E-Books From Your Local Library

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Libraries are trying their best to make borrowing e-books convenient, but publishers are not making it easy. See E-Books Are Easier to Borrow, Just Be Prepared to Wait. The New York Times story said that e-book borrowing is preceded by e-book waiting. I decided to take a look a virtual visit to the library in Ridgefield, CT and see for myself. I logged on to the library site and clicked on the button for downloading eMedia. The library has 1,730 e-books, but only 347 of them are available. This is what the New York Times writer meant by borrowing being preceeded by waiting. The library had just one copy of most of the e-books I looked at, and since that copy was presently loaned out, I would have to click the waiting list button and get in line to borrow the book when it is returned. The library has one copy of The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, and there are eight patrons on the waiting list to borrow it (there are dozens of patrons waiting for some books). I selected an available book and clicked to add it to my list. I proceeded to checkout, logged in with my library card number, selected a seven-day lending period (you can choose up to 14 days), and then clicked “Get for Kindle”. I was then redirected to the Amazon site where I clicked “Get Library Book” and the book downloaded to my Kindle just as if I had purchased it from Amazon. The whole process is pretty slick, easy to follow, and efficient. So what is the problem? There are several.

Why isn’t the digital inventory infinite? The library knows how many patrons it has and how many books they read per year. They could estimate how many will be e-books and establish a budget to cover the purchase of X copies for lending. I suspect the answer is that publishers don’t want to do it that way. They want to sell books the same way they have always sold books. One book at a time at a retail price. They are not about to have the book business be like the music business. Or, so they think. The other problem is the mechanics of borrowing the e-book. The process is easy for a Kindle with some publishers following the process I described. With Ken Follett’s books, however, his publisher requires that you connect your Kindle to your PC with a USB cable and then download the book. “Due to publisher restrictions, this book in the Kindle format cannot be delivered wirelessly and must be downloaded and transferred via USB.” Note that it is a publisher restriction, not a hardware or software restriction. You can click another link for instructions on How to transfer Kindle books to Kindle devices via USB.

Kindle is not the only kind of e-book, of course. Some books are in the Adobe ePub format and others are in Adobe PDF format. Each requires a different download and installation of software. The convenience of borrowing an e-book ranges from a few clicks and wireless transfer to your Kindle to a hassle of plugging your Kindle into a PC with a cable to several variations in between. Everywhere you turn, you can see content publishers clinging to the past. In my doctoral courses, the e-book textbooks we use can only be opened with Adobe Acrobat (not Preview on the Mac) and they can not be saved or transferred to an iPad, in other words e-books that can not be read on an e-reader.

Publiishers are clearly struggling to find the right model. They had made progress with the Apple deal, but then the governmnet said it was an illegal approach. Three of the five publsihers involved have agreed to revert to the model Amazon has been advocating — letting the retailer set whatever price they want. We are a long way from getting to a free market where consumers can get what they are willing to pay for. A new book arrives on the scene but you can’t get it on your Kindle until you get in line and wait. A new movie is available, but only if you go to the theatre. You spend $125 for a textbook fee, but you can’t read the book on your iPad. The good news is that there are many entrepreneurs circling the wagons, creating innovative new devices and services. The publishers can slow down progress, but they can’t stop it.