My take on the eBook Summit – Part 1

I’m glad I was able to attend but I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed.

It was well put together. The interface was slick. They tried to recreate the conference feel online and mostly were able to pull it off. I visited all of the booths and I’m sure I’ll get lots of bacon from this conference.

The keynotes were ok. If you like two famous futurists who talk about the future of eBooks without really mentioning their impact on libraries then those talks were for you. Awe-inspiring ideas and thoughts that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Mr. Kurzweil thinks we will have screens in our glasses that will act as add a layer of augmented reality to our reading and Mr. Kelly mentioned having bound books with ePaper as the paper. Wow! Really. Just. Wow! I’m looking forward to that. It will be interesting and I can’t imagine what the next 20 years will deliver. But I need to be able to plan for next year and their presentations didn’t help me with that.

There was also a lot of promotion of Overdrive and the new Blio reader from Baker. I understand that they paid a lot of money to sponsor the event and it wouldn’t have happened without them. But did we really need a pitch from them at the end of almost every presentation? I think there may have been one or two (out of the seven) I attended that did not include a discussion about one of their products. My impressions of their products:

  • Overdrive = the best option we have now but limited.
  • Blio = brand new, late to the game (been waiting for it since last spring) lots of potential but won’t be adopted until it’s on more devices.

That said. I can’t wait for us to offer Overdrive to our members. It will make many people happier.

So, what did I get out of the eBook Summit? Ian Singer started the day with a quick overview of a study done recently that says eBooks are growing in popularity in libraries. If you want to buy it, be prepared to spend a lot of money. The Kurzweil session was next and I’ve already mentioned it.

The session The Tipping Point: How eBooks Impact Libraries, Publishers & Readers was interesting because Eli Neiburger said what everyone thinks: “Libraries are screwed!” We are screwed, he says, because we are invested in the codex as our primary format. He believes the traditional book is becoming outmoded and replaced with a more convenient option.

He listed other outmoded technologies (vinyl records, candles and typewriters) and discussed how they have fared since becoming outmoded. Vinyl is still around and is selling pretty well but the technology that outmoded it originally (the 8-track tape) is pretty much gone. It was superseded by much more convenient technology cassette tapes and compact discs. People are still buying vinyl records but they are a niche purchase. Candles are still around but they are primarily used for decoration, ceremony or when the power goes out. Gas lamps were also discussed. Cities used them before the advent of electric lighting to light the streets. They are gone but the infrastructure they left behind has been reused. The typewriter is outmoded but its descendants (keyboard etc) are still instrumental to producing content.What will the eBook become? Is it an 8-track or is it a technology that will have an impact for generations like the typewriter?

Ok. Let’s assume that eBooks are the future of publishing. What does that mean for libraries? We are screwed if we stick to the circulating materials method of library service. A digital native is not interested in waiting for a digital copy of anything. That’s the current model of digital content in libraries. People have to put a hold on a digital copy of an eBook. That’s not going to endear us to people accustomed to getting stuff quickly everywhere else.

One of the things libraries are built on is the idea of having a local copy of an item. This works in the physical world. If you want that book and the library down the street has it, great! In digital terms local copies are not needed. You can acquire something from across the world in seconds without leaving your chair. So, what’s the value of having that copy of a bestseller when someone can get it quicker and more conveniently via a download? There is no value in it.

Maybe libraries will be better served if they begin to focus on producing local content? Get that writers group together. Work on that local history project. Collect those pictures of local scenery and architecture. Bring in those candidates for a debate. Work on making the library a platform for the community. If we can make the library a community platform we are not screwed. If you can’t tell, I was really impressed by Mr. Neiburger. There were some other people who spoke in that session but, honestly, he was the show.

Part 2

Part 3

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