate and uncertainty. Rights holders operate on the assumption that they can control all subsequent uses of digital works following initial access by the purchaser. This assumption has been the subject of legal proceedings in several countries. Should an consensus emerge that exhaustion should be applied for digital works in the same way it applies to physical objects (i.e. that  reselling and lending is permissible without rightsholder approval as long as one copy of the same work  remains one copy) a number of  the IFLA principles will be achievable. Should the rightsholders interpretation prevail that they can control all post-first sale uses of digital works, the library’s public service mission of ensuring societal access to written culture over time will be undermined.
The IFLA Principles on eBooks in Libraries is based on the assumption that it is necessary for libraries and publishers/authors to agree to reasonable terms and conditions for the library acquisition of eBooks, thus allowing libraries to fulfil their mission of guaranteeing access to knowledge and information for their communities. While we need  solutions that support the publisher’s and author’s financial viability,  it is not acceptable for a publisher or author to  restrict a library's ability to license and/or purchase otherwise commercially available eBooks for library collections. 
If the practice of withholding eBooks from libraries continues, publishers/authors should be required in legislation to make eBooks available to libraries under reasonable terms and conditions. In countries where publishers and authors receive public financial support, the argument for government mandated public access to published works through libraries is especially strong.
Libraries worldwide operate with a fundamental mission of providing access to information and, while acknowledging that regional differences exist in technological capacity and maturity of the eBook marketplace, this mission is universal and should prevail.


1.   A library must have the right to license and/or purchase any commercially available eBook without embargo. If titles are withheld from the library market by publishers and/or authors, national legislation should require such access under reasonable terms and conditions. Libraries must be able to determine their own acquisitions by choosing specific titles from publisher or distributor listings in support of their mandate to provide community access to information and knowledge. 
2.   A library must have access to eBooks under reasonable terms and conditions and at a fair price. Terms of access should be transparent and costs predictable to enable the library to operate within its budget and funding cycles. 
3.   eBook licensing/purchase options must respect copyright limitations and exceptions available to libraries and their users in national law, such as the right to:
a.     Copy a portion of the work
b.     Re-format the work for preservation purposes if it is licensed and/or purchased for permanent access
c.     Provide a temporary copy of the work to another library in response to a user request
d.     Reformat a work to enable access for people with print disabilities
e.     By- pass a technological protection measure for the purpose of exercising any non-infringing purpose.
4.   eBooks available to libraries should be platform neutral and developed with standards for accessibility. Content should be capable of integration into library systems and online public access catalogues, and interoperable across platforms, applications and e-reader devices that the library or library patron has chosen to invest in.
5.   Strategies must be in place to ensure the long term preservation of eBook titles by libraries. Long term availability of eBook titles should not be compromised by factors such as a publisher ceasing to operate. This can be addressed through measures including the collaborative development of archival databases by publishers and libraries and legislative solutions which require the legal deposit of digital content with specified agencies.
6.   eBook services must protect the privacy of library users. Libraries and their users must be able to make informed decisions about the control and use of personal information including reading choices.
These Principles were endorsed by the IFLA Governing Board in February 2013. 1st Rev April 2013, 2nd Rev August 2013.

15 January 2014

The Ebook Revolution by David Wilk (http://www.booktrix.com/live/index.php/blog/the_ebook_revolution)

I think today it is both revealing and helpful to think about e-book pricing in the context of the rise of mass market paperbacks in the 1950’s and into the 1960’s.

As a book industry veteran friend of mine has pointed out to me, when mass market paperbacks first became popular, they were priced at approximately 10% of the retail price of the then prevalent hardcover editions, on average about $.25 for a mass market paperback at a time when hardcover books were selling for $2.50 or $3.00.

At that time, paperbacks were cheaply produced in huge quantities and displayed in drugstores, supermarkets, department stores.  Some of the relatively small number of independent bookstores did not even carry mass market paperbacks, and if they did, they were in racks and spinners supplied to them by the wholesalers that controlled magazine distribution and therefore had access to retailer channels.

Mass market paperbacks were initially differentiated by being reprints of books that had come out first in hardcover, and because publishers knew they would compete with their higher priced new books, they simply held back mass market releases until the hardcover sale had run its course, usually a year, to be sure they harvested as much demand as possible at the higher hardcover price.  Some titles, particularly those in genres like westerns, mysteries, science fiction and romance, were released in mass market first (or only), to feed the burgeoning demand of general readers for inexpensive entertaining books (which publishers differentiated, sometimes snootily, from the “serious literature” and nonfiction they saw as the core of their business).

Sound familiar?

Over time the “paperback revolution” grew to include a later invention, the larger and more expensive, better printed, “trade paperback” and now of course, mass market editions have significantly declined, mainly because their former mass merchant, drugstore, supermarket and airport store core outlets shifted their shelf space to higher margin products in other categories.

Today we are witnessing the advent of what is essentially, the first new book format in almost 75 years, the e-book (the audio books was of course, a new format but not for reading).  E-books can create new markets for books in the same way that mass market paperbacks did.  Readers who could not afford hardcovers, readers who found paperbacks more convenient, readers who were voracious consumers of books, all flocked to the new paperback format, just as they are doing today for e-books.

E-books are poised to create a new revolution of their own, certainly proven by current rates of sales on many titles.  But one thing is different about e-books.  At the outset of the mass market paperback revolution, books in this format were published under license by new companies or in some cases introduced new writers in categories that were underserved or not served at all by old line hardcover publishers, such as romance, westerns, mysteries and science fiction categories.  These new publishers recognized their market niche as open but at low prices to take advantage of a new market that would simply not buy books at the higher prices commanded by hardcovers.

Today, e-books are being publisher for the most part, by the same publishers who issue the print versions originally.  E-books are not seen as a “subsidiary” rights sale, but as an extension of the initial publishing strategy.  Combined with their desire to preserve revenue against existing overhead in a business that was built for print, publishers are pricing ebooks much higher in relation to hardcovers and trade paperbacks than mass market paperbacks ever were priced.  So we see many ebooks priced at $9.99 (the new defacto standard for many books it seems) and up.

Many smaller trade publishers, as well as authors publishing their own books and some new digital-only publishers are pricing their ebooks at much lower levels ($5.99 and down).  If you look at ebook sales, it is pretty obvious that price is a huge driver for many consumers.  At $3.99 (or better yet, $2.99 or even $.99), readers will often take chances on a new or emerging writer, or an established writer who might be new to them.

At $9.99 (or more) most readers will not take chances.  The risk and reward don’t line up when reading time and money are precious.

All books are price sensitive of course, so publishers will reasonably argue that they do not want to race to the bottom, or devalue their authors’ works.  Those are of course valid arguments in favor of keeping prices of ebooks more like hardcover books than the much lower levels that are equivalent to mass market pricing.

(Supply and demand determine a product’s equilibrium price and quantity. Graph courtesy of Prof. Daniel Richards. Background image courtesy of Ken Hammond, U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

But I will argue that traditional publishers are missing the market opportunity created by the e-book revolution when they fail to create a significant price benefit for their e-books.  Publishing digitally is in fact less expensive than publishing print books.  This does not mean that every book should be digital only – readers have proved over and over again that they will buy print books when they feel the need to have a visible “souvenir” of their reading experience, a book in physical form, and many readers are willing to pay a premium for this version.

Just as equally, consumers have made clear that if books are inexpensive, they will buy and read more of them, taking on more risk and rewarding publishers and authors they like with a full measure of loyalty and commitment.

I think this means that publishers should now be thinking hard about ways they can reduce ebook prices and increase readership.  Publishers who are willing to reduce prices will create a real “ebook revolution.”  We can do this by pricing our ebooks low enough to broaden the market for books and reading, while our consumers reward us with higher sales and the kind of support and commitment that other media would be thrilled to have.

Authors also need to recognize that this strategy is in their best interests.  With ever more writers seeking readers, it makes sense to use price to gain attention, as Amanda Hocking and C.A. Konrath and many others have bravely demonstrated.  Now that we live in an attention economy, creatives in every media form need discovery and consumers’ time and attention even more than they need money from sales (in the attention economy, money follows where attention leads – and that is the subject of my next post on digital publishing).

I’d like to point out that my friend, the much admired Mike Shatzkin, has posted a new piece called “Ebooks are making me recall the history of mass-market publishing” which is more detailed and grounded in historical detail than what I have written here, and I recommend reading Mike’s piece for further confirmation of my views.  Thanks also to Lou Aronica of The Fiction Studio for suggesting the original mass market paperback as the best way to think about ebooks today.

14 January 2014

The Right Horse

Looks like ListenUpVermont has a stable future, though we still need to continue fostering our relationship with Overdrive and work towards the best digital lending platform for our patrons.  In a universe where libraries don't own the content, but merely lease it, stability is certainly a luxury.  I am sure there will be peaks and valleys as digital lending platforms grow internally within publishing houses to compete with companies like Overdrive, but for now take a deep breath and enjoy the fact that the thousands of books that we merely lease through LUV will be available in the coming years.  

Take a look at the growth Overdrive has experienced in the last year!  Here are the stats announced on the Digital Book World website (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/).

OverDrive’s Record-Breaking Year: 102 Million Digital Checkouts

Libraries and schools reach 102 million digital checkouts during record-breaking 2013
2014 to feature enhanced eBooks and new technology to further drive digital reader engagement
OverDrive announced today that 2013 was a banner year for libraries and schools with record numbers in digital engagement. Available eBook and audiobook titles, website visitors, eBook discovery and digital checkouts all increased substantially over 2012. A surge in mobile device usage highlights the demand for on-the-go access, with more than half of all digital checkouts coming from mobile platforms.
The trend in digital reading continues to grow rapidly. Readers borrowed more than 102 million digital titles across the OverDrive network in 2013, up 44% over 2012. For comparison, it took 10 years to reach the first 100 million digital checkouts from 2003-2012, and the next 100 million was surpassed within one year. Other major milestones in 2013 include:
· A 46% increase over 2012 in eBook checkouts (79 million)
· A 37% increase over 2012 in audiobook checkouts (22.9 million)
· A 147% increase over 2012 in mobile checkouts (49.5 million)
· More than 4.3 billion page views on OverDrive-powered library and school websites
· Mobile platforms now account for nearly 1/2 of all checkouts and 2/3 of all traffic
· Six of OverDrive’s standalone libraries facilitated more than one million digital checkouts from their individual collections
· Library and school websites had 193 million visits to their OverDrive digital catalog, 1 million more than 2012
· Discoverability increased to 1.8 billion in 2013, up from over 1 billion cover image impressions in 2012, giving readers countless options for “what to read next”
“This past year was a breakthrough year for OverDrive,” said Shannon Lichty, Director of Partner Services at OverDrive. “Through innovation and exemplary partner performance, digital reading is now more accessible and more prolific than ever. We are looking forward to additional enhancements in 2014 to create the ultimate streamlined experience and enhanced interactivity for users.”
Technology and support for enhanced eBooks will roll out in 2014, including features such as synched audio and text, fixed layouts, interactivity and multimedia. Demonstrations of these innovations will take place at the OverDrive booth at Digital Book World this week in New York City, as well as at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia January 24-28.
OverDrive released several new products, services and features to help libraries and schools increase digital circulation in 2013. The launches of OverDrive Media Station, Circulation APIs and multilingual website support helps to introduce readers to the digital catalog and easily navigate the library’s website. In addition, children can now safely explore libraries’ digital catalogs through the new eReading Room, a dedicated segment of a library’s website free of mature content. Also in 2013, OverDrive announced the availability of its new Netflix-like Streaming Video service with widespread compatibility and instant viewing of thousands of digital video titles.
Further enhancing the user experience, OverDrive increased its catalog to 1.8 million digital titles from more than 5,000 publishers, including all of the major publishers such as Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, McGraw-Hill, Macmillan and many more. Libraries and schools can now purchase licenses for eBooks and audiobooks from an additional 250 publishers added in 2013. Titles come in a multitude of formats compatible with any major device, including iPhone®, iPad®, Nook®, Android™ phones and tablets, and Kindle® (U.S. only).
Based on various statistics including downloads, sales, holds, samples, ratings and page views, top titles in OverDrive’s collection for 2013 included Inferno by Dan Brown, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, Fast Forward by Juliet Madison, Allegiant by Veronica Roth, and The House of Hades (audiobook) by Rick Riordan.
OverDrive has been named to the EContent 100 list as a company that matters most in the digital content industry for 2013, its fifth year in a row to earn that honor. OverDrive Media Console was named one of PC Magazine’s 100 Best Android Apps of 2013, and one of TechRadar’s Best Free Android Apps of 2014. Now partnering with more than 28,000 libraries and schools in 42 countries, including 90 percent of the U.S. public libraries, OverDrive is the largest distributor of eBooks and audiobooks for lending platforms worldwide.
About OverDrive
OverDrive is a leading multichannel digital distributor of eBooks, digital audiobooks, music and video. We supply a secure lending platform for 28,000 libraries, schools and retailers worldwide with support for all major computers and devices, including iPhone®, iPad®, Nook®, Android™ phones and tablets, and Kindle® (U.S. only). Recent enhancements to OverDrive’s platform include multilingual user interface support, in-library touchscreen services for browsing and instant sampling of eBooks or audiobooks, and OverDrive Read, the company’s EPUB and HTML5 browser-based reading experience.
Founded in 1986, OverDrive is based in Cleveland. www.overdrive.com.

13 January 2014

A Second Renaissance: What Digital Libraries Can Do

The Green Mountain Library Consortium (GMLC) was one of the beneficiaries this past year of the Vermont Humanities Council's (VHC) philanthropy. Their generous $1500 grant will put more ebooks on Listen Up Vermont's (LUV's) digital shelf for all digital patrons in Vermont.

“The VHC looks to connect people to programs, events, and resources that promote greater public awareness, appreciation, and understanding of literature, history, art history, religion and other humanities disciplines. They seek to deepen understanding of human experience by connecting people with ideas, by encouraging civility and civic engagement, and by supporting community conversations about ideas that help us both better understand the past and envision and strive for a better future.”

With the VHC's trust in GMLC's mission of building a more robust digital libray for all Vermonters, we will endeavor to bring positive change to Vermont's literary culture through our ubiquitous, multifaceted, robost digital library, LUV.

LUV and all digital libraries can change the way our civilization thinks, communicates ideas, and plans for a future where smarter pathways are easier to find and follow. Digital libraries are the culmination of work of so many writers, librarians, computer programmers, and all who believed in this idea. I remember in the 1990s when Project Gutenberg set about trying to digitize books that had outlived their copyrights. It was such a powerful platform to volunteer for. It was also ridiculously mundane work, copying pages into the database for the computer program to abstract the text and then reading the abstracted text to make sure the program got it right. The monotony surely deterred many, but for those that persevered the result was the infancy of the digital library. Everyone suddenly had access to all the great works of fiction that had been created over the last twenty centuries, except of course the books published in the last eighty or so years which were still under copyright. The result, you no longer had to pay to read Jules Verne or Francis Bacon, was amazing! It was a liberating idea and captured the imaginations of so many who dared to dream of what a digital library could become. These dreams allowed us to begin to actualize the idealized fantasy that so many science fiction writers had proposed, a digital library that was the gateway to everything. All of it! Books, information, music, videos, maps, research … Everything!

In Stephen Greenblatt's novel Swerve, he conjectures how the serendipitous rediscovery of one manuscript, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, changed the direction of civilization's thinking and fueled the Renaissance. There have been many achievements and triumphs in the humanities over the ages like that one: the libraries of the ancient world, like the one at Alexandria; the Laurentian library designed and built by Michaelangelo in the heart of Florence during the heart of the Renaissance; hundreds of Americans waiting on the docks in Boston to await Dickens's last chapter installment of The Old Curiosity Shop to find out if Little Nell lived; and most recently J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter septet that gave such a powerful stepping stone for so many of our newest and youngest readers. These miraculous literary accomplishments and conglomerations of literature have allowed civilization to become more absorbed by words and because of that more thoughtful, empathetic, and possibly more innovative. They have given power to the writer and lessened the power of the sword.

What did these triumphs do? What did the first libraries change? Were they just buildings with books or did they inspire something more? Aren't libraries doorways to understanding, knowledge and innovation? Did scores of people decide they would put down the sword and pick up a book instead because of libraries? Why did people wait on the docks in Boston for Dickens's last installment? What made millions pick up Rowling's books? Why has it taken so long to make books available to everyone, not just the small groups of entitled aristocrats and intelligentsia? And should they have been available to anyone searching for an answer, looking to make their job a little easier with some mechanical ingenuity, or trying to find inspiration to make their life more meaningful?

What will bring us to the point in our development as a great society where thinking is so respected and so needed that we will understand that innovation can come from making all information free to all people? This digital library technology is now in our hands. We could create a universal library resource like this if we so chose. Creating this resource is one of the remarkable shifts in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek universe that allows for his civilization to fast forward in so many ways. It is the point where innovation far outstrips the cost of personal and corporate gain. A time when ideas can be shared so easily that our ability to communicate effectively goes viral. A time when innovation puts an end to hunger, poverty, and disease, which leads to an age where disparate ideas can coexist without war. A time where innovation becomes like clockwork because there are 8 billion people all working together to find a better model, a better way.

The digital library is finally leaving its infancy and it has the potential to do as much or more than any of the other phenomenons that have battled for rational thought and the humanities, but what exactly will it do and how will it accomplish this? Will our society read more? Will we think more? Will we discuss important topics more because everything we need is at our fingertips?

I think the answers to all these questions is 'yes'. I think LUV will change the common discourse in Vermont. If people don't need to spend time driving to the library, they have more time to enjoy a book. More time to sink deeply into another person's shoes. More time to empathize with a character that is different from themselves. More time to consider our decisions and how we want to be perceived. More time to study a period in time that has always interested us. More time to learn how Michaelangelo was able to design the Laurentian Library with the materials of the time. More time to consider all the inspirational decisions and artwork that have been made. And it is with this vision that we thank the Vermont Humanities Council for their generous grant.

As Cory Doctorow writes in For The Win, there is a time when every sword becomes useless. Let's allow LUV to grow and welcome in a second Renaissance and an age of useless swords. An age of useful words.