The New Deal On E-Books

I said a few weeks ago that e-books are a different sort of medium than print books. Now we are seeing how some of those differences are shaking out. Harper Collins recently changed their terms of use to cap the use of their ebooks at 26 checkouts, at which point if libraries still want access they will have to repurchase the book. This set off the library community. There are a lot of blog posts on this (there’s a good roundup of them at Librarian By Day). There are also a plethora of tweets under the #hcod hashtag.

Below I am posting the eBook User’s Bill of Rights. It’s a good document outlining what ebook users want (and probably should be able) to have and do. I know as an e-book user I get really annoyed that I can’t use some of them on my iPad or Android devices. What are your thoughts about the bill of rights or the new Harper Collins terms? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #hcod and #ebookrights.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.
These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.  Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.



Content Farms and Teachable Moments

I’ve noticed a lot of posts lately about how the quality of Google’s search is declining. This is mainly due to content farms that churn out mediocre to low quality articles about every imaginable topic. They do this in the hopes that people will find their pages through Google and click on the ads there.

These content farms are things you have seen in search results before. They are sites like eHow, eZine Articles, HubPages, and Yahoo Answers among many others. And they are annoying as hell. I can’t remember ever finding a useful post on Yahoo Answers. Luckily, it seems that Google is finally trying to do something about it.

For some things, Google is great. I can type “Aljazeera” in and quickly find their English page without knowing the URL. For articles where I can’t remember who wrote them or where I read them, I can type a few keywords that I remember and retrieve them. But if I am doing any shopping I’m not going to Google. There is far too much spam and bias. I’ll go to Amazon or directly to a site. If I am looking for a somewhat credible answer to a not simply factual (Wikipedia) sort of question, I’m not likely going to search Google. Or if I do, I am often disappointed.

This was part of what I was trying to get at in my information landscape post earlier this month. Google is not magic and can’t do everything. It often fails us, and we lower our standards for it because we believe that it’s magic. It seems like these posts about lower quality search results could be used as teachable moments for students.

I observed another librarian teaching and she talked to students about sites like these. She pointed out things like the “belly fat” ads and how the content is normally pretty terrible. It seemed to work very well. Can we use this problem with search to help students become more discerning information consumers? Does anyone else talk about this?


But What Can You Do With It?

Do you ever have tours come through your library and the tour guide starts talking about the impressive amount of resources you have? “We have 50,000 books, 60,000 e-books and thousands of online journals!” First they never get the numbers or information right. Second, who cares? What does x number of journals mean to a prospective student anyway, let alone an undergraduate? Nothing.

The best student tour guides are the ones who tell stories. “I was able to Skype a librarian when I was abroad to get help on my research paper, and I got an A because of it.” When you get an actual example of the library being beneficial it makes it more concrete and gives it meaning. It’s much more effective to portray our experiences than our stuff. Apple does this well in their commercials.

In this commercial they don’t talk about the specs of the iPhone or about how the picture is crystal clear. They simply show what you can do with it. They portray the relationships that are strengthened and the magic that happens because of it.

Google, though almost never an advertiser, realizes that search by itself is boring. But what you can do with it can be life changing.

The first time I saw that commercial I think I misted up a little. Searching is like breathing for people who use the web. We don’t even think about it and it is completely mundane. But this commercial shows the power of a story and an experience. This is how we need to market and portray our libraries. In conversations, on Facebook, on Twitter, in videos, we need to share the stories of what libraries can help you to do.

Instead of “hey look at all our stuff,” we should be saying “hey look what you can do with our stuff.” It’s only a slight shift, but it makes all the difference.