Viable ebook options either provide libraries with ownership privileges or are free of digital rights management (DRM) software, ideally both. DRM is an inherently flawed technology that can be replaced either by creating better software or, more likely, by developing models that enable libraries to acquire ebooks and authors, editors, and others involved in publishing to get paid for their work. This is a draft and an outline. The material on this page will soon be published as a narrative.
|Open Library||Yes||No||Fair Use/First Sale||Print-based books digitized by Open Library and converted to eBooks. Open Library has also bought ebooks directly from a few publishers.||Hosted by Open Library: a set of over 200,000 ebooks is available for “in library” lending, and a set of 10,000 is available for “open lending”||ePub, PDF, in-browser||Free||Over 1,000 participating libraries|
|Unglue.it||Yes||Yes||Creative Commons||Rightsholders are paid to relicense their work||Any digital format||Any||Initially crowdsourced in order to meet rightsholder’s asking price, then free to anyone||Currently in alpha testing|
|Sneakernet Model||Yes||Yes||Fair Use/First Sale||Any eBook distributor or “DIY”||Read-only USB drives||Any||Price of eBook and price of USB drive||None yet, but presently viable|
|Steampunk Model||Yes||Yes||Fair Use/First Sale||Digital-only texts purchased by libraries and printed as paper-based books||Standard model used currently for paper-based books||Paper||Price of eBook and price of printing||None yet, but presently viable|
|DIY Model||Yes||Depends on Distribution and Format||Fair Use/First Sale||Paper-based texts purchased and digitized by libraries, then circulated only in digital format (purchasing a single copy and circulating it in two or more formats would violate copyright)||DRM-enabled hosting software or read-only USB drives||Any||Price of paper-based book, price of digitization, and price of distribution method||None yet, but presently viable (?)|
|Open Source/DRM Hybrid Model||Yes||Both||Common Understanding||Any eBook distributor or “DIY”||Library-hosted, open source (MySQL/VuFind) and DRM-enabled commercial (Adobe Content Server) software||ePub, PDF, in-browser (ebooks hosted via Adobe Content Server are not available on Kindle)||eBooks (25–45% publisher discounts);
Adobe Content Server ($10,000 one-time license; $1,500 annual maintenance; 8 cents per checkout); Public Domain/ Creative Commons/ Open Source (Free)
|Douglas County (Colorado) Libraries and the MARMOT Library Consortia|
|Library License||Yes||Depends on Distribution and Format||To be determined||Rightsholders agree to relicense their work||To be determined||Any||To be determined||Not yet viable|
|Unlimited Content License Model||Yes||Yes||AADL Unlimited Use, Fixed Term Content License||Rightsholder is paid to provide files, which are accessed without limits or returns by authenticated cardholders||Library-hosted, open source software (SOPAC/Drupal)||Any, including streaming or downloaded audio and video, plus PDF and ePub||Negotiated with rightsholder||Magnatune at Ann Arbor District Public Library|
|State Redistribution Model||No||Yes||Author retains copyright, but file sharing is legalized||Authors paid based on the cube root of popularity of their publications||Any. Sharing would be legal, and widespread sharing would be in the author's best interest||Any||Authors or publishers can charge what they wish for copies obtained directly from them||Not yet viable (requires government intervention)|
|3M Cloud Library||Yes||No||Fair Use/First Sale||Any eBook distributor (State Library of Kansas obtained permission from publishers to transfer copies between hosting vendors)||Vendor-hosted, DRM-enabled software (currently Adobe Content Server)||All but PC, Nook, and Kindle||Negotiated with 3M||State Library of Kansas digital books|
|Publisher Hosting Model||Yes||Yes||Fair Use||Publisher||Publisher-hosted software||PDF or in-browser||Prices posted or negotiated with vendor||Springer ebooks and Wiley onlne books|
Perhaps the most pressing issue in American libraries today is the need to serve the rapidly increasing percentage of people who own ebook readers and tablet computers. According to a January 23, 2012 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "The number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18% in December to 29% in January." If libraries wish to serve people who own these devices while also upholding the core values that best serve readers (e.g., intellectual freedom and preservation), they need to develop ebook practices and software that complement one another.
The only ebook options that uphold libraries' core values either provide libraries with ownership rights for the authorized copies they purchase and circulate or are free of digital rights management (DRM) software, ideally both. DRM is an inherently flawed technology that can be replaced either by creating better software or, more likely, by developing models that enable libraries to acquire ebooks and authors, editors, and others involved in publishing to get paid for their work. By analyzing every existing model that either involves ownership or is DRM-free, people who are interested in libraries can develop a consensus around realistic and efficient practices, and can create and adapt software to support these practices.
"...stronger participation from the traditional library community seems essential. And had it been available earlier, such participation might have helped us avoid the most glaring omission of the first decade of digital library research and development: the lack of attention to preservation. It is only in the last few years that the enormity of the preservation problem has begun to become generally known, and research which might help resolve it is still very much in its infancy. For roughly a decade we have been rushing to put materials online with no thought to (and no idea of how to) preserve them. One consequence is that, almost certainly, there will be a hole in history...."Given that libraries' relationship with serials, especially electronic journals (e.g., the pricing practices that have resulted in a widespread boycott of all journals published by Elsevier), can be seen as a lesson in how not to work with commercial interests, it may be worth noting the recent report by university libraries at Columbia and Cornell which notes that only "15-20% of the e-journal titles in the libraries' collections are currently preserved" by libraries' two leading digital preservation initiatives, LOCKSS and Portico. One way for libraries to avoid these kinds of difficulties is to find ways now, while ebooks are still relatively new, to begin preserving copies of ebooks in ways that will ensure their availability for future readers.
Thanks to Jo Budler, Tim Coates, Shea Crow, Jeff Goldenson, Jesse Koennecke, Jamie LaRue, Robert Miller, Mary Minow, Eli Neiburger, John Saylor, Karen Schneider, Monique Sendze, Ari Shanok, Kate Sheehan, Richard Stallman, and Andromeda Yelton (and more to come) for their help with my research.
The latest working version of this document is available online.