Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Corrections: boycott or not?

As you know, last month OverDrive announced an upcoming system-wide circulation cap on certain eBooks, as I posted in New OverDrive DRM terms: "This message will self-destruct". The resulting anger and confusion in libraryland was widespread and strong enough to get mentioned even in non-library discussions. Along with many more comprehensive or more strident posts by others, this obscure little blog was cited around the blogosphere and later, in both national and local media.

While blogs predominantly did alright by me, both NYTimes and the Columbus Dispatch succeeded in misquoting me, the former using my brother's name and promoting me/him to "librarian", the latter attributing text from Boycott HarperCollins as though I advocate the boycott or run that site. That latter mistake is pretty serious. It makes me sound like I was much more radical than I really was, pushing a strong policy position when really I was just looking at the document and what we've already given up with DRM eBooks. (Neither publication linked the blog, of course.)

For the sake of clarity: I have not advocated a boycott and I don't have anything to do with that site, though they apparently read this blog, too. As far as I'm concerned, libraries themselves need to decide what items to purchase, when, how many, from whom, in what forms and under what terms. Libraries know their patrons' needs and their collections best, and their own long-term objectives.

I recommend libraries thoroughly consider the strategic implications of all content purchases up front though, especially where licensing and DRM are concerned. A paucity of attention and a rush to be sexy/relevant/cool has allowed the library community to become unintentionally divided in trying to support different devices, formats, vendors, software, indeed entire content ecosystems that are in opposition to each other, have different sets of content available, different terms, different futures, etc.

As things currently stand, purchasing a certain eBook means choosing sides in device, software, data format and even circulation policy wars. You should know whose side you're going to end up on, and whose side(s) you'll end up de facto against. They might not be the ones you intended.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This message will be this message.

I recently wrote a short post on parsers, grammar tools and language-specification for a new group blog that is yet to be announced. (More on that later!)

The point is that it put me in the right frame of mind to stumble on this oddity:

What's that you say? Doesn't look like much, does it?

Well, in the world of mathematical and linguistic specification. There's self-description, context-free syntax, recursion in several flavors, etc.... and then there's a formula that when graphed writes itself out in readable form. That's just INSANE. It's as though God of the Universe, the entire history of mathematical notation and Texas Instruments all conspired to make this happen. Mind sufficiently blown.

Writeup courtesy of ultra-geek Sean O'Conner:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New OverDrive DRM terms: "This message will self-destruct"

In a 4-page "Library Partner Update" PDF from OverDrive's Steve Potash, he reveals an imminent change in their eBook DRM terms:
To provide you with the best options, we have been required to accept and accommodate new terms for eBook lending as established by certain publishers. Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached. This eBook lending condition will be required of all eBook vendors or distributors offering this publisher’s titles for library lending (not just OverDrive).
The previous model already forced libraries to pretend a digital "copy" was a single physical thing. Only one library's user can have it "checked out" at a time. And only on one device. The clearly misapplied language around this tells you what a terrible idea it is. To be clear, this model eliminates almost all the major advantages of the item's being digital, without restoring the permanence, durability, vendor-independence, technology-neutrality, portability, transferability, and ownership associated with the physical version.

This goes a step worse so that each digital "copy" effectively self-destructs after a set number of reads in your system or consortium. That is to say, if you wanted to help blunt the crushing demand for a popular title, this would only help you slightly, if at all. And only one user at a time. And only if your users are faster than the rest of the consortium. After that you (and the rest of your consortium) are straight out of luck. Guess you should have bought more print copies?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders store closings

As part of its bankruptcy, about a third of Borders stores will close, including two here in Columbus. While you check the list for your locals, ask yourself when was the last time you were there?


For me, probably 2004.

Bigtime Bookseller Hits the Wall

Borders Books, once on the cutting edge of inventory control and large format retail, is now bankrupt:


It’s easy to understand why, since they owe literally a BILLION dollars a year on rent.

Google and Wikipedia replace textbooks

A study in Ohio found that college intro. psychology students who only use Google and Wikipedia instead of texts or eBooks score just as well:


This suggests a severe disadvantage to publishers since both texts and eBooks cost money, are less convenient, etc. Arguably Google and Wikipedia are updated more frequently, too.