Category Archives: Books

Books I am reading or have read.

Adobe Digital Editions and infoleaks

Eliminate DRMThe online library world exploded today over the revelation that Adobe Digital Editions, software that is required for many library-focused eBook services, evidently leaks like a sieve when it comes to our user’s information. The TL:DR version of the story is that ADE appears to be sending in plain text to Adobe’s servers information such as: the book you are reading, title, publisher, which pages you have read and which page you are currently on. Much longer discussions about the leak and potential fallout here:

Andromeda and Galen then both went on to touch on some of the core problems with this leak, focusing on the conflict between Adobe’s action and the ethics of librarianship, and the possible role that ALA may have in bridging the gaps in libraries’ knowledge of these actions.

There are a few things I wanted to emphasize about this situation. The first is that several of the reports have noted that earlier versions of Adobe Digital Editions didn’t seem to “spy on its users” in the way that the most recent version (version 4) does, and recommend using earlier versions. The truth of the matter is that of course the earlier versions are spying on users…they just aren’t doing it in as transparent a manner as the current version. We need to decide whether we are angry at Adobe for failing technically (for not encrypting the information or otherwise anonymizing the data) or for failing ethically (for the collection of data about what someone is reading). It’s possible to be angry at both, but here’s a horrible truth: If they had gotten the former right and encrypted the information appropriately, we’d have no idea about the latter at all.

I think that Andromeda has it right, that we need to insist that the providers of our digital information act in a way that upholds the ethical beliefs of our profession. It is possible, technically, to provide these services (digital downloads to multiple devices with reading position syncing) without sacrificing the privacy of the reader. For example (and this is just off the top of my head) you could architect the sync engine to key off of a locally-hashed UserID + BookID that never left the device, and only transmit the hash and the location information in a standardized format. This would give you anonymous page syncing between devices without having to even worry about encryption of the traffic, as long as you used an appropriate hash function. I would prefer this approach, because (as mentioned above), if the entire communications stack is encrypted, it’s a black box for anyone attempting to see inside and verify what the vendor is actually collecting. There are answers to this as well (encryption keys that the vendor never sees at all, for example, and are totally local to the user’s device a la Apple’s latest security enhancements).

There are technical solutions that satisfy our ethical concerns. We need to insist that our vendors care enough about our ethics that the technical answers become a market differentiator. We need to insist that this is important and then we need to make them listen.

Heresy and Patron Data

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several years thinking, writing, and speaking about ebooks. I’m on the Board of Directors of Library Renewal, a group dedicated to finding ways to make the ebook experience a good one for libraries, publishers, and authors. And I’ve spoken all over the US and Internationally about eReaders and how digital content changes libraries. So what I am about to suggest is something that has been rattling around in my head for some time now, and I feel like it’s something that I’d love to hear other thoughts about.

So as the Joker said in The Dark Knight Returns:

When we look at how libraries, pubishers, and authors all interrelate vis a vis electronic content, specifically ebooks, the models that are largely being forwarded are straightforward economic models. The rights-holders have content, we want content, we pay them for content. Most of the disagreement comes down to the details: how much are we paying, and what rights do with have to the content that we are paying for. The majority of “new” models that are being trumpeted in libraryland, like the Douglas County Public ebook model, are just differently-arranged ways of doing exactly the same thing…which, admittedly, gives different outcomes on the two contentious fronts (cost and rights) but isn’t actually new in any significant way.

In an economic system, when one side of an equation (libraries) want something from another side (rights-holders), there is an exchange of value that takes place wherein both sides agree that said value exchange is fair in both directions. Libraries pay money for content…this is, at its base, just a value exchange between libraries and publishers.

Libraries don’t want a free ride as far as ebooks are concerned. Every single librarian that I have spoken with is perfectly willing to continue to pay for content. Unfortunately, the economics of libraries are such that when we want more rights (the ability to check out ebooks to any number of patrons simultaneously, or the right to ILL ebooks, etc) we don’t have the ability to exchange our typical economic instrument (money) for them. Think about Amazon and their ability to put the Harry Potter books into their Lending Library…freely available to anyone with an Amazon Prime membership. Libraries would kill for the right to do this, but Amazon is the one that can write the check. If we had tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to throw at publishers, we could dictate any rights we wished. But we don’t.

So the question that’s been bugging me is: what else do we have, besides cash, that is of value to the rights holders and could be traded for more of what we want. Libraries generate value in enormous numbers of ways, but what do we have that publishers might want that would give us some bartering ability?

Some librarians have started looking at these value-exchanges in a new way. Toby Greenwalt, a librarian at the Skokie Public Library, started asking what the value was to the publishers of the awards that the American Library Association gives out for childrens and young adult titles, and Andromeda Yelton followed up with a look at how those awards related to the ability for libraries to lend those books electronically. Here’s something that the ALA does, which appears to be significant value to publishers, with no visible complimentary exchange of value going the other direction.

Finally we get to what I’ve been thinking of as my heretical idea. Because when I think about what other thing of value that libraries have that could potentially be traded to publishers in order to get an equivalent set of value back from them in the way of ebook rights, I keep coming back to one thing:

Information. Information about our patrons, information about our circulations of individual books, and demographic information about our users and what books they read.

I know. A lot of librarians just stopped reading, or perhaps began clutching the arms of their chairs a bit too tightly. Patron information! The holiest of holies in library land, the Thing Which Must Not Be Shared! One of the core tenets of librarianship is that the borrowing history of the individual is sacrosanct. And for very, very good reasons…it doesn’t take a paranoid person to see the ways in which reading histories should be kept private, from the teenager looking for information about sexuality to the individual checking out a book about chronic illness (you wouldn’t want your insurance company to know that, now would you). As the saying goes, “show me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are”.

But this information is valuable. Publishers would love to know more about their readers, as it helps them to make better decisions about what to publish, how to market, and what sorts of books that a given population is more likely to buy. The amount of data that libraries could have in this realm is enormous, and could be a huge lever with which to move the playing field that we are all currently on regarding ebooks.

I am very aware, there are huge problems with this idea. The data in many cases is actually non-existent (libraries are very good about dumping this data so that it can’t be used by law enforcement or others in negative ways against readers). In order to maintain any sort of patron trust, there would have to be serious thought given to sanitization of the data, stripping of individually identifying information, and more (and yes, I am aware that stripping of individually identifying information has been shown to be basically useless…I retain some hope that there is a way to do it that isn’t). It is also the case that with the rise of cloud-based ILS systems that this information is going to be more available than ever, and centralized on servers that are out of library’s control.

But if we want the next decade to be a good one for us, libraries and librarians need to put some serious thought into what our other value-creation areas are, and how we can begin to identify and trade on those against the rights-holders. Because our money is getting thin, our prices are going up, digital is likely to kill our existing model completely, and we need new ways to think about these things.

What else do we have? What sort of leverage do we have that we aren’t using? What can we bring to the negotiating table that we haven’t yet?

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

Interview with Jason Chen – Storybundle

I was lucky enough to interview Jason Chen via email about his new ebook startup Storybundle. He had some interesting things to say about the ebook market. Unsurprisingly, as a new ebook startup, he didn’t even consider libraries at first.

As to whether or not this is good for libraries, at the current time I hadn’t even considered libraries, so I’m going to aim for personal use for the first few bundles and see where things go from there. It depends heavily on the author, because the promo is a limited time thing, and making a sale to a library becomes a forever thing.

Head over to TechSource to read the full interview!

StoryBundle

Very interesting announcement today from Jason Chen, tech blogger of Lifehacker and formerly of Gizmodo. He’s getting out of the tech blogging business and launching an ebook startup, StoryBundle. From the StoryBundle site:

You know those indie video game bundles where you pay what you want for a batch of quality titles? We’re like that, but for ebooks.

We give you a handful of ebooks (about five or so) for a low price that you choose, all DRM-free, delivered to your ereader.

We only choose quality independent authors so you can be sure what you’re buying is good. Plus, you decide how much these books are worth. Great reads delivered cheaply without killing a single tree? That’s something everybody can feel good about.

Very, very interesting. I have a huge number of questions, mainly: how can he possibly hope to compete against Amazon in this space? I suppose the idea is that DRM free and name-your-price luring readers, but I’m not sure why that will lure authors.  I can’t imagine that it’s a better deal for authors in terms of either reach or profit. But it’s a really interesting experiment, and we all know that we need more models for this stuff. I’ve got a request for an interview out to Jason…I’m very curious as to how this model might work with libraries.

Color eInk demonstration from CES 2012

Here’s a look at color eInk, the next generation of the technology currently found in just about every eReader on the market. This particular screen (the eInk Triton display) is good for just over 4000 colors, and certainly isn’t the fastest page-turn we’ve seen…but the display is very, very pretty. Great contrast, sharp lines, and the color really adds a lot to the feel of the thing. Check it out:

Ripping your books

A really great article from Christopher Harris over on the American Libraries E-Content blog called “What’s Next? Book Match?” is getting passed around the web today. The pull quote that seems to be catching everyone’s attention is:

If I can rip my CD to an MP3, why can’t I scan my book to an EPUB?

I just wanted to step in and say: You can. There is decent case law in place that indicates that format shifting of personal copies is allowable in the United States. There is also strong case law in place for the ability to personally back up media that you legally aquire…both of these indicate that while there may be no clear “Yes you can” statement in copyright law, there is a lot of evidence that it’s perfectly ok for individuals given Fair Use rights in the US.

Moreover, there’s easier and easier ways to digitize books out there. If you haven’t seen the DIY Book Scanner project, go and check it out. This group is doing awesome stuff towards making digitizing books something that isn’t nearly as time-consuming as it once was. Plus, as I often point out in my presentations to libraries and librarians, if you think that digitizing books is going to be difficult forever, well…think again:

More on the Family Fang

I know I just blogged about this a few days ago, but there’s been more amazing responses to Kevin’s book that I thought I needed to follow up. There was this really great review from NPR, during Fresh Air on Aug 8th that is about 6.5 minutes of praise about the book. And then there is, most strange to me, a biographical piece in the New York Times that talks about Kevin’s family and life in Sewanee. It’s not strange because it’s untrue, or because it’s hyperbolic, but just because it’s strange seeing the people I hang out with in the NYT. This is especially true of Griff, one of Eliza’s best friends…from the article:

The family lives outside Sewanee on the edge of a one-acre pond in a thicket of woods teeming with rabbits, bats and deer. Inside the house signs of Griff, 3, were everywhere: a basket of toys near the wood-burning fireplace, a child-size canvas swing from Ikea hanging from the ceiling and a remote-controlled train set taking up most of Ms. Couch’s office upstairs, where she writes her poetry on a drafting desk in the corner.

I’m thrilled to see Kevin getting such attention…he and his family are amazing, awesome people. I hope that The Family Fang is a massive hit, and that they find the success they deserve. As I said in my last post, if you haven’t bought it, go buy it. It’s an awesome read, and hopefully one of the year’s bestsellers.

And if you are in any of the cities where Kevin is speaking/reading on his book tour (going on NOW…he’s speaking in an hour or so in Birmingham, AL) you should definitely go and see him read.

Literally while I was writing this, my wife texted me to tell me that she was taking Eliza to the playground to meet up with Leigh Anne and Griff. Hilarious!

The Family Fang

One of my best friends, and the father of one of Eliza’s best friends (and maybe Eliza’s favorite person who isn’t Mom or Dad)  is an incredible, wonderful writer. His name is Kevin Wilson, and his first novel, The Family Fang, is coming out August 9th. I mention this because today the book got an outstanding review in the New York Times.

Mr. Wilson explores the damage inflicted on children raised in an atmosphere that is intentionally confusing. They have been told that their parents do important things; they have been told that their own feelings do not matter. They have learned the hard way that either of them might be betrayed in an instant by parents who bring a lofty, arty, guilt-free approach to everything they do. So as “The Family Fang” begins, Mr. Wilson shows just how badly the adult Annie and Buster have been damaged by Fang ideas of fun. He also makes it clear that the senior Fangs can be amusing. And then, all of a sudden, they are not.

His previous book of short stories, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, won an Alex award from YALSA in 2010, and should be a part of any library collection by now. If you haven’t picked it up, do so…it’s an incredibly good book.

The Family Fang is something else entirely. It’s a book that stands up to anything on the shelves, a brilliant first novel. I’m in awe of Kevin when it comes to his skill with words, his imagination, and can’t wait for this thing to be a huge hit so that everyone can see how talented he is. And it’s not just that I know the guy…he’s getting reviews from all over:

So: Go buy it now. Seriously. Buy a copy for yourself, and put it on the purchase list for your library. It’s going to be huge.

 

Library Renewal around the web

LFOP-Renewal Poster OrangeI haven’t blogged much about Library Renewal, a new library non-profit that I am involved with…but we’re about to hit ALA Annual, and a bunch of things are coming together online. It seemed like a good time to remind people where they can find us. Here’s a quick list, including the new Youtube channel:

Coming soon, a lot more…including the ability to donate to Library Renewal (and receive some awesome premiums for doing so) and a new web-based tool that I’m not allowed to talk about yet. Interesting things will be happening in the next few months. Keep an eye on us.

And if you are attending ALA Annual, make sure you carve out time to see our Beloved President of Library Renewal, Michael Porter, present You Mean Libraries Will Be Able To Deliver Electronic Content Better Than iTunes and Netflix? on Saturday, June 25, 2011 from 1:30pm – 3:30pm in Convention Center Rm 244.