Future of Libraries 2010
The Consumer and Library E-book Markets: Implications and Challenges for Libraries
Paul Sims, Ann Awakuni, and Henry Bankhead

Paul Sims began by saying that he characterizes himself as a doomsayer. He believes that eBooks have the potential to disrupt our ability to provide access to collections. He quoted the ALA Core Value about Access: “All information resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all library users.” eBooks are preventing us from meeting this core value. Technology is changing user expectations. They expect immediacy, portability, durability, and ease of use. Publishers and vendors have expectations that conflict with those of the users: profitability and content ownership. They want to make more money off of eBooks and demanding that they maintain ownership of the “work” that you license (not buy) as a library. The changing culture of reading is preventing us from providing equal and equitable access.

Print is going to go away, says Paul. Are we, as librarians, ready to let it go? Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, said that they will absolutely stop printing the newspaper at sometime in the future. On September 10th, Vernor v. Autodesk weakened the First Sale Doctrine, a 102 year-old law that says that when you buy something you have the right to loan it and resell it. This applies to eBooks because eBooks and other types of eMedia are thought to be considered, legally, in the same category of software…as you license it instead of purchasing it outright. Harlequin and Random House have succeeded very well with the eContent moves their companies have made. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first eBook to sell over 1,000,000 copies. We as libraries are locked out of many of the distribution channels due to our limited vendors & their publisher contracts. As a result, many of the popular eBooks our customer want are unobtainable by libraries. Traditional print bookstores are failing. Barnes & Noble is up for sale and Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy. Sales of eBooks are up 204% in the last 6 months. In June 2010, Amazon reported more eBooks sold than hardcover books. eBook sales are flying up seriously quickly. Library eBook volumes are not keeping pace with public purchase demand. We license and rent the same books over and over, and we don’t expand our collections quickly enough. He quoted some stats for the book Mockingjay: Kindle & Nook price $8.03, hardcover $8.44. There is a 5 month wait list for the title at MVPL, and 9 weeks at SCCL & SFPL. There is no eBook copy immediately available to our users and wait lists are much longer for eCopies than for print for the most popular titles.

Three scenarios that could undermine our business:

  1. What if Virgin or another company offers an eBook reader for free with a 2 year contract for $9.99 a month and get 3 free anytime eBooks every month (very Netflix-esque). These would likely be promoted heavily at discount chain stores and campuses. They could also offer Read-As-You-Go plans.
  2. What if publishers abandoned printing books and instead allowed licensed eBooks to be printed by vendors and partners only. Libraries would continue to get print books and have to pay twice, for content and printing. Some libraries might adopt the print on demand technology, but guess what? Libraries are back to fixing printers all the time. What if FedEx/Kinkos starts printing books for people?
  3. What if Google announces the creation of Google Publishing? They could offer best-selling authors huge signing bonuses (e.g. 50% of sales and 50% of ad revenue). eBooks might be sold for $2.99 to read online with ads, or $9.99 to download and transfer to other devices and with no ads. And they would likely make no provision for libraries…except the lovely one reading computer station per library.

So what do we do? We need to start device-lending, loaning entire libraries of titles on iPads or Kindles. But the EULAs don’t technically allow us to lend the content or the software out beyond personal use. The quick turnover in technology could be a problem with replenishing and updating devices on a tight budget. And it’s a stop-gap measure. It’s not a permanent solution.

The Oregon State Library did a study (the COSLA Project). They recommended creating library collaboratives to purchase eBooks. They recommend eBook reader certification, multiple vendors in the marketplace to choose from, the need for libraries to research connections between library use and book buying, supporting self-publishing, promote civic discourse about public policy affecting eContent, and using the library as a laboratory to test out new possibilities.

We have to work with ALA to lobby to get copyright law changed so that we can lend eBooks in a meaningful way. The other option is to just give up on collections, service, and librarianship. We need to continue to promote the idea of civic engagement at local, state, and federal levels about how eContent and copyright law affects democracy.

Ann Awakuni talked about formats and technologies. eInk is not backlit, is easier on teh eyes, has good battery life for 2-4 weeks even, but has a longer page refresh. An LCD display (tablets & iPads) are backlit but have glare, is harsher on the eyes, has 10 hour battery life with wifi, and has a quick page refresh.

iPads are $499 or $630 and at 3 lbs is heavier than other eReaders. The nice things are the color 9” display, has instant page-turn, and a 2-page layout in landscape mode. You do have more than just an eBook reader, though, with a web browser and games aplenty, as well as other tablet functions. You access books through the iBook store (somewhat small).

Kindles are $139 for the 6” and $379 for the 9.7” dx model. There is a bigger selection than the iBooks store. You can link together all your Kindle apps on various devices to be synced (Whispersync). Average cost of books is $9.99, it has an actual keyboard, a read-to-me feature, and it’s not compatible in any way with library eBooks like those from Overdrive.

The Kobo costs $129 & has a 6” eink display, weighs less than 8 oz, has 1gb of storage, comes preloaded with 100 books, and is compatible with library eBook collections like Overdrive.

The Nook sells for $149-$199. It has 2gb of storage and has wifi. You can lend an eBook to friends for 2 weeks, has a dual eInk & LCD display, and is compatible with library eBook collections like Overdrive.

The Sony eReaders are various — $179 for the pocket – $249 for the daily edition. It uses “eink Vizplex,” black and white display, can be read in direct sunlight, and offers reader touch and other features.

10/14 libraries she contacted that loan eBook readers are loaning Kindles, but more are moving to the Nook. She talked with a librarian in New Hampshire (Mary @ Howe Public Library) noted that libraries have no problems loaning out 5 $100 art books to people but freak out about loaning out a $200 eBook reader. Is it legal for libraries to loaning out eBook readers? Amazon has stated that we can loan out the readers, but not with any content or jail-breaking the devices to allow content copying. So far no one has received a cease and desist letter. She suggests that we need an exclusive library terms of service contract from Amazon and other eContent vendors.

Most public libraries loan out eReaders pre-loaded & don’t let users download anything else onto the reader. Some libraries, though, let the users select which eBook they want and then download it for them before checkout. One good tip: Make sure your Amazon account isn’t linked to your library credit card but a gift card (to protect credit card info & spending sprees). Toronto wants to pilot delivering eBook readers to homebound patrons too. Several college and school libraries are loaning out readers with titles by request. They’ve encountered student and faculty questions about how to cite an eBook (page #s don’t exist).

eBook formats are key to understanding access. EPUB is the International Digital Publishing Forum’s digital standard for eBooks. PDFs work too as a relatively accessible and universal standard.

Blio is a free software eReader. Copia is a social network built around an eReader experience. And Book lets you buy books and see video content attached (e.g. cooking videos with cookbooks).

What does this mean for libraries? We need to add value to the reading experience on digital devices. How can we offer this up with the tools we have now (can’t). She sees us moving toward a “haiku culture” with digital content. We’re moving away from solitary reading to sensory, social, and arguably more shallow. Libraries have to keep up our eContent for the “haves” and not just the “have nots.” We will definitely see more people preferring the electronic to the print, and what are we doing to meet that demand? Do we know what our patrons want? What formats do they prefer? What categories or genres do they check out most?

She did a search for iPad, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and Public Library in Google Trends, and found that “public library” came in second in California Google users (yay1) — not so bad.

Henry Bankhead concluded by talking about the role of the public library with eBooks in the future. Books are simply packaged words, a time transfer of knowledge, culture, and entertainment. Books show us what the past was like and what the future may hold. eBooks are just another format and formats change over time. The history of bamboo books in China exceeds in duration the use of paper books. When eBooks first came out in the 1990s, they failed pretty badly and left a bad impression with people due to bad selections, formats, and digital rights management. But now eBooks are becoming popular because of the wide availability of eBook reading devices and apps. Dedicated devices, mobile phones, and apps that cross platforms (like the Kindle & Stanza apps). eBooks will become more popular than paper books. They offer a superior reading experience with a limitless selection and low cost. There is also the instant gratification factor (at least with consumer eBooks – libraries require long wait times). eBook sales have more than doubled from a year ago. Many patrons are culturally habituated to getting their reading material from the public library. We must not disappoint them. Libraries are guardians of the public trust and upholders of the public good, and must ensure that eBooks are available to our users. If we are not proactive we risk being cut out of the equation and the conversation altogether. Consumers will become habituated to going directly to publishers and bypass the library altogether. We have applied a physical model to a digital forum with dire consequences. The one-book, one-user model does not work for digital content. It works against providing broad access to popular releases and is counter-intuitive. DRM is frustrating and complex. There is a paradigm shift about books and eBooks. We tend to think of the printed paper book as the epitome of the “work.” The “real book” usually starts as an electronic file before it’s turned into dead trees and ink…it is born digital anyway. Libraries need to change from curators of predefined collections to distributors of access. Physical DRM can be coupled with print on demand as just one of many formats, on compost-able cheap paper meant to be recycled once you’re done reading. Picture a future when you say “book” and you actually mean eBook, not the print book. We need an easy to use technology and an easy interface that works for users. Pay per download is one model. This lets patrons choose what they want, as with Netflix, creating patron-driven acquisition. This ensures that publishers have a defined revenue stream. A multi-format distribution means that patron-driven acquisition results in multiple formats. Patrons choose titles and formats that fit their needs. Libraries don’t pay for every single format ahead of time, but rather pay per access in the format and for the title that the user has selected. There could be a premium cost for new releases and less for back lists. New release titles could be made available only in the library (wish list!). We could have a cumulative pricing option as well. Simple DRM with all formats. Let’s work together to make something happen by working with vendors and publishers and distributors to create a top-notch eBook experience in the library.

Future of Libraries 2010
Cracking the Code: Beyond Dewey
Rachel Fewell and Lynda Freas, Anythink Libraries

The Colorado Libraries decided that they wanted their new libraries to be a third place, and to banish Dewey. London had the “idea store” — an experience model that was not common in libraries. Maricopa County and Frankfurt Library (IL) did a word based system. Darien Library created subject-oriented “glades” of materials and Hennepin has broken their collection into “neighborhoods” with groups by topic but still with Dewey labels.

In 2009 they did a roll-out of their “Anythink Libraries” brand to replace their former name, the Rangeview Library District. The buildings were remodeled to include reading areas with fireplaces, comfortable furniture, children’s areas with kid-friendly and colorful furniture. They put their family and parenting books in the children’s area. The shelving was all perfectly linear, but they moved to a bookstore shelving model with modular shelves at right angles, with curves, and all oriented by topic/word (they’re calling them neighborhoods). The libraries’ collections are being classified and shelved with words and not numbers.

4 people spent 1000 hours doing their catalog conversion for the whole system from Dewey to word-oriented classification, which they call WordThink. It took about a week per branch to do the conversion, and the new branches all are launched in BISAC. They replaced all of their labels with items that were brighter and more readable too. Topics like farming, languages, etc. These signs are yellow typeface on a green background. Second level signage is provided on the shelves themselves vertically, blue typeface on a white background. Nonfiction is filed alphabetically by title, except for areas that it doesn’t make sense (e.g. literary criticism). Fiction is filed by author within each genre.

They had to figure out with their vendors and technical services librarians how to translate BISAC classifications into WordThink classification. BISAC grids are available for free online to everyone. They also planned for yearly updates and retrofitting. 4 staff members changed item records for all the dewey ranges, going through item by item. Every single non-fiction collection was converted (including LPs, Books on CD, J & E, Teen).

Future of Libraries 2010
Social Media Capital
Patrick Sweeney

This was a very helpful and practical presentation from Patrick Sweeney (http://www.pcsweeney.com) started by showing a popular viral video about social media, quoting statistics about various social media sites and their impact on society. (e.g. 80% of companies use social media for recruitment. Ashton Kutcher has more Twitter followers than the entire population of Ireland. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine. 34% of bloggers write about brands and products).

Social capital is “the collective value of all ‘social networks’ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other” (Putnam). An example is at San Mateo County Library they are organizing programs and finding performers through Facebook connections and discussions. Facebook and Twitter are also a place to follow local government officials and partner agencies and engage with them by answering questions they have, re-tweeting their good content, etc.

Make sure your online profile is up to date and accurate in directories, news sites, and online maps. Search for your library in Yahoo & Google and see what comes up. Is it accurate? Make sure that any news stories about the library contain updated information if anything has changed (change in policy, hours, etc.). People will go back and see this through web search, and you want to make sure it’s accurate.

Go over Yelp, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to see what’s being said on other sites and profiles and –engage– by commenting, liking, and following. Look at what your staff are talking about as well — likely the library is often mentioned in their posts. One more way to reach out to your customers.

Find out which sites your community is using. It might not be Facebook or Twitter. His library’s Hispanic community is mostly using MySpace, so that’s someplace they need to be. He also warns not to try to use everything and be everywhere. Pick the top 5. His top 5 are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and WordPress.

Some decisions to make. Are you going to post as an institution, or as an individual? What brand are you going to use with these profiles? Will it be employee-run or organizationally-run? Employee-run posting can provide some legal implications and issues (moderating comments, freedom of information, etc.). What are you going to say? Just pushing out information one-way as a marketing tool is not the most effective way to reach out. Think about who your audience is before posting.

Policies! Argh. You need policies about what staff can do and cannot do, both on their own time and during work hours. You need a patron posting policy to govern comments or moderation. You might need policies about each individual site too.

Think about your brand. Register your name at a site like Knowem.com. Have a standard logo or photo, description/biography, and tags (if available). He recommends registering as many of your names and acronyms as possible, just as you do with domain names (to prevent squatters from providing ads or misleading sites).

How to find friends. Talk to people virtually and face-to-face about the fact that you’re on these sites. Use hashtags to follow organizations, products, names, and topics. Create a hashtag for your library too! Have contests or promotions for friending or following. Retweet something that someone else has posted that is applicable for libraries, and they’ll see your retweet and perhaps then follow you. Answer informational questions that you find on Facebook or Twitter. Take the initiative and help others where they’re asking the questions. Ask questions too. Seeking input from your community is an excellent way to encourage engagement.

Catch a meme wave and put the library’s name and resources out there where our customers are paying attention. He showed us the viral Old Spice library video and the Harold B. Lee Library’s parody of the Old Spice videos advertising the library. He pointed out the “People for a library-themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor” page.

What not to do! Don’t ever post anything negative – it won’t bring about anything good. Don’t lie. Don’t post about religion, sex, or politics. Don’t troll (saying something negative just to get a rise out of people).

Find out when you’re getting mentioned in the news. Set up Google Alerts, use TwinBox (for Twitter), and then run searches for yourself in sites, look at rating sites like Yelp, and listen to what people say. Respond to them as you would a customer right in front of you.

If users are posting about negative experiences you need to respond. He recommends looking at Kodak’s social media plan (inc. how to deal with negative behaviors online).

Now that you have social capital, how are you going to spend that? Find out what your community wants — do they need more business books, programs, services, open hours? These are conversations you can have with your customers in real time, from anywhere. Connect with your city/county/school organizations and collaborate with them on projects via these tools. If you emote a happy and fun persona online, this can translate into voting support, funding, etc. Advertise the services you have, letting people know what you have and what you do for them. Promote online materials over print, as this is an online medium. Mention local resources, including local artists and bands too — you might find a performer!

As a librarian, don’t forget about your own social network as a tool for professional development and connections. This helps you connect with people with like interests, get feedback and help, make connections that make you visible if you want to publish or run for office in ALA or another professional organization.

  1. In Praise of the Free Webinar (resources for finding ’em in libraryland): http://bit.ly/anGBC3
  2. What a good library program idea from @nypl: Program for parents of school-age kids: “What To Do When It’s Due Next Day” http://ow.ly/2EGC4
  3. From @wired: Take a tour of the New Twitter, screen by screen: http://bit.ly/96OxtS
  4. From @gluejar: Can Libraries Work Together to Acquire eBook Assets? http://bit.ly/9iZzoJ
  5. From @librarianbyday: Crap Detection, A 21st Century Literacy « Libraries and Transliteracy http://bit.ly/cqyFUa
  6. Put Google Chrome on library PCs! From @mattcutts – a shortcut: Control-Shift-V pastes as plain text (no formatting) – http://goo.gl/8my5
  7. Great use of a Google Custom Search Engine – Open Access Journals search engine (3600+ titles) – http://bit.ly/akKRbr (via @charbooth @oatp)
  8. From @JustinLibrarian: Pretty awesome look at a library loaning out Nooks and a GREAT FAQ http://bit.ly/dwPJns
  9. Ammunition to get a library mobile app project approved! 1 of 4 US adults already uses apps [story from @mashable] – http://mash.to/2Els
  10. The Complete Android Guide is available in digital & hard copies, & it’s available for free browsing: http://ow.ly/2EOuL
  11. Internet Explorer 9 Screenshot Tour: The Best New Features in IE9 http://lifehacker.com/5638885/
  12. From@TechStuffHSW: Is Internet Explorer 9 a glimpse at the future of the Web? http://is.gd/fc7Tj
  13. If you work in a library & don’t know what First Sale Doctrine & EULAs are, read this. http://bit.ly/aGIG42 This kind of stuff affects library digital content and what our future will hold.
  14. Photo of what the new Twitter will look like (photo of screen @ the press event): http://mashable.com/2010/09/14/new-twitter-web-interface
  15. Our Favorite Office Objects: Kitchen Goods as Office Storage http://lifehacker.com/5637204/
  16. Chart has data on ages of social network users http://bit.ly/ahK5Uv (from ALA_TechSource, via @sabram)
  17. Presentation from @DavidLeeKing Collaborative Technology in Libraries http://bit.ly/bMBC3X (from ALA_TechSource)
  1. William Gibson: the Dangerous Minds interview http://bit.ly/aNeKMj (from @BoingBoing)
  2. Visualize Your Gmail Activity With Graph Your Inbox – http://mash.to/2DJuI (from @mashable)
  3. Jakob Nielsen: Designing Websites for Children http://bit.ly/KidsUsability Definitely applicable to library kids sites. (via @NNgroup)
  4. Only 2 more days to register for the @ALA_TechSource workshop ‘Using Tech in Library Training’ w/Paul Signorelli on 9/16 http://bit.ly/aDJPx9
  5. Good, quick post by @nengard on Social media desktop apps and how they can work for you. http://bit.ly/a8wAYv (via @ALA_TechSource)
  6. Great new post on getting stuff done from @davidleeking – New blog post: Resistance vs Management http://bit.ly/93rMM5
  7. From @ALA_TechSource: Social media policy for a one branch public library.  http://bit.ly/bN8kYf
    Heck, libraries of any kind can benefit from this simple approach — quick and painless.
  1. Watch Cory Doctorow’s lecture on Copyright vs. Creativity & think about impact on info access.  It’s seriously inspiring, as are most of Doctorow’s talks.  http://bit.ly/bGZwka (via @slowtv @doctorow)
  2. Using Netflix at an Academic Library – a TTW Guest Post by Rebecca Fitzgerald @ALA_ACRL (via @mstephens7)
  3. I’m speaking at the Library Journal eConference: “eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point – A Virtual Summit.”  Register now!  http://bit.ly/9sINua
  4. 5 tips for using Priority Inbox in Gmail http://bit.ly/au5vrs (from GoogleAtWork)
  5. A Finnish library patron built a mobile app that scans item barcodes, searches the library’s catalog, shows you available digital & physical copies, and then & gives you directions to the nearest library with it on the shelves.  This is so sweet!  http://bit.ly/b5fI7h (via @href=”http://twitter.com/natenatenate”>natenatenate)
  6. Google Voice App Adds Home Screen Widgets for Easy Access to Messages – http://mash.to/2BUQz (via @mashable)
  7. 10 Tips for Designing Presentations That Don’t Suck: Pt.2 | @DesignShack http://bit.ly/cnYqKt (via @ghardin)
  8. Build Project Management Gantt Charts With Gantto http://ff.im/qrxC8 (via @webgoddess)
  1. Google Instant Search Preview Goes Live (pretty sweet if I do say so myself) – http://mash.to/2BemR
  2. OMG, public libraries! Municode has online versions of U.S. state, city, & county codes! How many times would this have saved my tush on the reference desk?  http://bit.ly/aJMFdI (via Sites and Soundbytes)
  3. 24 Impressive WordPress Blog Plug-ins You Should Consider (from @smexaminer)
  4. Paper.li creates a newspaper page with Twitter content (user, hashtag, group) in an easy-to-read format: http://paper.li/
  5. I get a ton of questions about archiving Tweets. Here’s a great article from @rww: 10 Ways to Archive Your Tweets http://rww.tw/K50NX
  6. Fur.ly is a good service for librarians sharing resource lists. Shorten multiple URLs into one fur.ly URL & send to a group: http://fur.ly/
  7. Ebook Reader Overviews (from Lauren Pressley): http://t.co/B3nBO7H
  8. So seriously, if you haven’t tried out the interactive Arcade Fire video yet, take the pluge & do it. http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/
  9. How to Be a Hybrid Designer/Developer http://t.co/VVsfv2k via @mashdevdesign @mashable
  10. Dutch Library DOK’s New Cutting-edge Community Tech Projects http://t.co/z6Y0k1t (via @mstephens7) It’s always better in the Netherlands.
  11. There is a generously free chapter of new Library Technology Report by J. Grogg / R. Fleming-May available for viewing about how to analyze electronic resources http://bit.ly/dDqXtP
  12. I Love My Librarian Award nominations end 9/20! 10 librarians win $5000 & a trip to NY. http://www.ilovelibraries.org/ilovemylibrarian
  13. Via @mashable “What Your Business Should Know About Facebook Places” – http://bit.ly/a5BJCm by @benparr (Libraries too!)
  1. HowStuffWorks.com has built a new TechStuff podcast page, complete with quizzes and puzzles! http://is.gd/eNCLW (via @TechStuffHSW)
  2. Diagram Designer is a simple program for creating diagrams easily (Windows only). Just used it & love it! – http://meesoft.logicnet.dk/
  3. Check out this FREE Chapter of new Library Technology Report by J. Grogg / R. Fleming-May.  Learn the latest on how to analyze electronic resources, something every library needs to be doing. http://bit.ly/dDqXtP (via @ALA_TechSource)
  4. Secure those passwords library army! From @Lifehacker: Update Your Insecure Passwords & Make Them Easy to Use http://lifehacker.com/5631203/
  5. This would be an interesting move, and not surprising given the drop-off of vendor attendance at conferences. From @LibraryJournal: End of the ALA Conference as we know it? http://bit.ly/cxDhgJ Merger with BookExpo America may be coming.
  6. The ACLU Challenges Laptop Searches & Seizures at the Border http://bit.ly/92Jfht (via @EFF and @ACLU)

I worry about libraries and the future of music.  Our users simply don’t use music in the formats or the ways that we provide it.   We’re blind to what they want then complain when they try to make what we do have fit their paradigm. You’ve seen people come in, grab a pile of CDs, burn them right there in the library sometimes, then return them and check out more.  Libraries are a source of piracy for sure, but the way we provide music to our users in general has proven to be less than useful as the years go on.  Your CD circulation has dropped, right?  And you’ve probably cut funding to the CD collection too, right?  OK, now think about why you did that and what we need to do next.

Music sales have dropped about 50% in the last decade and while CD sales have tanked, album downloads have grown slowly but single song downloads have exploded to 13 times the number of album downloads (Tom Silverman, Tommy Boy Records).  The advent of iTunes, YouTube, and other music consumption services fundamentally changed the way people consume music.  It’s no longer about the album as a self-enclosed object with liner notes. It’s about the song itself, the music video, on demand when and where you want it.

And let’s face it.  Libraries have crap in the way of digital music.  We can’t just buy a song from iTunes and put it up on our website as a converted MP3 (though we should legally be able to, imho).  We have to buy collections from third party vendors.  There are three major collections in existence: Overdrive (classical, folk, tiny bit of rock), Alexander Street Music (folk, classical, world), and the new Freegal music service (popular music but only from Sony).

Overdrive & Alexander Street Music are very similar.  Overdrive users download a music file in a DRM-protected format that will self-encrypt and be unreadable after the designated circulation period (e.g. 3 weeks).  Update: Alexander Street Music offers -streaming- access to classical, jazz, and folk. And sadly, the selection is not what most of our users want.  Most people aren’t looking for classical and folk music.  Libraries with these services get very poor use of them (according to my anecdotal discussions with other eResources managers), and frankly, I personally don’t think they’re worth the money we pay for them.  Check your usage stats and do a cost per use calculation.  You’re likely to find you might be paying $5/song.  Ri-freaking-diculous.

Freegal is very different.  The songs are popular ones with a lot of well-known artists in different genres like rock, R&B, and country.  And in a lovely change of pace, the songs are provided as DRM-free MP3s!  But — and I stress the but — the library can only offer these in a very limited fashion because of cost.  The library pays for the number of downloads per year they want to fund.  Then divide that by 52, and there’s your weekly cap.  If you hit the cap, then no users can download anything else for the rest of the week.  As a result, Freegal suggests that you limit the number of songs any one user can download in one week.  For our library in San Jose, that number is 3.  Yep, you get only 3 songs per week, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to log on before we hit our weekly cap.  Update/Clarification: SJPL no longer has a weekly cap. So if you want to download an actual album, you have to calendar yourself to come back for at least 4 weeks to get one single album.  How many users are going to do that?  For us to pay for enough songs for our users to access a full album per week, we’d need to spend approximately $500,000 per year.  And that’s not happening, nor should it in my opinion.  That’s a ridiculous proposition for a collection budget.  Is this token offering of popular online music to our users enough to interest them and an attempt at a successful model, or does it merely show that libraries are clueless once again about what our users really want with digital formats?  Again, please check out the cost per use of the service and I can just about guarantee you it’s costing you more to offer songs via Freegal to your users than it would to simply buy them the songs they want directly from iTunes, Amazon, or whatever other service they use. But what other choices do we have?  To do nothing. And that stinks too.

It’s nice that the vendors are trying to provide music digitally to libraries.  They could have just said no, and done nothing.  An attempt is much appreciated.  I’m sure dealing with record companies is a nightmare, and I don’t envy them that job. My first concern is what the residents of San Jose want and will use, and I’m just not sure that this is it.

Stephen Abram asked some excellent questions in his post about libraries and music: Libraries, Music, and the Internet.

1. Are we album or song oriented?
2. Do we create or use search tools for albums, artists and songs?
3. Do we catalogue by genre?
4. Are we oriented to physical formats alone?
5. Can we ‘lend’ a streaming format?
6. Do we use the promotion tools on YouTube like music videos?

I would add two questions to that list:

  1. Is it better to offer -something- in the way of digital music, even if it’s poor, or should we hope for better library-friendly digital collections or, better yet, a legal ruling that exempts libraries from DRM restrictions on digital content?
  2. Would any library be willing to take the legally risky (but perfectly rational) chance to burn its physical collection into MP3s and then start providing the files online for free to users with a library card log-in?

If your library has not had a serious discussion about music content and its place in the library’s physical and digital collections, I highly suggest you do so.  The future has already moved on without us and we are struggling as a result.  Be intentional in your decision-making, because what you invest in today will affect your users’ opinions of you tomorrow.

I do also think that this is a general problem related to digital content.  Downloadable movies have the same problem as other commenters have pointed out.  For movies & music, people want to get what they want when and where they want it.  That means digital.  Multi-device-compatible formats.  Platform-neutral access.  And to do it successfully, this probably means a streaming model, a cost per access model, and an “everything under the sun” model for libraries.

I have a few ideas of how we could potentially solve this problem, but it would take a government mandate that would likely piss off publishers, record companies, and movie moguls.  Too bad for them.  I’m ironing out the details of that idea now with some really smart people.

I feel firmly that we in libraries are doing the music thing wrong.  We’re not providing the formats, collections, or songs to our users in the ways that they want to consume them.  I believe streaming is the future — and as Abram asks, where do libraries fit in that model?  Do we pay for a community-wide Rdio license?  I think that’s the answer, or at least the best one I can come up with so far.  If you have your own ideas, suggestions, or additional rants, please post them in the Comments section.  Let the arguing begin!

Review of Rdio

September 6, 2010 | Comments (2)

Music is the single best representation of anyone’s true inner self.  You might think you know someone, but browse through their music collection and you might just change your mind.  The way that we listen to music has changed drastically.  We’re moving away from physical formats to digital formats.  I buy all my music digital-only now, though my 2000+ CDs & records are still in the house.  Aside from rare or sentimental albums, I think my physical music objects will soon be going to Amoeba Records to earn a few bucks.  I have everything in digital format (backed up, of course) and listen online more than anywhere else anyway.

We’re also moving away from the ownership model of music to the subscription model.  Services like Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, and others serve as a way for people to access nearly any digital music album or song they want, any time.  And no need to pay per song — it’s a monthly subscription cost.  You can listen to anything you want, as often as you want, for as long as you want.  I truly believe this is the future of music — no more “I own this piece of plastic which has 12 songs on it.”  Instead, it will be “I subscribe to X Service and get unlimited access to all music.”

A subscription model is easier and better for the end user, and still profitable for the music producers.  I dare say not profitable for the artists, though I hope with a more open subscription service you will see more independent artists earning money directly from fans instead of through useless record company middle men.  The subscription model could also alleviate a lot of the music piracy that has sent record companies into a DRM tizzy and seriously damaged easy access to music files.  If I pay $5 or $10 a month and can get anything I want, why bother downloading illegally or legally?

The problem is, of course, bandwidth.  If all the music is online, you’re live streaming every time you want something.  The U.S. is woefully behind other countries in developing a high speed network.  My hope is that Google’s wired bandwidth project, as well as the development of 3G+ networks, we will see an improvement in service over the next decade.  In the meantime, these services can still work — if the services do something smart.

And Rdio has done just that.  Rdio is the online music streaming service I use.  I love it, though it has some teensy kinks that are still being worked out as it achieved mass adoption rates at their release well beyond what they were set up to handle.  It’s stabilized a lot, and is truly awesome.

There’s a website of course, and a desktop version to use, as well as apps for mobile use.  You subscribe for either $4.99 or $9.99 a month to get unlimited streaming music, as well as the option to sync songs to your mobile device and even download the MP3s (for 99 cents, much like iTunes).  The ability so sync your favorite songs to your device means you don’t have to download them next time — nice!  Saves bandwidth in the future, and makes the service more efficient and sustainable.

The neatest feature for me is that Rdio matches up your iTunes or other collection so you can easily build your “collection” in Rdio to match what you already have–making browsing what you like really easy.  I found that they have access to about 2/3 of the music I have in my iTunes collection, but I do listen to some fairly obscure stuff.  They do not have access to all music by all artists.  Some artists will have nothing available for them (like Dead Can Dance), but others will have everything in their catalog (like Air), while others have some weird smattering of songs or albums (e.g. Underworld).  They currently are partnered with Warner, Sony, Universal, EMI, ioda, The Orchard, INgrooves, and Iris.  More partners are added as time goes on, and I’m pretty confident that missing music companies will be added soon as Rdio’s popularity soars.

Of course there is a social component where you can friend folks and see what they’re listening to.  I discovered a good band today using that feature.  That being said, Rdio could benefit from some music recommendation offerings, much like Pandora or Last.fm offer.  When I don’t know what I want to listen to, Pandora is still my first choice.  But when I want a particular song or artist, then it’s off to Rdio.  I’m loving it in my car, listening to my favorite songs on my commute without worrying if I synced the right album onto my phone or bringing the right CD with me.  If your music tastes are wide-ranging and fickle and you’re on the go with multiple devices, then Rdio might be a good choice for you too.