E-Readers and the Great Eyeball War

The first e-reader big push, in the '09' holiday season, had little discernible impact at the library, probably because the library had little to offer in the way of e-books.  Demand for digital media until then had been focused on audio books.  Of our two digital media vendors, NetLibrary and OverDrive, the library offered NetLibrary's e-books only in an online version, not the pricier downloadable Adobe PDF version that could be used with an e-reader, and OverDrive was then almost completely focused on audio books.

A year ago, OverDrive was preoccupied with addressing the iPod market-share for audio books, following Amazon's lead by offering them as MP3's in addition to the Windows WMA format.  Since then, OCLC has sold NetLibrary to EBSCO, where it seems to be dying on the vine, (regrettably, because NetLibrary has an excellent collection), whereas OverDrive has been exceptionally aggressive in adapting to new digital media trends, partnering with Adobe to offer e-Pub and PDF e-books, and adding the entire public domain Project Gutenberg collection.

Last week patrons began to e-mail, call, and walk in to get help with the e-readers that they'd gotten for Christmas.  My impression was that they mostly had Barnes & Noble Nook e-readers, though I was told someone had an Amazon Kindle.  No one had a Sony Reader.  Our information was that OverDrive's e-books would work on Nooks and Sony Readers, but not Amazon Kindles.  Then we heard that OverDrive's Gutenberg e-books would work on the Kindle.

I found an interesting article, Ten Predictions For The E-Reader/E-Book Market In 2010, that makes the point,
Most consumers don’t read enough to justify buying a single-function reading device, and according to Forrester’s data, more consumers already read e-books on mobile phones and PCs than on e-readers.
From what I have observed in the library, people who come in to use the Wi-Fi have a laptop and a cell phone.  People who come in to use our public access PC's usually have a cell phone.  Our crowd does not have expensive devices like iPhones or Blackberries.

So there are all these portable devices:  iPods, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries and other smartphones, MP3 players, netbooks, e-readers.  And they all want to be people's primary devices, offering "apps" for things they weren't initially designed for.

Look at OverDrive's current FAQ for an idea of how complicated it's become for librarians when people ask for help with digital media.  Libraries are not, and will never be "cutting edge".  They cannot afford to be.  Capital proposes, the consumer disposes, and libraries must wait and see.


Jules Aimé said...

Interesting. I sympathize with the challenges. From a user perspective, it is very difficult to figure out how to use digital media at my library the first few times. It gets very easy with familiarity.

I was one of the people who did not think they needed a single-function e-reader and then someone gave me one for Christmas. Since then the only problem is keeping other people from getting to it before I do :-(

The big advantage with the e-reader is how easy it is on the eyes compared to computer or iPad screens.

I wonder how long e-readers will remain single function. The e-reader I was given is already set up to connect to wireless for book shopping. An e-reader with a browser, word processor and blue tooth keyboard would pretty much eliminate any need I have for a laptop.

Brett said...

OverDrive has done a good job at making library e-books as painless as possible, but there is still a "dance" involved: installing Adobe Digital Editions on your PC and "activating" the e-reader with the same Adobe ID that your PC uses.

We've been having some trouble lately with corrupted downloads, where the last part of the book won't play.

You may get your wish, at least in part. The "Ten Predictions" article talks about netbooks and e-readers with dual E-Ink/LCD screens, and apps for mobile phones that will make them more e-book friendly.

I wish the library would buy us an e-reader for us to train with. I haven't seen for myself the "easy-on-the-eyes" E-Ink screen.