The Two Towers: Apple iBooks Author EULA vs Amazon KDP Select

Before the announcement on January 19, the hope was that Apple’s iBooks Author program would somehow kick Amazon where it hurts. Assuming that anyone can find a location that actually causes Amazon any monetary angst, that is – hunting expeditions for this locale have so far been unsuccessful.

A publishing platform that would make ebook creation easier for the educational market was another “Holy Grail” that some pundits hoped that Apple was about to tackle. I had heard some theorizing that Apple was going to “revolutionize” ebook textbook publishing with the announcement.

And it did, but not in the way that anyone had expected.

By now, you may have heard the chatter (samples here, here and here) about Apple’s Author End-User License Agreement (EULA) for producing books (iBooks) with their new program. If an author wants to be recompensed for the blood, sweat and tears they have put into their book, and they want to create it using Apple’s new program, which is supposed to be so cool, they have to be willing to sign over exclusive, absolutely exclusive, distribution rights to their work, forever. Not for a period of time, but forever. Authors can’t even sell their books on their own sites.

Now if authors want to give the book away, they can distribute it wherever they like.

Some people wanted Apple to give Amazon a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Why? Because of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, also known as Kindle Digital Selects. As a librarian, I have some issues with the program, because the public face of this program is the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where Kindle Owners can, well, borrow an ebook from Amazon without buying it. Just like at their local library.

But from the authors’ side, this appears to be a way better deal than Apple. A very detailed analysis of the pros and cons from an author’s perspective was written by Carolyn McCray and posted at Publishing Perspectives. There have also been some recent sales statistics made available by Amazon at Digital Book World showing that there is a positive ripple-effect to participation in the program, because it includes promotion on Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal mailing, which has pretty big circulation.

Authors want their books to get read, and they want to be fairly compensated. Whatever one might think about Amazon’s practices, or what they might morph into in the long-term, in the short-term, there are reports that indicate those goals are being accomplished.

And Amazon doesn’t expect a lifetime commitment when authors sign up. 90 day exclusivity may not be for everyone, but it is a much shorter term than forever. No matter how you count the days.

But a lot of people are more worried about the long-term than the short-term. Amazon is playing a very long game. As a recent NPR story put it, Amazon’s tactics are seen as ‘predatory’, because Amazon is not just an extremely huge bookseller, but they are also a publisher. Not just an ebook publisher, but a print publisher. They have more clout in more places in the publishing and bookselling business than anybody. Ever.

People were hoping that Apple’s announcement on January 19 would stick Amazon where it might hurt.

Instead, we have a situation resembling the one in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. On the one side, the dark tower of Amazon, with their huge distribution network and their “predatory” practices and their consumers locked-in to their Kindles.

On the other side, we have the white tower of Apple, signing their authors into permanent contractual servitude, telling eager potential iBook textbook creators that if they want to use the cool Apple product they either have to give their work away for free or they have to let Apple own the rights to their work forever.

And in the middle, us poor consumers, hunkering down while the electronic salvos fire overhead.

Remember that in Tolkien’s story, the white tower didn’t turn out to be any less self-serving than the dark tower once the truth was revealed. White just turned out to be the new black.


Amazon and the library redux

Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of commentary in the library world about Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library.

Most of the the library and ebook pundits go over the nitty-gritty details of the Kindle Lending Library, compare the extremely restrictive terms of Amazon’s initial foray into lending services with the vast array of library offerings, and pronounce that libraries have nothing to worry about.

ReadWriteWeb warns its readers “not to get too excited” about the prospect of rushing out to join Amazon Prime and tearing up their library cards.

My personal favorite is the post at Agnostic, Maybe that The Amazon Lending Library is NOT the Library Apocalypse. For one thing, the library apocalypse is more likely going to come as a result of shrinking budgets than anything else.

But to stretch the apocalypse metaphor further, is Amazon helping to feed the Four Horsemen’s horses? That strikes this particular pundit as a much more likely scenario.

The particulars of the Amazon deal as currently stated are very restrictive.  However, many patrons think that library policies are very restrictive. I’m not saying that they are, I am saying that everything is a matter of perspective. How many patrons have we lost for life over arguments about 15 cent or 25 cent overdue fines?

Amazon will change the structure of the deal as soon as it decides it is beneficial for them to do so. I would be willing to bet that the one book per month limit is the first thing to go. One book at a time, like Netflix, will make more sense to most users. But Amazon had to start somewhere, and they can afford to think about the very long term. Their point is to sell Kindles and to get more Prime Members. (And now, to win the probable court case.)

What members of the general public have to say is quite informative. Amazon has a lot of mindshare and the lending program has generated a lot of interest. Lending books for no additional charge used to be one service that libraries offered that was not available on the net. It was a counter to the argument that “why do we need libraries, everything is on the net now?”

The Amazon Lending Library publicity means that people know there are other alternatives on the net for borrowing books. Just because that alternative is not available to everyone now, doesn’t mean that it can’t be expanded later. And people who are making the argument to cut library funding will NOT dive into that detail. The sound bite will be enough.

Libraries do lend ebooks, and thanks to services like OverDrive and Project Gutenberg, a library’s collection can be larger and more diverse than Amazon’s, especially since OverDrive was more careful about actually securing rights instead of just assuming it could do whatever it felt like.

But commenters on the Amazon kerfuffle make the point over and over that if a user wants anything popular from the library, they have to get on a long wait list. No one likes that. What Amazon is offering, limited as it appears to a librarian, is available to any qualified user who wants it, right now. The whole point of ebooks is that a reader can have what they want, when and where they want it.

Over on Librarian by Day, a lot of statistics are used to make the case Why Amazon’s Lending Library is Not a Threat to Public Libraries. The problem is that these kind of statistics don’t move people. Sound bites and stories move people. Every statistic is absolutely correct, and it all sounds like “preaching to the choir”. Anyone who is already convinced that libraries are necessary will be swayed by these facts. Anyone who wants to believe that we can all be replaced by an electronic device, or who just loves bright, shiny toys, or who is simply willing to be convinced because they want to lower their taxes, is going to follow the marketing, and Amazon does great marketing.

We can expect that Amazon will learn from the rollout of its lending program, make changes, and improve it, making it more attractive to its users.  But as was asked over at the E-Content blog at American Libraries, “Can we learn from it?

Amazon presents a challenge to libraries, not because this particular service is better than what libraries currently offer, but just because they generate a huge amount of press and they used the word “library” in their announcement. But what will we as librarians make of this challenge?

Amazon wants to be your library

We’ve all read the news by now. Amazon has gone into the library business. And as the Baltimore Sun described it on November 3, this is bad news for libraries.

Amazon’s announcement on November 3 of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library is a masterpiece of marketing. But the service it offers, at the price point that Amazon is willing to provide it, is a direct shot across the bow of every public library in America.

Any Amazon Prime customer is automatically a subscriber to the new service. There is just one catch. The service only works if you have an actual Kindle! No Kindle app users need apply.

But an Amazon Prime subscription only costs $79 per year, and includes pretty much the same video streaming as Netflix, in addition to 2-day shipping on everything in the Amazon marketplace. For people who do a lot of their shopping through Amazon, this is a great deal. I’m not currently one of those people, but the Netflix to Amazon comparison may make it worthwhile on that cost alone. I can’t say we’re not thinking about it.

The current cost of the lowest price Kindle is $79. That’s a one time cost. Has anyone noticed that three of the very prominently displayed titles in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library are The Hunger Games Trilogy? This can’t be a coincidence. The Hunger Games ebooks are not available to libraries through OverDrive. They are available as audio through OverDrive, but not as ebooks. Scholastic does have a deal with Amazon to lend through their lending program, but not through public libraries.

Currently, the “Big Six” publishers do not participate in Amazon’s lending library. That’s Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Hachette. But then, two of those six, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, don’t participate in the library lending space, and HarperCollins’ participation brings up the number 26 and a whole lot of curse words.

But the lending library program is merely another string in Amazon’s bow. Let’s look at what it is again. Any Kindle owner who is already part of Prime Services can borrow one book per month for 30 days, no overdue fees and no hold queues. No muss, no fuss, no additional charges, on a platform they are already familiar with.

What Amazon gets out of this transaction is data, which is also what they get out of allowing Kindle users to borrow OverDrive ebooks from the libraries. They get more data about what people are reading on their Kindles, and they get the opportunity to sell them more Kindle books targeted to them based on that data. Amazon wins big on this.

But I have to contrast the Amazon service with a recent experience at a local library. I decided to finally read the second book in an older mystery series, the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd. I listened to Test of Will on a car trip, liked it, and wanted to find Wings of Fire. The library didn’t have it, I don’t want to own it, so I tried interlibrary loan. ILL costs $2. The ebook only costs $7.99. I almost bought it, but I still don’t have a need to own it, and organizing my ebooks is getting to be a chore. I wasn’t worried about how long it would take for the book to arrive, so the month it took to get here was no big deal.

I have three weeks to read it. Not a serious problem for me, I’m used to shorter deadlines, but a nuisance. On the other hand, there’s a 20 cent per day fee if it’s overdue. Since I know the ebook cost $7.99, I’m starting to wonder why I didn’t just buy it, except I’ve already paid $2. And there’s a bookmark in the book to let me know that if I lose or damage the book I’ll automatically be charged $50 until my library settles up with the library that actually owns the book. Since the copy I have is the hardcover, that wouldn’t be $50, but it would be more than $7.99. Obviously, I need to keep the cats away from the book.

I understand about cost recovery. I’ve made all those arguments myself. And multiple times, at that. But I still won’t do another ILL for a book that’s available for under $10 as an ebook. Why? Because the experience is all negative from my perspective. I place the request, and I wait. The book comes in, and I have to figure out when the branch it’s at is open, which is a big issue here. I pay for the ILL, and then I get served with a series of warnings, because the presumption is that I will do something wrong. Those warning labels are attached to the book, just in case I forget them. Then I have to return the book, or I will have to pay again.

The Amazon experience is neutral or positive, and this is true for any ebook purchase from Barnes and Noble and Google and Apple as well. The book is there or it isn’t. Amazon has the special case of the lending library. So someone can borrow it or they can’t. If it’s available for purchase, and I’m willing to pay, I buy it. It automatically downloads to my device, which is already set up from my previous purchases. I’m done. No further charges, no need to go anywhere, no warnings, no fines, no delays. And some potentially helpful suggestions about other books I might like. I’m free to browse further or ignore them and dive into my new book.

Libraries need to be different and good and positive about it. Always. All the time. Whenever we face the public. Are we? If we’re not, Amazon has the potential to do to us what they helped do to Borders.

Introducing Ebook Review Central

So what is “Ebook Review Central“? I’m so glad you asked.

Every Monday, Ebook Review Central will publish a list of all the ebooks published by a particular publisher the previous month, with links to all the published reviews.  Today’s first issue contains all the Carina Press titles for September 2011, along with links to all the reviews as of Sunday, 10/23/11.

In the upcoming weeks I will do the same thing for Dreamspinner Press and Samhain Publishing. I would be interested in hearing from you, the readers, your suggestions for which publisher or publishers to include for week 4. After the 4th week, I’ll cycle around to Carina’s October titles, and back through Dreamspinner and Samhain and “the player to be named later” again.

Why am I doing this? People decide what books to buy based on browsing at a bookstore or recommendations. Ebook-only books can’t be browsed in a bookstore, so we all blog to create more recommendations when we like a book. But each of us blogs about the books we like, and it’s fantastic.

But, when a reader is undecided, where do they go? Amazon or Goodreads, and not all of us post our reviews there. Sometimes none of us. And that debate is for another post someday. Yet an ebook may have tons of reviews.

Also, I’m a librarian by training. Librarians need a place where they can find reviews of ebooks, just like they do print books.  Their budgets are tight. They want to add ebooks from ebook-only publishers, but if they can only buy 3 or 5 Carina Press titles this month and 3 or 5 Dreamspinner titles this month, there is no place to go to find which ones were the best. Ebook Review Central will be that place.

A question that will be asked, because I had to ask myself when I created this, is why the one month delay? Why am I only publishing the September titles now, when it’s already mid-October?

It takes about a month for the blogosphere to generate reviews for all the titles. I wanted to put up last week’s titles this week, but when I started my research, half the titles weren’t reviewed yet.  When I looked at last month’s titles, almost everything had a review someplace. That won’t always be 100% true, but at least it turns out to be a reasonable way to bet.

One other note: Amazon and Goodreads will not be listed as review sources unless that was the only thing I could find.

If you have suggestions, let me know. If you find this useful, definitely let me know. I will update published lists, so if later reviews are published, or if you have a review that should be listed but I missed (Google is good, but it is not perfect), send email to

Kindle OverDrive

Kindle books have arrived at an OverDrive library near you!  Or they will any minute now. The two libraries I have access to (I only moved in June, my old library card hasn’t expired yet) both have it.

Does it work? Yes, it works. I tried it, and got an  ebook. It works for Kindle apps, not just Kindles.

So, what does this mean?

This is a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that more people will want to use the library’s resources. The good news  is that more people will be aware that the library has something that they want. In the ereader marketplace, more than 70% of the market is owned by Amazon and its Kindle.  And it’s a very big market. The Harris Poll released on September 19 shows that one in six Americans has an ereader. More than two-thirds of those ereaders are Kindles. Until this week, Kindle owners were unserved by libraries, today they aren’t. That’s a big influx of users into an already rising tide.

The other huge part of this is mindshare. When most people see someone using an ereader, they automatically think “Kindle”, no matter what the device is. I have an iPad, and to most folks of the even slightly geeky persuasion, iPads are very different from Kindles. But in airports, people will still ask me, “Is that a Kindle?” To a lot of people, Kindles mean ebooks. Now that libraries serve Kindle books, we’ve arrived. We know we were already there, but this is a major PR moment that libraries can grab.

And we need to grab it, because this is going to have some…not so good impacts too. Ebook usage was already rocketing skyward in public libraries. Adding the huge number of Kindle owners to the borrower pool is going to send those numbers into the next galaxy. So this will increase demand on a finite supply. Not a finite supply of bits and bytes, but a finite supply of dollars and cents. Library budgets have been slashed everywhere. If demand for ebooks increases exponentially, that does not mean that demand for print books will decrease exponentially. Yes, it is possible, even probable that some users will switch from print books to ebooks if ebooks are available, but not everyone in every format.

We should use this opportunity to promote ourselves and get all the good spin out of this we can. Amazon certainly is. When a Kindle user selects the “Get for Kindle” option from the library’s OverDrive site, they go through a normal library checkout process, and then they are transferred to Amazon’s site for the download. When the user completes the download, what do they see? Other Amazon Kindle titles recommended for them to purchase, based on whatever they just downloaded from your library.

Today, Kindle users can borrow ebooks from their local library. The Harris Poll also confirmed previous studies that ereader owners read more books and buy more ebooks. Amazon gets the library borrowers out of the library site and onto the Amazon site in order to try to sell them more ebooks. There isn’t anything wrong with that. That’s why Amazon is in business in the first place. OverDrive finally gets to offer a Kindle option. That piece has been missing from their service for eons. This is a very big win for OverDrive.

And this is a big win for libraries. Not just because we can finally say “yes” when Kindle owners ask us if they can borrow ebooks. Saying “yes” is definitely better than saying “no”. But because being part of this revolution/evolution could be a way of getting focus on the library for something relatively cool, and we have a chance to leverage that focus into support.

Reading vacation now please

I keep daydreaming about this article in Salon titled “Reading Retreats“. What biblioholic wouldn’t love this idea? A week, or two, or four (four?) in some beautiful, secluded spot, cozied up with a mountain of books.  Along with room service, some place to take long walks for thinking, a nice town to visit occasionally for a change of scenery, and of course, my husband.

Every one of the options profiled in the article is different. A small castle in Italy with shared cooking and shared bathrooms. A solo retreat to a monastery near Birmingham in the UK. Going to rural Bulgaria to stay at a guest house and being part of a week-long book group, reading the same books as well as staying in the same house with the group. The one I liked best with the London School of Life, where the vacation includes a customized list of books based on a pre-vacation interview and a stay at a contemporary house somewhere in the English countryside.

But the real point of it all is the time. We actually did this in early December 2010 by taking a Caribbean cruise with WindStar. We didn’t think we’d be cruise people, but the concept was that it would be too expensive to be online either aboard ship or outside the U.S. territories. It wasn’t necessarily intended as a reading vacation, but it turned out that way. And we didn’t bring print books, just the Nook and Galen’s Sony. The point was to disconnect and relax. So no computer, no iPhone, no video games, no internet. A real, honest-to-goodness chance to disconnect and relax.

One of the really interesting social experiments was to see the percentage of people who were using an eReader of some type. This was pre-Xmas and there were clearly more than a third, maybe as many as half of the passengers using eReaders, mostly Kindles. And this was in a demographic that clearly skewed Baby Boomer and upwards. Other passengers did approach us to ask about our “Kindles”, which was always fun, especially as neither of our “Kindles” was actually a “Kindle”. But it gave us a chance to talk about books and the ebook reading experience with interesting people.

I succumbed to the impulse to bring more books than I needed. But since there is no extra weight to ebooks, for the first time this was not a problem. I still have books from that trip I haven’t read, but they transferred to my iPad just fine. I read Jeri Westerson’s entire medieval noir series. And both of Ilona Andrews’ Edge series. I was able to finish Celine Kiernan’s Moorehawke Trilogy with Rebel Prince, and indulge my romantic tastes with Bound by Honor, by Collette Gale. This is in no way a definitive list. Galen and I traded eReaders in the middle of the trip, and some of the books I read are on his Sony. I had a much easier time trying to find stuff on his reader than he did on mine!

But I definitely understand the appeal of a long reading vacation. By the end of the week-long cruise, we were talking about booking the two-week trans-Atlantic crossing, just for the reading break. But for a trip that long, we would bring computers, mostly for writing. And our Xbox. And the Nook, and the Sony. And both iPads.

The hits to the book just keep on coming

There  have been a lot of announcements this week that have made an awful lot of folks in an awful lot of places sound like Chicken Little announcing that, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

In Publisher’s Weekly, there was a report that ebook sales were up 169% in January and February 2011 over previous year sales, and that March was also up 145.7%. In real money, for the first quarter of 2011, e-book sales were up 159.8%, to $233.1 million for the 16 publishers who report figures to the American Association of Publishers (AAP). And mass market paperback sales were only $123.3 million for the first quarter for the same group. Still money I’d like to have in my pocket, but the trend line is pretty clear.

Also yesterday, Amazon announced that sales of Kindle books have outstripped sales of hardcover and paperbooks combined.  For every 100 print books that they sell, they sell 105 Kindle books. And Amazon was very clear in the announcement that they meant sell, not give away.  Free Kindle books were not included in that 105 number, only actual sales. It does seem to include sales of Kindle books where there is no print edition, but that would be perfectly fair, since the print sales would include books where there is no Kindle edition. As Amazon points out, the Kindle was only introduced in November 2007. This revolution has happened in only 3.5 years.  Gutenberg must be absolutely spinning in his grave.

Ironically, the place I first saw the announcement was on aarlist2, a yahoo group that discusses romance novels. And most of the commentary was negative.  This is ironic because the romance genre readership as a whole has embraced electronic publishing, and there are several publishing houses that are e-only. Harlequin‘s entire current catalog is published simultaneously in epub and print, and they have an imprint (Carina Press) that is e-only.

Which brings me to the third announcement of the week. Early in the week, Library Journal and NetGalley announced that LJ would be including reviews of ebook only releases in Xpress Reviews, starting with romance.  Romance ebooks are the hottest genre among ebook readers in public libraries.  At my LPOW, romance ebook circulation was double-plus the next nearest contending genre. Anything I purchased circulated, and the hotter, the better. But without any review source whatsoever, I was purchasing based on tiny blurbs in OverDrive. It was pretty much guesswork. Getting something out there in the review space should be a good thing. (Full disclosure, I am one of the reviewers for LJ)

As a side note to the Amazon announcement, they also touted that the new Kindle with Special Offers, in other words, the Kindle with lots of advertisements, is now the best selling Kindle on the market. In order to save $25, people are willing to have ads pushed at them with their books. Indefinitely. There is an article in the latest issue of Fast Company about Morgan Spurlock’s new movie. The article is called, “I’m with the brand,” and it’s all about how product placement works in movies and TV. This new Kindle is just more of the same, except it’s not just a one hour TV show or a two hour movie, it’s every book ever read on it. I’d pay an extra $50 to be let out. But then, that’s why I bought an iPad. I only have to gaze at the little Apple every once in a while.

Will ebooks kill print books?

What a question!

This is the title of a very provocative essay by John Dvorak recently posted on  His premise is that ebooks will serve as a sampling device for print books, and that publishers, in spite of their current “chickens crying that the sky is falling” behavior, will not just survive, but actually become more profitable in the long run.

Why?  Because as been noted in multiple sources already, including Amazon, ebook purchasers buy more ebooks.  It’s less expensive than a hardback for the consumer, and it’s way easier.  Then there’s that instant gratification factor.  People who want to read something NOW, get the ebook. 

But Dvorak’s contention is that collectors and book lovers will pick up a print version for the books they really, really want to own.  In other words, that people will use the ebook as a sampling service.  That some categories, like beach reading, may switch to mostly electronic, but types where a person will collect or want to refer back, book lovers will actually purchase a print copy of something they truly love after they have read it in electronic.

This is an extension of the library borrowing phenomenon, where library users sample an author by borrowing the book from the library, then if they like the book, start buying.  Bookstores locate themselves near libraries by this logic. One of my FPOWs had two major bookstores plunk themselves down within two blocks of its main library for this very reason.

Also, very few old technologies really get killed by new ones.  The old ones just morph and find a new niche.  CDs did not kill LPs, actually LPs are on the rise again.  Now 8-track is pretty dead, and cassette looks like it’s going the way of the dinosaur.  But radio found a niche of its own.  TV didn’t kill movies, although the economy may be another thing.  But that’s not one technology wiping out another, that’s something different entirely.  The Great Recession is wrecking havoc all over the place.

But speaking of old technologies that never die–I was directed to the Dvorak piece by a link from rec.arts.sf.written.  This is the linear descendant of a Usenet news group devoted to the discussion of written science fiction.  It is now a Google group, but it has been active since practically the dawn of Internet time.  And it’s still going strong.  And still acting on it’s original purpose, the discussion of written science fiction.  Yes, it digresses.  But no more than any other discussion by any other group of somewhat like-minded individuals. And the link to Dvorak’s essay isn’t much of a digression.  Whether written SF will be available in ebook only or print or both is pretty much on topic, and, the whole concept was presaged in Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, which is very much SF.

But widespread email and RSS feeds and Facebook haven’t killed Usenet.  The new technologies did not wipe out all trace of the old.  The useful and relevant parts adapted and carried on.  In fact, the amount of Usenet traffic has steadily increased in the past 15 years.  Ebooks most likely won’t wipe out print books either.  As one of the rec.arts.sf folks pointed out, endpaper maps on a Kindle are sheer torture.  They are better on an iPad, but then, it’s easy to be better than absolutely putrid.  The technology for ebook readers and iPads will get better, but my big illustrated Lord of the Rings and complete annotated Sherlock Holmes canon are still better in print form.  And probably will be for quite a while.

Snowball careening downhill–look out below!

In the April 27 Industry News from Publisher’s Weekly, Amazon reported that sales in their ebook division jumped 63% in the first quarter of 2011.  That was pretty much their good news.   Their bad news, underlaying a certain amount of spin, was that even though revenues were up across the board, their actual income was down.  What’s up with that?  Amazon is investing in even more technology and more infrastructure to meet ever-increasing demands.

According to the report, Kindle owners are larger-volume ebook buyers than non-Kindle owners.  That can’t be a surprise, considering that Kindle owners are locked into purchasing ebooks from Amazon.  This is a marketing strategy that is older than dirt, after all.  The earlier version went something like this: “the razor is cheap, it’s the blades that are expensive.”  The new, cheaper advertising-supported Kindle is being released early in order to take even greater advantage of this.

Amazon’s recent announcement that they will provide Kindle format ebooks via Overdrive is also part of this strategy.  Up until this week, Kindle owners couldn’t borrow ebooks from their libraries.  Now, they know they will soon be able to, for an admittedly undefined value of soon.  This eliminates a clear advantage that Barnes and Noble’s Nook had.  However, to recap the latest round of the ereader wars, B&N just announced a major upgrade to the color Nook that pushes it way above just an ereader.  The review of the new color Nook in this morning’s USA Today shows that the new Color Nook is more of a baby Android powered iPad than just an ereader.

But back to the point about Kindles, what this means is, more reasons for people to buy Kindles or fewer reasons for people not to buy Kindles, so, more Kindles out there.  And Kindle owners buy more ebooks from Amazon than non-Kindle owners, however else they might get their ebooks.  The announcement about the Amazon/Overdrive deal got an amazing amount of press for something relating to libraries, but it was all related to the fact that the name “Amazon” was in it.  Amazon got a lot of mindshare out of something that will probably cost them next to nothing.

It’s also clear from the sheer numbers that ebook buyers actually buy more books than print book buyers.  No surprise there.  If you are sitting in an airport, shopping for ebooks before your flight, guessing what you’ll like, there is a certain amount of glee at the sheer ease of purchasing without having to think of carrying the things.  There are other factors.  Ebooks are still generally cheaper than hardcovers, Michael Connelly notwithstanding.  There is also the instant gratification factor that simply can’t be underestimated.

What does this mean for libraries?  Just Amazon saying that Kindle users would be able to borrow ebooks from libraries generated huge press, even without specifics.  Demand for ebooks, which is already huge, is going to skyrocket.  The amount of general interest press that covered the Amazon announcement showed that ebooks and ereaders have reached well beyond techies and young people and whatever early adopter market people might have thought and spread well into general users everywhere.  For anyone who doubts this, next time you travel, while you are at the airport waiting for your flight, just look around at the number of people reading on ereaders or iPads vs. “dead tree” books.  The percentage will be 1/3 or more.

Many public libraries have the collection philosophy “give ’em what they want”.  It is due to that philosophy that we have invested heavily in best selling fiction, and moved as deeply as we have into AV material.  But ebooks seem like a whole new ball game in some ways.  Especially since we are trying to divide a budget pie that is shrinking into an increasing number of pieces, and ebooks are just another piece.  The same title is now demanded in print, large print, audiobook, ebook, and eaudio, and multiple copies of each.  Meanwhile the demands for DVDs, music and children’s material certainly have not gone away.  Because ebooks are new, it can seem simplest not to invest, or not to invest a lot, to say that there isn’t enough demand in the community, or that the library can’t afford it. Or that people still want print books, not ebooks.  But if you build a good ebook collection, they will come.  It takes time and money.  Unfortunately, those are the two commodities no library seems to have enough of these days.

However, the demand for ebooks is like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill and picking up speed, as well as rocks and twigs, as it rolls down.  If your library has that philosophy of “give ’em what they want”, then ebooks are looking more and more like what a significant segment of the public wants. The trick will be smoothing the rocks and twigs out of that snowball as we give it to them.

OverDrive and Amazon and Kindles

People who have Amazon Kindles will finally be able to borrow ebooks from their local library.  This is a good thing for user service, whatver questions librarians may have about the forces that are moving behind the scenes on this one.

Why do I say this is a good thing for user service?  Saying yes beats this scenario–excited patron calls up, because they just purchased a new Kindle and they want to borrow ebooks from their local library.  The staff has to tell them that the library doesn’t have anything for them, and has no way of knowing if they ever will.  Patron is generally upset, because, well, they just bought this new toy and want to use it.  Patrons do not want to understand about formats, they don’t care about Amazon’s lock-in on its consumers (if they did, they wouldn’t have bought a Kindle in the first place), and they pay taxes in the community and they feel entitled to the services they paid for.  If ebooks are available for other people, they should be available for everyone.  There is no survivable way to explain to a taxpayer that they should have done their research first.  For front-end service, this solves a major problem.

But all the questions about exactly how this is going to work are still open.  Based on OverDrive’s own blogpost/press release, they are going to simply make any ebook currently available to libraries available in Kindle format in addition to the current formats.  Whether this means both PDF and ePUB or just ePUB remains to be seen.  The OverDrive blog is very clear that there will not be anything available that isn’t available now, so Simon & Schuster and Macmillan are not coming to the library table, and the 26 lending limit for Harper Collins titles will still be crosses that libraries have to bear.  Or, to put it another way, #HCOD is alive and well, and it has been joined by #AZOD.

There is an awful lot that we still don’t know about this deal.  Just because there is no “up front” cost to libraries to add the Kindle format ebooks, doesn’t mean this won’t somehow figure into OverDrive’s platform fee.  And it probably has to.  And it’s worth it to be able to say “yes” to all those patrons instead of “no”.  But many libraries would prefer to see the price tag openly, and opt in or out accordingly. 

All the press releases agree that users will be able to retain their margin notes from one checkout to another, but none say how that will work.  It sounds like patron data is being retained, but by whom?  By Amazon?  Is that opt-in or opt-out, or is there any option at all?  OverDrive says that “users’ confidential information will be protected”, but who is deciding what is confidential, and who is doing the protecting?

Also, when is this actually going to happen?  Library users who have Kindles have probably been calling their local libraries all day.  Saying “soon” will only hold them for so long. 

Has anyone else noticed that this announcement came very hard on the heels of the announcement about Recorded Books moving their digital audio to Ingram?  And that was on top of the Ingram/OCLC announcement about making ebooks available to ILL through Ingram.  Wouldn’t it be great if a second player with good contacts in the industry challenged OverDrive for their monopoly?