Friday, December 2, 2011

Dude, where's my ebook server?...or a suggestion for a new ebook distribution model

In my reader this morning there was an item pointing to a post about the conversion of movie theater projectors from 35 mm to digital...I'll wait if you want to take 10 to go read it:

Obersvations on Film: Pandora's digital box

OK, glad you're back. What'd you think? A method of kick-starting the digital conversion of movie theaters and making everyone happy at the bank (which I hope you noticed were at the top of the pyramid in the money flowchart). The Virtual Print Fee (VPF) and third-party integrators sounds similar to an idea I've seen batted around related to ebooks for a while now. I know that there are big differences between how movies are shown in theaters and how libraries lend books (one-to-many versus a one-to-one). What really got me is the model. If you missed it here it is:

So to put this in a library context we replace studios with publishers, exhibitors with libraries, and movies with ebooks. I would propose, however, that instead of the equipment perhaps being reading devices that it be servers. This could be servers with existing hardware and specification or even newly developed standards that the publishing houses would trust to be housed within libraries.

The post mentioned too that the actual files are currently delivered on hardrives via FedEx or UPS. Libraries already have experience much like the theaters with handling large volumes of physical manifestations of information objects. Libraries, however, have the advantage in that we already have staff well-versed in the technical side of uploading files to servers and authentication.

Publishers, such as Penguin (see: Overdrive, removing of books from) at this stage of the game are concerned about pirates and security to the point of cutting off an entire market. The important question for this plan is whether or not they would trust libraries to house their ebooks behind our own firewalls? So far publishers are generally more interested in creating their own systems or partnering with one of the big players like EBSCO or Gale to hop on existing systems. This new system would force any creator selling content to take the risk that the library can keep content safe. The movie studio-theater model already has a rigorous, highly-detailed specification for security that most likely addresses many publisher's concerns.

Being able to bring the data in-house has incredible advantages too for collection development and patron services. For the first time librarians would have access to the kind of ebook usage data that some have complained is available to Overdrive or Amazon but not to libraries. Think of the power of knowing which books or genres are not just checked out but for how long and to which devices!

I am sure that this won't solve every problem with ebook distribution, and there is also a significant way to go until publishers will entrust their content directly to libraries. A good, long discussion and equal treatment between publishers and librarians, though, could go a long way.

I'd really like to know what you think. Leave a comment or shoot me a message @libgroves

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