…and so it begins (the eBook revolution that is)

A few weeks ago I watched Eli Neiburger’s 2 part presentation entitled: Libraries at the Tipping Point – How eBooks Impact Libraries. The thrust of his argument? Libraries are screwed. But are they really?

The jury is still out of course, because none of us has a crystal ball or a time machine that works. We can make our best guesses and depending on whether you are a half-full / half-empty type of person, the future of libraries either looks very bright or very bleak.

I’m quite optimistic actually. This isn’t a zero-sum situation we’re dealing with here (although many alarmists would have us think so). I don’t see eReaders replacing books altogether. We are looking at a delivery system that will serve some needs some of the time, but not all needs all of the time. Will the ratio be 50/50? Probably not. More like 60/40, in favor of digital content. Books will hold their own because they don’t have to be plugged in or recharged, they don’t require any technical know-how or the purchase of any special devices. Digital files become outdated and/or corrupted. Books are a simple, beautiful invention that as a “technology” have proven their worth over and over again. We will not be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, eReaders are great and will find their niche and flourish, but not to the extent to cause the death of the book. Even when people are downloading eContent, either through legal or illegal means, they still continue to buy books too. As author Neil Gaiman explains online availability of his novels has only increased his print sales, not diminished them.

I see an upside to all this: if the majority of bestsellers are downloaded onto eReaders that leaves more room on the library’s shelves for authors who don’t publish so often, and for books that are harder to find, that may have beautiful covers and even more beautiful stories.

The real threat to libraries aren’t the eBooks themselves, but how publishers decide to move forward. Already there’s been a huge outcry over the recent decision by HarperCollins to enforce a 26 loan cap on eBooks licensed to libraries,  meaning once an eBook is “checked-out” twenty-six times, the  license expires and in order for libraries to continue lending it, they would have to purchase it again, and again, and again (in perpetuity) . For popular materials this could get quite expensive … prohibitively so.

Here’s the thing: public libraries are in a unique position to promote and support reading and publishers should want to be our friends, not try to cut us off at the legs. That just doesn’t make sense, plus it will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, smacking too much of out-and-out greed. Remember Gaiman’s point: if anything, sharing leads to more buying, not less – publishers need to recognize the symbiotic relationship they’ve always shared with libraries, who act as promoters and advertisers. Libraries get us hooked on books, and eBooks are going to help libraries do that even more. Why then are publishers feeling the need to punish an ally like the public library, or the consumer for that matter?

In the digital revolution, no one “owns” anything anymore, so the matter becomes how to fairly and equitably distribute content? If common sense prevails, there is a workable compromise to be reached here.

And it starts with something like this:

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.  Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work

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