book v kindle

As staunch defenders of intellectual freedom, American public libraries stand opposed to censorship in any way, shape, or form. Allegedly, so does Amazon — the company has stated that it "prides itself on complete selection."

But in 2009, a coding glitch caused hundreds of gay-and-lesbian titles to disappear from Amazon's sales charts and search results. After a public outcry, the company apologized and fixed the problem. However, in 2010, Amazon removed incest-themed erotica and a pedophile guide-book from its Kindle store.

Even if libraries licensing Kindle titles from OverDrive are never subjected to elisions, they remain at odds with two of the six major publishing houses — and although they comprise at least 10 percent of the digital-book market, libraries have less purchasing power than individual consumers (and don't get the bulk discount they receive on analog books to make up for it).

Libraries cannot purchase e-books published by Simon and Schuster and MacMillan, neither of which has determined a profitable business model for selling e-books to libraries. Which is to say nothing of HarperCollins. In February, the publisher incurred the ire of librarians nationwide when it put a cap on the number of times libraries could lend their titles — after 26 checkouts, libraries would need to purchase the title again at full price. In the wake of this decision, more than 60,000 people signed a petition against HarperCollins, and many libraries openly boycotted purchasing their titles, digital and otherwise.

OverDrive, which has the lion's share of public library contracts, is soon to align with the biggest corporate force in publishing. In doing so, it will shut out all other digital book distributors, securing OverDrive's stronghold on the market and narrowing libraries' options.

What's more, the current e-book distribution model has inserted two additional profit-driven middlemen between libraries and publishers. While the bulk of the book trade has been in the hands of international conglomerates for roughly two decades now, this undoubtedly furthers the corporatization of what was once a public space.


kindle v book

In Newport Beach, California, construction for a "bookless" public library is underway. As the Los Angeles Times reported in April, patrons will order books by speaking into a video camera; librarians in a remote location where the books are stored will then send the books to Newport Beach for pickup at a later date.

This might just be the future of libraries. California is broke, and the Newport Public Library is trying to stay afloat with a limited budget. Even if its new incarnation sounds like a Paul Verhoeven film or a Mac store, the Newport Public Library's mission remains the same as other, less terrifying branches: to deliver the information desired by its patrons.

Increasingly, that information has nothing to do with books. A 2011 survey from the American Library Association noted that "the same recession that cut into the funding of public libraries made them a key resource for people looking for work" — people without computers or Internet access at home. That same survey reports that in two thirds of the country, libraries are the only place to access the Internet for free. In other words, the public library of 2011 has become the last refuge for the technologically disenfranchised.

< prev  1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: Brain strain, High-octane coverage, Raven Used Books to nest on Newbury, More more >
  Topics: Books , Business, Books, HarperCollins,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   IS BOSTON RIGHT FOR WRITERS?  |  March 05, 2013
    Boston, the birthplace of American literature, boasts three MFA programs, an independent creative-writing center, and more than a dozen colleges offering creative-writing classes.
    George Saunders: satirist, humanist, and — after 20 years, four magisterial short story collections, a novella, and a book of essays — now a bestselling author.
  •   INTERVIEW: THE PASSION OF MIKE DAISEY  |  February 14, 2013
    Last January, storyteller Mike Daisey achieved a level of celebrity rarely attained among the off-Broadway set when the public radio program This American Life aired portions of his monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs .
  •   GETTING BOOKED: WINTER READS  |  December 21, 2012
    Who cares about the fiscal cliff when we'll have authors talking about Scientology, the space-time continuum, and Joy Division?
  •   BRILLIANT FRIENDS: GREAT READS OF 2012  |  December 17, 2012
    You already know Chis Ware's Building Stories is the achievement of the decade (thanks, New York Times!), but some other people wrote some pretty great books this year too.

 See all articles by: EUGENIA WILLIAMSON