More on libraries and eBooks

Another article on the problem of eBooks and libraries. A sort of follow-up on my previous post about Cory Doctorow’s ALA speech.

The article specifically takes up the distinction between owning something as property (a book) and licensing something (eBook):

We need to stop thinking of and talking about ebooks as books, and more as we would an app or a software package: Ebooks are computer code that display text and pictures instead of instructing our tablets to do some task. Not only can we not legally fiddle with such proprietary software, but we can’t “buy” it, either — we lease it, according to terms and conditions set by the manufacturer.

The same applies to ebooks. We don’t buy them, we lease them. It may be a long-term lease, but a lease just the same. There are limits and restrictions on use for all ebooks, and confusingly, those limits and restrictions vary depending on which company is offering the product.

It’s for this reason that we should stop using terminology like “bestseller lists” — when it really should be “most leased” lists — because that language of physical books reinforces a very dangerous notion of ownership. Buyers of physical books can do whatever they want with them, from loaning to friends as many times as they like to reselling at a used-books store. (Note that when a book owner does this, she gets that money — not the publisher.)

The article also says a few localities have taken up legislative efforts aimed at helping libraries with what is viewed as unfair pricing, though it looks to be very limited so far:

Recognizing the problem, the Connecticut state legislature passed a law requiring a study of pricing of ebooks to libraries. My local jurisdiction of Montgomery County, Maryland, also passed a resolution calling for county libraries to have “equitable access at fair prices” to ebooks. But such efforts have not been taken up in many places yet.

While the article identifies three problems with eBooks as something other than property, the only one it really provides evidence for is the library pricing, where libraries are paying incredibly high prices compared to what they used to pay for physical books.

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