E-books in Indiana

I had the pleasure of talking about e-books (what else!) at the 2012 Annual Conference of the Indiana Library Federation, recently held in Indianapolis. I’d like to thank my gracious hosts Meg Atwater-Singer (University of Evansville) and Susan Akers (Indiana Library Federation) for the opportunity. The timing was rather interesting, as the e-book statement from the ALA Chapters was in development, and I had the opportunity to meet a major force behind the statement, Terry Rheinheimer, the Indiana Chapter Councilor.

My presentation focused on four stakeholders in the publishing ecosystem: publishers, distributors, authors, and libraries. To get the full story, I refer you to my slides (.ppt). But the highest-level message is that there are many complexities and inter-dependencies behind the decisions that we observe, such as the business practice of refusing to sell to libraries or selling to libraries at excessive prices.

The publishing ecosystem itself has changed fundamentally. In the print world, the ecosystem operates largely in a linear fashion. Authors work with their agents and negotiate with publishers. Project selection, manuscript development, editing, and production are managed by publishers. Distributors serve as intermediaries between publishers and bookstores & libraries.Indiana Libraries Federation Conference

By contrast, in the digital world, the model is more akin to a network. True, the linear relationship still is relevant for many works, though increasingly other alternatives are emerging. For example, some authors may work directly with distributors or retailers. Some libraries contemplate publishing, and already some libraries are adapting characteristics of retailing.

Finally, I appreciated the opportunity to participate in other sessions, including several on e-books. I learned about the challenges of e-books in the K-12 schools setting, and some of the innovative practices Indiana school libraries have. One session featured experiments on patron-driven acquisition in several Indiana universities. This business model does not involve a priori e-book purchases. Instead, when a patron requests a title, the library pays a fee (such as 10 percent of the list price) for that one access—a rental charge, and the library pays again for the subsequent two (or so) loans of the same title. The fourth (or so) loan request triggers a purchase of the title. Thus, for the titles that are purchased, the library would pay more than 100 percent of the list price, but the library pays much less than the list price for titles that patrons borrow infrequently, and pays nothing for titles that are not borrowed at all.

Of course, such a model involves advantages and disadvantages, but may well be desirable for some libraries in higher education. Might such a model work for some public libraries?

Alan S. Inouye is the director of the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) of the American Library Association (ALA). Based in Washington, D.C., he is also program manager of ALA's Digital Content Initiative. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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