The interface is us – what people think about ebooks

This is shaping up to be the year that people really start seeing ebooks and libraries as things that can go together. ReadWriteWeb just made this post about the Internet Archive getting into the ebook lending business, both via its collection of freely available ebooks as well as a pilot program with a small subset of libraries. This is terrific. It is also confusing. I followed the links in the press release and on the Internet Archive site itself and could not figure out exactly how I’d go about borrowing a book if I was a part of a member library (I have a Boston Public Library card). That said, wow the interface itself is knockout and just made me want to click around and mess with it.

Oddly the minor problem I had, and it is minor, is the same as the complaint that people who have used OverDrive via their own library to try to read ebooks. This reporter from the Wall Street Journal explains the headache that is trying to search OverDrive for available titles, those that are available for checkout. In order to check out and download an ebook, which I eventually did, I had to

- Search Open Library for ebooks
- Find one with a “borrow” icon next to it. OL also offers DAISY format for people who are visually impaired as well as many books that can be read locally.
- Get redirected to a search on OverDrive’s site saying “nothing available.” Redo search on OverDrive’s site to find this title available.
- Click WorldCat’s “find in a library” option and type in my zipcode
- Figure out that book is or is not available from my local library. Start again.
- When I find a book that is available, click through to my local library catalog & click “add to cart” to return to OverDrive (if book is available, which it sometimes isn’t)
- Take side trip to download Adobe Digital Editions (much less painful than previous OverDrive software experience)
- Proceed to “checkout” on OverDrive after entering a library card number that I think will work
- Download book. Read book.

So, not terribly bad and I think better interfaces and interactions between websites will make this process much more seamless. Right now I had to interact with Open Library, OverDrive, WorldCat, my library’s branded OverDrive page and my library catalog. At several stages during this process there are varying levels of “availability” of an item. Specifically.

- Book is shown in Open Library but is not available at a library I have access to.
- Book is available at a library I have access to, but not in the format I am looking for.
- Book is available at a library I have access to in the format I want but has been “checked out.”

Currently there is no one way to do a search for an ebook and have a result say “Yes we have it, it’s in this format, and it’s available NOW” I am optimistic that it is a matter of time before this is working and Open Library is currently making this work better than anyone else. Update: the Palm Beach County Library has a really nice interface that makes it a lot more clear what’s there and what’s actually available.

ebooks and what they call “lending” a summary

You may have read recently that Kindle has implemented a lending “feature” which could really be barely called lending. I’m not sure what it’s good for, but people have pointed out that other ereaders have lending options too. Jane over at Dear Author, a romance review blog I had not previously read, compares the different e-reader lending features. [via]

how did they get those numbers: ebooks

Amazon likes to make you think that they are selling ebooks at a tremendous rate. And they are, compared to hardcover books. But when you add paperbacks into the mix, and then extrapolate to what Amazon’s share of the ebook market is (90%) ebooks market dominance seems much less gigantic. Longer discussion over at Slashdot.

Jason Griffey explains ebooks and DRM

Ebooks aren’t just electronic books. They are a combination of certain file types, certain readers and certain software designed to keep people from migrating away from the approved file type and reader combinations. Confused? Jason Griffey explains.

To every reader their … ebook?

Peter Hirtle looks into licensing and whether libraries can legally lend e-book readers on the LibraryLaw blog.

how to destroy the book

I’m still sort of annoyed at Amazon’s self-serving press release about more ebooks being sold for the Kindle on Christmas Day than “real” books. I feel a few things

1. they’re creating a distinction that isn’t necessary, between ebooks and paper books
2. at the same time they’re obscuring the very very real distinction that exists and is terribly important: you do not own an ebook, you license or lease it

Plus I just plain old don’t believe it. I mean maybe it’s true for the narrowly sliced timeframe they’ve outlined but really? This isn’t a trend, it’s a blip. Want me to think otherwise? Release some actual numbers. Amazon makes more money off of ebooks than paper books. They’d like to keep doing that. So.

I’ve been meaning to link to this talk for a while, a transcribed talk that Cory Doctorow gave at the National Reading Summit in November. The title of his talk was How to Destroy the Book. I think you’ll enjoy it.

[T]he most important part of the experience of a book is knowing that it can be owned. That it can be inherited by your children, that it can come from your parents. That libraries can archive it, they can lend it, that patrons can borrow it. That the magazines that you subscribe to can remain in a mouldering pile of National Geographics in someone’s attic so you can discover it on a rainy day—and that they don’t disappear the minute you stop subscribing to it. It’s a very odd kind of subscription that takes your magazines away when you’re done [as is the case with most institutional subscriptions with Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of medical and scientific journals].

Having your books there like an old friend, following you from house to house for all the days and long nights of your life: this is the invaluable asset that is in publishing’s hands today. But for some reason publishing has set out to convince readers that they have no business reading their books as property—that they shouldn’t get attached to them. The worst part of this is that they may in fact succeed.

The book, terms of service

One of the things that’s so vexing about the ebook back and forth is the people who think that issues with ebooks are all about people being fussy about reading off of screens and the like. In fact, for me, it’s much more the availablility, DRM, licensing and other issues that make me feel that ebooks are not ready for prime time. To drive a point home, here’s Matthew Battles [of Unquiet History fame] with his notion of a Book: Terms of Service.

sony reader works with ebooks and libraries, sort of

The new Sony Reader, the biggest competition to the Kindle, is supposedly going to be able to check out digital books from libraries that use the Overdrive service. I guess this begs the obvious question: why go to the library for this service at all? I guess that Overdrive just bulk offers the checkoutability service to libraries (hello restrictive DRM!) which is something but man I just wish their service were better and easier to use.

can you loan out a kindle?

Library Journal announced last week that Brigham Young University had received a verbal okay from Amazon to start lending Kindles in their library. This week it appears that they’ve suspended the program until they can get written permission. While I totally understand the concerns on both sides here, I’d really like it if libraries sometimes erred on the side of continuing to do whatever it was that they were doing, in good faith, and let the vendors let them know if they’re not doing something correctly. It’s a little weird to me that Amazon has invested all this time and money into an ebook reader and has no policy about what the legal/copyright concerns are with using it in a library. Can someone please force this issue?

update: There is an interesting story making the blog rounds about just how much of the Kindle’s policies and DRM weirdnesses remain mysterious, even to the people who work at Amazon.

digital media and accessibility, the kindle 2

I don’t have a Kindle. That said, I accept the inevitability of the idea that more and more of our reading content is going to be delivered digitally. That’s why I think it’s important to understand these tools even if they offer limited utility for us or our patrons at the time. The Kindle has “accessibility” features built into it that allow a book to be read out loud via the Kindle. This is great news — and probably also legally necessary — for people with various reading disabilities ranging from visual disabilities to text-based learning disabilities. However, the Kindle also allows publishers to remotely disable text-to-speech (TTS) options in books that you may already have on your Kindle. And publishers are doing this, a little, at the urging of the Authors Guild.

The Authors Guild, for their part, has issued this statement about the situation which, on first reading, does make a certain amount of sense. As a librarian I’m more concerned about the overarching issues of digital rights management and the notion that even though you’ve nominally purchased a book (perhaps at a loss for Amazon) you still have an item that is, in part, controlled by its creator who can alter the item according to the license terms you agreed to. A little more about this on Slashdot.