Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Libraries as a Retail Outlet

Peter Brantley (Internet Archive) is probably one of the more interesting and vocal folks in the library community regarding digital -- at least in terms of those we hear often outside of the library space.  He has written and presented a number of interesting pieces in different forums. 

Recently on the Publisher's Weekly Blog he took some time to consider the role of the library in the future of publishing and retail, particularly given the "rental" type of model many digital options are moving toward.  He says, "The most important strategic opportunity for publishers rests where it has never before existed: in essence, considering libraries to be their best retail outlet."  Back in 2007 we forecast that libraries and college stores would have increasing potential for overlap.  Some of the points in his piece seem to reinforce that perspective.  It is also interesting (again) to hear how companies like Amazon threaten the future existance of libraries as much as they threaten many traditional retailers.  Again, the potential for collaboration between bookstores and libraries seems like one part of the solution to the challenges and options that Peter describes. 

Peter goes on to note that:
What is important in this observation is not merely the availability of an alternative: It is that the alternative is founded upon an entirely different set of economic and market criteria. What that means is that if market competition dwindles — for example, if a large bookselling chain is forced to ultimately close its doors — publishing is not left with one or two firms operating out of a commercial technology space for whom content is ancillary. Instead, they also have the ability to conduct business through a very different kind of not-for-profit collective that reaches into nearly every single community in the country — constituting a marketing and distribution model that could be replicated to a great extent internationally.

In 2007 college stores, libraries, and IT units sat down to discuss the future of content and information in our areas.  Much has changed in the last five years, and clearly each area is clearly pursuing initiatives with increasing overlap -- but unfortunately, without increasing collaboration.  If each of our areas see survival as an imperative, perhaps it is time to rejoin in conversation, and collaboration, again to pool our strengths and create a joint roadmap for the future.

Of course, we should at first note that the majority (yes, the majority as in over half) of college stores are non-profit organizations tied to the academic mission of non-profit academic institutions.  In many ways, college stores already operate as something of a non-profit collective within academic communities across the country.  Peter suggests some extensions to our traditional model, though, that are intriguing to consider and could be the basis for future store-library collaboration, that benefits publishers, libraries, retailers, and consumers.  Our related "content-with-a-purpose" missions lend us to approaching problems and solutions a bit differently, and those approaches have value.  That value, as Peter notes indirectly, partly lies in providing publishers with alternative channels as a point of leverage against what may otherwise become a fairly monopolistic set of distribution options. 

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