Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Catching up on e-book fine print

Writer’s note:  Normally when I have a computer problem, I first assume it’s operator error.  Often, I’m correct.  Therefore I’m reluctant to blame anything other than forgetfulness on the absence of the following article from this blog.  I wrote it and intended it to be published two weeks ago.  Yesterday while approving a comment someone sent in for my previous post I noticed that this article was only listed in draft, rather than “published” form.  And as it was not available in the archive, and two readers report they did not receive it, I have to assume it did not appear.  As the saying goes, the editors regret the error.

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The corporate and legal wrangling over e-books would make a good mystery plot.  In fact, many aspects of the burgeoning e-book business are simply mysterious.   As the future of mystery fiction and flash fiction are tied to the advance of digital reading, this site has been making note of e-book developments.

In the past weeks, two events have hastened the broad availability of free, digitized literature: The last of the big six U.S. publishers joined the other five in agreeing to make their e-books available to public libraries and, a consortium of libraries and other organizations have launched a national digital public library.

Hachette joined Harper Collins, Macmillan,  Penguin Group, Random House and Simon and Schuster in making their e-books available to public libraries.  These companies publish about two-thirds of the books in the U.S.   Many details remain to be resolved and, according to Anthony Marx, writing in The New York Times, each publisher has different requirements for selling or licensing library e-books.

It’s logical to assume that the ease of checking out e-books at your local library and the availability of many titles will cut into the sale of e-books.  Just how soon the majority of popular books will be widely available in libraries is anyone’s guess.  It may take months or years.   For example, Spokane, Wash., Spokesman Review writer Adrian Rogers recently wrote that few of the current best-selling books are available in e-book format at the Spokane Public Library.

According to Marx, president of the New York Public Library, the Great Recession caused a nationwide surge in library use, yet many Americans don’t even know that libraries offer e-books, limited as the selection might be.

DPLA launched

The other recent development is the creation of the Digital Public Library of America, a modern-day Alexandria, that seeks to use resources from libraries across the country, digitize them and make them available free to the public.

Executive director of the DPLA, Dan Cohen, told Atlantic Monthly recently that the library was a “large-scale attempt, to knit together America’s archives, libraries, and museums, which have a tremendous amount of content–all forms of human expression, from images and photographs, to artwork, to published material and unpublished material, like archival and special collections.”

One of the goals, according to Cohen, is to make it easier for researchers–or anyone–to find material that they might otherwise have to discover by visiting hundreds or thousands of websites.  In addition, third-party users will be able to create apps based on DPLA content.

Cohen told the Atlantic that they would be looking for “alternative licensing” that will help them make more e-book material available.

Robert Darnton, director of Harvard University’s library system, addressed the copyright challenges to making e-books free for all in this new national library, calling the project “utopian.”   In a lengthy article in the New York Review of Books, he noted a March 2011 court decision that effectively derailed Google’s massive book digitizing project but said the DPLA hopes, “to win Google over as an ally in working for the public good.”   In any case, he said they would not wait for the courts to “untangle the legalities” before establishing the framework for the DPLA.

Apple accused of inflating prices

In an unrelated development, the Wall Street Journal reported Apple is defending itself in a Manhattan antitrust trial regarding the price of e-books.  The U.S, Justice Department is accusing the giant corporation of trying to eliminate price competition.  The detailed case revolves around the use of two different pricing models in which either retailers or publishers establish prices.

As has been clear almost since e-book popularity started to skyrocket–and noted in this space before–no one can really predict the future of digital media.  Publishers, retailers, libraries and other stake holders will be hashing this out for some time to come.  Authors and other artists may have a say in the process, but their role will be small.

For a discouraging look at the future of “original” digital material–dire for everyone except the top 1 percent earners–read Jaron Lanier’s article in the New York Times last Sunday called Fixing the Digital Economy.

Internet making us stupid?

Some months ago I wrote about studies showing that constant use of the Internet can shorten our attention spans.  Now comes a report that the Internet is also affecting how we remember things.

According to a video program on the Academic Earth website, the use of Google is changing how our brains operate, favoring short-term memory over the longer term because, well, we can always “Google” something, we don’t have to remember it.  We have conditioned ourselves to forget is the program’s provocative message.

See the links below to find the website.  While you’re there, check out some of the other short programs including a two-minute-forty-second summary of Atlas Shrugged, an examination of Internet anonymity and an explanation of how you may be born a Democrat or Republican.  Some of the programs sound like miniature TED talks.

Hyperlinks

NY Times on e-books and democracy

Interview with DPLA excutive director

Best-sellers scarce in Spokane

Robert Darnton in the NY Review of Books

Digital Public Library of America

Wall Street Journal report on Apple antitrust suit

Lanier on the future of the digital economy

Academia Earth

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