an ebook is not a book, discuss?

I had a busy week. It wrapped up in the lovely state of Maine where I got to talk about the digital divide and ebooks to a bunch of Maine librarians. The digital divide talk is probably one you’ve seen various versions of, but the ebooks one is more or less new. My assertion is that the problem of ebooks is the problem of multiple perspectives [readers and authors and publishers and librarians don’t even agree on the landscape, much less the trees] as well as the problem of metaphors. At its core, one of the difficulties in teaching people about technology is that it’s teaching people to manage real invisible things [files, websites, social content] through a series of metaphors [“folders” “tagging” “friending”] that are more or less complex depending on people’s level of existing knowledge. While the printed word and language generally is something of a metaphor, you can read a book without really having to think about that level of abstraction. We’re not there yet with ebooks and the metaphors confuse the reality, a reality that is still shifting, hopefully moving towards if not some standards, at least some etiquette.

In any case, both talks are here. I got a lot of good feedback on my general topic from Twitter and other social media interchange arenas. Thanks to those who helped me with this, and thanks to the nice librarians from Maine for coming to listen and talk.

the future of the book is ….

The future of the book, the printed book, is up in the air. People stand to make a lot of money if they can convince you that their version of the future of print and reading is correct. Many of us would just like to separate the wheat from the chaff and keep delivering good content to various sorts of readers, from now until forever. The Green Mountain Library Consortium released their statement about Harper Collins this week which, while not as strong as I personally would have liked, I think sends a “hey man, not cool” message and at least sends a “hey we’re paying attention” message which I think is the important part. In the meantime, there are a lot of people who have a fairly good understanding of the general ebook situation who are deciding to poke a bit of fun at the crazy world we’re currently inhabiting. John Scalzi has made an electronic publishing bingo card which, while amusing in and of itself, has a weath of great discussion in the comments.

I’ll note that I spent a good chunk of time over this past week going over my page proofs [again] and yet I have no idea at all what the ebook for my book will look like or even what format(s) it will be available in. I can’t wait for this in-between time to be over with.

A readers bill of rights for digital books

I’m going to be on the road at SXSW for the next week. People who are also going should come to my panel on Friday at 5, or attend one of the librarian meetups. And say hi if you see me, here is my schedule. In the meantime I’ll be keeping an eye on the #HMOD debacle and polishing up places to put this logo. The site, ReadersBillofRights.info, says “Please use these images in support of our work against DRM with the Readers’ Bill of Rights for Digital Books.” Nice list of associated things to read down the righthand side there.

Harper Collins vs. Libraries – battling for the future of lending digital content

There are other where blogs you can read more about this. The upshot is that OverDrive sent out a “State of OverDrive” letter which had some concerning news in it. The Librarian in Black outlines the primary issues. The big deal is that one publisher, Harper Collins, wants to dramatically change its ebook terms such that once you “buy” an ebook to be distributed via overdrive, it can circulate 26 times and then no more. Keep in mind that OverDrive is acceding to these requests, so I think we rightfully have a bone to pick with them as well. BoingBoing gives you some information on why this sort of DRM situation is bad for libraries, bad for people.

There are some other things in the OverDrive note including them starting to be hardasses with libraries about who is in their geographical region, to make sure libraries aren’t, I guess, defrauding OverDrive and giving cards to any old person so that they can rip OverDrive off? The mind boggles. I call this meddling. Bobbi Newman has a good and updated summary of who is saying what about this and this Library Journal article about it is replete with comments.

Now is really the time for us to step up and use our excellent collective buying power to say that this sort of thing is not at all okay. I am sorry if OverDrive is realizing that their revenue model isn’t as terrific as they maybe thought it would be, but this is overstepping what a decent vendor/library model should look like. I just get this weird feeling that in these tough economic times, OverDrive and book publishers, forgetting that libraries are some of their best and most enduring customers, have decided to see how they can get more money for fewer services. At the same time, they’re treating libraries as if we’re the ones responsible for publishers’ revenue problems. Shame on both Harper Collins for being tough guys and OverDrive for giving in to these demands.

Publishers and vendors: we will work with you to find ways to lend digital content. You need to not treat libraries as if they’re contributing to your demise.