Tipping Point for e-books?
I read an article on CNN several days ago – http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/gaming.gadgets/05/19/kindle.outsells.books/index.html?hpt=Sbin – announcing that Amazon was selling more e-books for their Kindle reader than books in print format. Since then, I’ve been trying to decide if this is the tipping point for books in digital format or just a statistic for one online company. I’m not sure it really matters what I call it… the numbers speak for themselves. The author of the article was quick to point out that e-books are still just a small minority of all titles purchased when you factor in traditional bookstores, big-box chains like Walmart and Costco, and other online retailers, but the trend is rapidly advancing. What impact will this have on libraries today and in the future?
First and foremost, I think we need to acknowledge the magnitude of the shift toward digital materials. This isn’t a fad, but a dramatic change in the way information will be presented and preserved in the future. We’ve already made the switch to electronic databases for our serials and many of our reference materials. Separate funds are set aside in our materials budgets for these essential resources. The time has come for libraries to do the same thing for e-books and e-audiobooks!
As prices continue to fall for e-reader devices, more people will take advantage of a new, mobile way of reading. Let’s face it, e-books are cheaper to “purchase” than print, for the most part and you can download them instantly, 24/7. For those recently retired baby-boomers, why carry a bag of books with you as you travel when you can take one small device. If you live in a rural area, why drive to a county library for reading materials when you can get them in the comfort of your home.
So where do libraries fit into this scheme? Well, we already offer our patrons print books free of charge – why not e-books as well. It sounds SO easy, yet it isn’t. I can purchase a new James Patterson bestseller for my Kindle from Amazon, yet this author doesn’t make his books available in e-book format through OverDrive for libraries. It’s all about DMR – digital rights management. Until libraries have a voice at the table with publishers, e-book vendors and authors, I don’t see this changing. In the meantime, we can offer our patrons the best selection of e-books available while doing what we do best – informing and educating our customers about how select e-readers and how to use them. This can be done in formal or informal programs as well as user groups. We can’t compete with Amazon as far as selection or quantity of titles available electronically, but we’re right out there in person serving the public and that might be the best we can do for now!