It’s E-book week: How do libraries provide content?

This week, March 3rd-March 9th, is considered E-book week officially. (There is a bit of controversy whether it is this week or next, read more here.) I find that it is a good opportunity to talk about e-books, e-readers, and the library’s role in this second wave of electronic reading.

The failure of the first wave of e-books came from people who were unwilling to read a book on a computer screen. The infamous rocketbook went down in flames for this reason, and many others.

The second wave of e-readers have attempted to make changes so that they are more consistent with how people read print books. They are not back-lit (thanks to e-ink technology), they are very light and small (size of paperback), and they can hold more than one book (the Sony Reader can store 100 books on its internal memory alone.) So the industry is learning how to make changes to e-readers so that this new technology will be easily adaptable. You can read a recent debate between the two major competitors Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader here. As far as readers go, you cannot move their cheese and expect them to utilize your products. There are an overwhelming amount of readers that will never part with a printed book.

There are, of course, many problems with the e-readers. They are very expensive ($400 for a reader versus $20 for a book), the technology can break, the screen reader is not perfect, and (most importantly) you cannot freely pick and choose what content to put on it. For instance, Amazon Kindle only works with Kindle adapted files, the same with the Sony Reader. Amazon is much better because, well, they are Amazon. The Sony Reader books must be purchased from the Sony Reader store.

In my opinion, providing content on these devices, or future e-reader devices is the biggest problem when it comes to devices. This problem is not immune to e-readers. If you have an Ipod you know that you can only play ipod compatible music or movies. The format wars for e-readers, commonly referred to as the tower of e-babel. Format wars are not uncommon, but they limit the ability to use these devices.

In the past year, libraries have accelerated their roles in adapting to the e-book market. Overdrive is one of the top providers of downloadable e-books, audiobooks, music, and movies for their patrons. A big consortium is the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. How do libraries fare in providing digital content to its users via Overdrive? Generally, the content is excellent, but the formats are limited as is the convenience.

E-books and audiobooks provide the highest level of selection. The latest popular fiction and non-fiction can be found very quickly. The audiobook selection is also excellent. Upon viewing the catalog, I could tell that the audiobooks were very popular as there were very few that were not on hold. The e-books were much more plentiful. After some research, I noticed that many libraries that are going to overdrive or going with audiobook only selections. I would bet the reasoning was that the format is easier to download and the devices are more plentiful. I can get a cheapie mp3 player and play anything I download on overdrive. However, the e-books are quite complicated.

To download an e-book and read it on a e-reader, I have to downgrade my adobe reader to 7.0. I would have to look at the compatible devices. Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle are not part of the compatible devices. Therefore, I wanted to read something from overdrive, I would have to use a device like a pda or smartphone to do it. Not exactly the library market. We need to find a way to make this service work with popular e-reader devices. This is a good connection because I believe e-readers will be more popular if the content connected with services like overdrive. The reason why they don’t work now is that neither will read a Digital Rights Management protected pdf. In order for libraries to make the e-book/overdrive program a success, the e-readers must be opened, or Overdrive must provide content that can be used on any device. A good example of this is They take the books from Project Guttenburg and make it easy to download the e-book you want into the format you need. It works with Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle, and you can even put a book on your Iphone. If overdrive worked in this way, you would have an explosive new model of electronic content that would boost a major segment of the population.

Many of these programs and devices are still in its infancy, but there is a golden opportunity for libraries to provide greater content to an increasingly digital world. Can we make the changes?


~ by Jeff Scott on March 5, 2008.

7 Responses to “It’s E-book week: How do libraries provide content?”

  1. […] It’s E-book week: How do libraries provide content?By Jeff Scott You can read a recent debate between the two major competitors Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader here. As far as readers go, you cannot move their cheese and expect them to utilize your products. There are an overwhelming amount of readers …MCLC Library Tech Talk – […]

  2. I think the main problem of e-libraries is a copyrights… and I don’t know how to solve this problem, especially nowadays when you can easily download books, music and movies from the internet with copyrights breaking.

  3. Digital Rights Management is the general burden. There is some controversy over Neil Gaiman providing is book American Gods online for free. It’s great, if you want to read it on a computer. You can’t download it or transfer it to a mobile device. It isn’t an uncommon problem. However, if libraries can get their vendors to move into areas of convenience. Overdrive could still provide the DRM, but put it into formats that are compatible for more devices.

  4. The reason publishers do not allow their library e-contents to be downloaded to a portable device or simply do not license to the library market is mainly bacause of the lack of DRM software on those devices, which means once you download the content, it’s yours to keep. This is especially true for the AV. It’s unfortunately for library users but understandable.

  5. I guess then it is about getting the different formats and getting them to expire for the different devices. This is a direction we need to go in to provide convenience for our users, at least in the e-book market.

  6. The only thing that’s stopping me from getting an e-book reader RIGHT NOW is the DRM. I already dealt with that crap with my ipod – I don’t have the patience to mess with it any more. Especially when I read all the time. I’d love to be able to carry around a book-sized device, with a pretty screen and nice battery life, that holds half my library. No more packing huge hardbacks or a trilogy every time I go on vacation.

    But I won’t, because I’m not going to pay $400-$500 on a device that only lets me buy books from 1 place, only lets me read a certain type of file, and doesn’t play well with others. Not worth it.

    I have hope, though. The proprietary formats for audio files are shrinking rapidly – I can only hope the industry will learn from this very soon so that e-book readers can be a viable option for us bookworms!

  7. Anali,

    Yes the movies and audio formats are dwindling. The audio are really into three AAC, MP3, and WMA. The only reason everyone doesn’t do MP3 is because it can’t be secured as well.

    The book formats are a mess. There is officially backing to one format as mentioned on the Teleread blog. We are unfortunately very far away to getting into a single format. Again, if you look at, there are more than a dozen different book formats to download to your device. Unless you want to read the classics, or fork out money every time you want to read a book, the e-books are a very tough sell. That’s why I am enthusiastic about a library providing the content for the different formats. If you could hook up a Sony Reader with Overdrive content, you could satisfy many book addicts.

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