Category Archives: Library Issues

A shot across the bow

If you had any doubts that Amazon’s Lending Library was eventually going to compete with public libraries, here’s where your doubts get shattered. From Amazon’s homepage today, on the announcement of all 7 Harry Potter books entering the Kindle Lending Library program:

With traditional library lending, the library buys a certain number of e-book copies of a particular title. If all of those are checked out, you have to get on a waiting list….the wait can sometimes be months.

With the Kindle Owners Lending Library, there are no due dates, you can borrow as frequently as once a month, and there are no limits on how many people can borow the same title…

The full image of the announcement is included after the click: Continue reading A shot across the bow

Commoditizing our complements

In business and economics, there is a concept that is often expressed with the phrase “Commoditize your complement”. A complementary product is has some form of necessary connection to the product in question…the usual example is automobiles and gasoline. As Joel Spolsky puts it:

A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product. Gas and cars are complements. Computer hardware is a classic complement of computer operating systems. And babysitters are a complement of dinner at fine restaurants. In a small town, when the local five star restaurant has a two-for-one Valentine’s day special, the local babysitters double their rates. (Actually, the nine-year-olds get roped into early service.)

All else being equal, demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease.

Thus the concept of commoditizing (making available uniformly and interchangably) your complement. If you can decrease the cost of your complement, you by necessity increase the cost of your product. Microsoft learned this very early, and went on to great success, making hardware (the complement to it’s product, software) a commodity product…it didn’t matter if you bought from Dell, or Gateway, or Asus, or IBM, or Lenovo, or…the list goes and on. Those companies struggled to make money in a market driven to complete interchangability, while Microsoft made billions on software. A reversal of this strategy, as Marco Arment has pointed out, is Apple is attempting to commoditize software via its iOS and Mac App Stores, because its product (where they make their profit) is the hardware.

My questions to the library world: What is our product? What should we be commoditizing in order to make our product more valuable? The concept isn’t just about money, it’s about market values, even when the market in question isn’t measured in dollars but in reputation, importance, and community value. What should we be pushing to commodity so that our business becomes more valuable to our communities?

I have my theories, but want to hear yours.


January Apple Event – Education/Textbook related?

Multiple industry sources are reporting that Apple plans to have an announcement event in New York sometime in January, most likely featuring something new in the Media space. Most interestingly for libraries, Clayton Morris is reporting that his sources tell him:

  • This event will focus on iTunes University and Apple in education
  • The event will be in New York rather than in the Silicon Valley because New York is more centrally located for textbook and publishing.
  • This initiative has been in the making for years.
  • The announcement will be small in size but large in scope: a big announcement in a demure space.
  • I expect at least two large project announcements as they relate to Apple in education.

Anything involving Apple, textbooks, publishing, and education is something that libraries should be paying attention to. This isn’t going to be a hardware announcement, but given that it seems to revolve around iBooks and iTunes U, I’m guessing it’s a publishing/distribution deal with textbook publishers…or maybe a new publishing platform specifically for textbooks? We’ll see as the month rolls along.

SOPA and Publishers

Here is a list of all of the companies signed to SOPA (which, while delayed until after the first of the year, isn’t dead):
Companies supporting SOPA

While there are a few surprises (GoDaddy? A DNS company that supports breaking DNS? Huh?) most of the names on the list are exactly who you’d expect: copyright holders that are clearly desperate to hold on to their business model. These happen to include publishers like Hachette, Harper-Collins, Macmillan, Elsevier, Hyperion, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin, Random House, Scholastic, and Norton. Not to mention all of the video/music companies that produce content that libraries spend money on: Sony, Universal, Disney, etc.

For those who aren’t keeping up with SOPA and PIPA and what exactly it is that the above companies are suggesting, let’s be clear: SOPA and PIPA are both so completely bad that I have trouble describing how bad they really are. I consider myself a writer, and I have trouble conjuring forth a description about just how incredibly fucked the USA would be if we allow these ridiculous bills to pass into law. So I’ll let someone else say it for me. Mr. Savage:

Make no mistake: These bills aren’t simply unconstitutional, they are anticonstitutional. They would allow for the wholesale elimination of entire websites, domain names, and chunks of the DNS (the underlying structure of the whole Internet), based on nothing more than the “good faith” assertion by a single party that the website is infringing on a copyright of the complainant.

Or maybe Mr. Dotorow? Or how about, oh…the engineers who built the Internet in the first place? Or maybe even the Stanford Law Review? All of them agree (as do I) that SOPA and PIPA would break the fundamental way that the Internet works, making the US into a third-world-country of ‘net access, and threatening the very concept of Free Speech online.

These are agressive, wrong headed pieces of legislation that attempt to find a technical solution to a legislative problem…we already have laws that punish individuals who infringe upon copyrights. This would be the equivalent of legislating the ability for private companies to decide to close down roads and revoke your drivers license just because someone claimed they saw you take a drink, instead of simply having and enforcing laws against driving under the influence.

So what can libraries do? I think we should let these signatories know that we disagree fundamentally with SOPA and PIPA and indeed any law that would lessen the freedom of speech on the Internet. Tell everyone you speak with at these companies that this is not the sort of thing that we will support. If SOPA and PIPA are still on the table at the time of ALA Midwinter, I plan to try to speak with as many employees of these companies as I can about this. I suggest you do the same.

Ready, Aim…Fire!

Head over to the ALA TechSource blog to see my take on the new Amazon Kindle announcements. The new models announced yesterday, along with pricing, are:

There’s lots more at TechSource, but the pull-quote from the article is probably:

For libraries, however, with the exception of cheaper cost-per-device you want to provide…well, nothing really changes. Amazon is still providing books at the publisher’s set cost that are licensed in such a way that limits the ability of libraries to circulate them (the books, not the devices). The Kindle/Overdrive deal doesn’t change at all…you can just buy a Kindle to circ to patrons for $40 less than you could yesterday. But the technological hurdles for our patrons on the user-experience front as well as the backend limitations of the DRM provided files are still the same as ever.

The Future is Already Here

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting to the librarians at Western Kentucky University during their 2011 kickoff event. When discussing a topic with the Dean, I was told that they were interested in the future of the academic library, technology, and how to manage the changes that are coming. That’s definitely in the sweet spot of my library interests, so I gave it a shot. Below you’ll find a slideshow with accompanying audio of my presentation, along with the Q/A session at the end. The whole thing is about 1.5 hours, but my presentation is just the first hour or so. I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you disagree with any of my points.

Keynote about the future of libraries, change management, and technology over the next 5 years given to Western Kentucky University Libraries, August 24, 2011 by Jason Griffey