Monday, February 28, 2011

Libraries face new e-book business models

Business models for digital content and e-books are still evolving. It was interesting to see in last week's NYTimes a piece about how even libraries are still seeing the business models change. Interesting, because libraries, at least within the educational space, have been working with e-journals, e-books, and digital models for quite some time, relatively speaking. However, it seems that as e-books gain popularity and adoption, libraries are learning that the licensing of e-books for distribution is once again not the same as acquiring the physical copy.

The NYTimes piece describes a new business model that affects libraries that effectively "lend" ebooks to patrons. Under the new model, libraries will be limited on the total number of times an ebook can be lent, at which point the library must renew the licenses to permit further patron access. So much for e-books being cheaper or building a permanent digital collection the way a physical book collection might have been cultivated in the past.

The restrictions on library lending demonstrates some of the deeper implications that might play out in the future world of digital content. We (whether consumers or even libraries) may never "own" our content again. Instead each acquisition of content will be governed by a complex subscription model that may cause our book to 'go away' when certain conditions are reached. It reminds me of an incident a year or so ago when a company with an e-reader device withdrew access to content individuals had "purchased" when the licensing rights changed. What does the change in ownership models mean for how we view knowledge -- and for how eventually governments or other entitites could control what content we can see or access? Suddenly Fareinheit 451 seems a little less like science fiction.

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