The time has come to expand the scope of conflict for ebook issues. What does that mean? It means that we, people who care about ebook issues, need to organize about ebook issues on a larger scale than just the issues surrounding libraries. The effort that has gone into ebook issues over the last few years has been impressive, unfortunately the results have not (I am not finger pointing). One of the reasons is that, while we love libraries and believe firmly in their place and purpose in the world, many do not, which makes libraries and ebook issues a narrow interest topic.
We know that there are issues related to ebooks that have nothing to do with libraries. For example that you don’t own your ebooks, you lease them, that you can’t loan them at all or can’t loan them easily, that you can’t switch platforms (without some possibly illegal hacking of your books) for no other reason than corporate greed. These issues apply to an increasing number of ebook readers (as of April 2012 20% of Americans had read and ebook), but not all of them are using library ebooks for a number of reasons.
Libraries have partnered with interest groups and other organizations on many issues over the years. It is time to do this with ebooks. I’m not sure ALA should lead this initiative, or libraries for that matter. Should libraries be a partner? Absolutely, we are powerful partners on many issues, but because this is larger than a library issue the organization or interest group or advocacy group or whatever you want to call it should lead the charge on ebooks issues, of which libraries are one facet. Can we lead and spearhead this issue? Probably as long as we are willing to tackle the big picture and remember that libraries are one aspect of that.
I’m thinking something like thetruthaboutebooks.com (which is already taken btw, I checked) that provides factual information in a way that consumers can understand – think short bullet points. Of course backed up with pages of data. Something like
The Truth About eBooks
- You can’t loan your ebooks
- You can’t change platforms without rebuying your entire library if you want to move from a Nook to Kindle or vice versa
- Publishers are preventing libraries from buying and loaning ebooks or charging them 300% times the cost of a print book (there would obviously be a page on the site demonstrating the value of libraries and ebook using some of the great reports out there.
That’s it short, easy, factual, and a little scary.
I would also include a way for people to contact their representatives, both in the national and state legislature about these issues and possibly their state attorney as well.
I would also leave all the “save libraries” rhetoric out of it. One – I hate that lingo as much as David Lankes does and two – there is no value for policy makers in hearing “in the public interest” rhetoric, give them facts.
So who should lead this? A librarian or librarians should get the ball rolling and be involved but not out in front. Too often when people see librarians out in front of library issues it appears we’re fighting to save our jobs and livelihood and not really working on larger issues (sorry but it is true).
Who should the partners be? Think BIG. Who else has a dog in the ebook fight or cares about ebook issues and rights? The Electronic Frontier Foundation, some publishers (O’Reilly comes to mind), some authors (Neil Gaiman comes to mind, as does Cory Doctorow) who else?
Don’t get me wrong we’ve been working hard on ebook issues but the truth is we’re gonna need a bigger boat.