Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Houston... We Have A Problem! eBook Formats and Delivery Channels.

My arms are tired.

Yes - you read it right... my arms are tired.  They are tired of lugging around all the books I'm reading right now.  "But Jason", you say... "you know the answer to your problem is a simple e-reader away!".  I'd agree with you on that... I was excited about picking up a Barnes and Noble Nook and then "the problem" hit me.  I don't own all the books I'm carrying around.  I've leveraged one of the best resources a community can give its residents - the public library!

So... to lighten my load, I'd need to purchase a reader, and then purchase the titles from content providers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Both of these main providers have proprietary formats which you need to use their software applications or hardware solutions to read the books you purchase.

Well - I don't want to purchase all of the books I'm reading right now!  I have access to a good majority of all of the worlds print, all that we have learned and that which has been passed on in written word and translated through the ages by simply showing my library card.  Now all I would like is to have all that information at my fingertips... without paying for it... in electronic format... on a device that won't tire my arms.  Why are you looking at me like I'm asking for a lot?  :)

There is already a format out there which is an open reader format - ePub.  Sure - it's not a perfect standard, but I think if there was a push for this to be a widely accepted standard that it could be improved upon and would eventually fit the need.

In the same way that I try to solve most of my problems, I start with a quick search to see what is out there.  What I found was that there are several sites that have books that are public domain published online for you to read.  If you'd like to read some of Plato's written work, you can. But, I'm having a harder time finding some of the later titles that I'm currently reading out on the "free" web.  I have to believe that this is because of some publishing rights / distribution rights issue.  Now I'm questioning how the library does it though... I can just as easily purchase a copy of any of the best sellers from Amazon right now, wait for it to arrive and bring it to my library and donate it.  With the purchase of that one copy, all members in my community and across Michigan can now enjoy that book, right?  Well - maybe... I need to research this a bit more...

While starting to research the e-books rights questions, I stumbled across what I think is a pretty good scam.  There are sites out there like that will sell you e-books with "resell rights" saying that when you buy them you have the right to resell them and even use any of the content as your own and repackage and sell your own e-book.  I think what these are are really just crappy articles with a few good tips.  I can see writers using this to beef up their own books with content that was not really written by them, but that feels kind of "dirty" to me.
Here is the link to the Internet Public Library which list free resources for texts and audio on the web, but these are things that have moved into public domain and won't cover many of the things that I'm reading.

The New York Public Library looks like they have a section of ePub books ready for download and enjoyment on your mobile device... now we're getting closer...ah, but wait.  It's powered by "OverDrive", and I remember this name from my local library.  OverDrive is a service that you can sign up for, download their software call the OverDrive Media Console and then you can access some of the online content that your local library has available in the form of e-books or audiobooks.  A very cool idea... but still not what I'm looking for... it seems like a digital rights management company for certain media... and actually - it is!

And it looks like OverDrive isn't the only option for digital media publishing - there's also NetLibrary.
I like this idea - but I'll be honest... it seems like the BMI / EMI / ASCAP etc, of the electronic book industry.  Don't get me wrong - if I'm the author of an e-book that I want distributed across many channels, including public libraries, this is going to be a great way to get my content out there and managed.  I'll likely come back to this when I have the need for such a thing, but today's issue is about something else...

Maybe this "something else" doesn't exist yet?  Maybe the cost for the infrastructure is too great to ever accomplish such a thing?  Maybe the digital rights management of all existing and new content is far too complex to manage through a single system? Maybe I'm chasing a dream that will never come to be....

I guess what I'm looking for is something similar to digital curation with a standard easily deployed format and distribution channels that allow that content to be delivered easily to today's devices, at no or limited cost to the consumers.  Perhaps "fresh" content wouldn't be added to this freely available resource until a determined timeframe on the sales channels... let's say a year or 18 months?

The current problem I see is that I can and do have easy access to books through my public library.  All of these books are not in e-book format, although if they were, I would like to be able to have access to them just as I do right now.  If I want to move completely to the e-book market, I have to choose a distribution channel that has the rights to publish the content I'm looking for to my reader or custom software has to be loaded on my device so that I can read what I purchase.

The question is - how do we move to a platform that allows for all content to be shared easily and to any device?

Let's discuss - maybe there are methods that I don't know about yet.
Let's collaborate and build this platform together.

The world's knowledge should be free to anyone who has the curiosity and passion to learn.

*image from stock.xchng - the best royalty free website around.  Photo by Lusi

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