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July 30, 2012

E-book licensing by libraries: an overview

The Berkman Center’s David O’Brien, Urs Gasser, and John Palfrey have just posted a 29-page “briefing paper” on the various models and licenses by which libraries are providing access to e-books.

It’s not just facts ‘n’ stats by any means, but here are some anyway:

“According to the 2011 Library Journal E-Book Survey, 82% of libraries currently offer access to e-books, which reflects an increase of 10 percentage points from 2010. … Libraries maintain an average of 4,350 e-book copies in a collection.”

“[T]he publisher-to-library market across all formats and all libraries (e.g., private, public, governmental, academic, research, etc.) is approximately $1.9B; of this, the market for public libraries is approximately $850M”

92% of libraries use OverDrive as their e-book dealer

Of the major publishers, only Random House allows unrestricted lending of e-books.

I found the section on business models to be particularly clarifying.

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June 22, 2012

12% have borrowed an ebook from their library, but most don’t know they can

A new report from Pew Internet says that most Americans don’t know that they can borrow e-books from their local public libraries, while 12% of e-book readers (16 years and older) have borrowed an e-book from their local public library. (More than 75% of local public libraries in the US do lend out e-books.)

Those who do borrow e-books think the selection is quite good: 16% excellent, 18% very good, and 32% good.

“58% of Americans have a library card, and 69% say that their local library is important to them and their family.”

Lots more of interesting and important data in this report. As always, Pew Internet puts it out for free. Thank you, Pew!

And as a small gesture of thanks, here’s a plug for the new book by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman Networked: The New Social Operating System. Lee is the head of Pew Internet. I haven’t read it yet, but given its authors, I have a lot of confidence that it’s well worth reading.

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February 29, 2012

Apple blocking books that link to Amazon

Seth Godin reports that the Apple store is refusing to carry his new book:

I just found out that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.

Quoting here from their note to me, rejecting the book: “Multiple links to Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) store…

We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.

Seth is properly nervous about imposing demands on private companies about what they will or will not carry. But he finds what I think is the right argument in this case. first, the online marketplace for books simply as a matter of fact is dominated by three players: Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. This dominance imposes particular responsibilities for keeping such a crucial enabler of our culture open. Second, the vertical integration of this market — the dominate sellers of ebook hardware are also the dominant sellers of ebooks — imposes a similar cultural obligation.

Seth concludes:

I think that Amazon and Apple and B&N need to take a deep breath and make a decision on principle: what’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace. If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to.

(PS: It is genuinely irrelevant that the example of a book Seth was linking to is Too Big to Know. Although it pleases me to be linked to by Seth :)


September 8, 2011

Michael Hart remembered

First, an email from Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive about Michael S. Hart:

A dear friend and an inspiration unfortunately died yesterday.

He dedicated his life to getting books to everyone in the world. He did this with no compensation and lived a life of near poverty. But he always shined with good cheer, optimism, and high respect for others. I got to know him through Project Gutenberg twenty years ago. Visiting him in his house was a joy– it was stacked high with books all around, and a glowing green terminal in the basement where he first helped type in the classics and then lead thousands of volunteers to bring over 37,000 books online as beautifully edited ebooks. A forward thinker, in the same light as Richard Stallman and Ted Nelson, who saw how the world could benefit from our digital tools. Every reading device I have ever come across always started with the Gutenberg Project collection including our Internet Bookmobile.

On first meeting him, I remember dodging traffic with him as we walked calmly across Lakeside Blvd in Chicago (which is a highway and extremely dangerous). He said he did this in normal course when he was growing up. The cop let us get away with only a warning.

Another Michael flare is that he wrote email that was “right justified” by changing the words to end at the right place– I have never known another to do this. He said that he did this to avoid text editors reflowing his text and “destroying my phraseology”. For instance below are two letters from this summer, and I included Greg Newby’s obituary.

A special man, a guiding light, a good friend. I miss him.


Here is the first of the two letters Brewster mentions:

On 7/16/11 4:38 AM, Michael S. Hart wrote:

A Graceful Exit

As most of my friends know, I have accomplished all of the goals I have set for myself throughout my life, and I think I can say, without fear of too much repercussive responses, that the career I have chosen in eBooks has been a success in terms of what I’ve been trying to accomplish for these last four decades.

At the same time, I do realize that other persons have had other ideas/ideals about eBooks, who have called me everything from an outright raging Communist, to sincere Socialist, to unqualified, in terms of membership. . .not ability. . .member of Capitalists Exploiting The World. . .no kidding. I do realize that is might be difficult for persons living on the other side of this world, given the information they have to work with, to view me, or any other American, as anything other than a Capitalist Imperialist, so I bear less in the way of ill feelings about this.

However, now the time has come to talk of other things.

Yes, I do have one more impossible goal I dream of, but I do not believe I can accomplish it in the same manner I accomplished an assortment of previous goals, with a combination of persistence, ability, and convincing others to give me unofficial assistance, as I face a combination of limited time, limited resources and I must admit, declining energy levels, though I still manage to do more work than I ever did before.

However, I do realize that without some serious changed in life, there is little possibility of accomplishing my last goal with a lifestyle continuing in the same vein.

Therefore, I now would like to remind you of my last goals:

1. A Billion eBook Library

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

3. Working To Create A Graceful Exit

Here are the details:

A Billion eBook Library

Premise #1:

There are ~25 million books in the public domain.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~10 million eBooks.

Premise #2:

There are ~250 languages with over a million speakers.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~100 languages.


10 million eBooks translated into 100 languages yields


Note: I realize how impossible this sounds, given the powerful lack of interest by thousands of translators, and other experts I have contacted, but given previous personal experiences shared by each of you and myself, I think we must realize it IS possible, even if we are going to have to do all to much of it ourselves.

Nevertheless, I plan to devote a serious amount of the time I have remaining to doing the setup required.

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

As most of you know, Hawaii was just too laid back for me to stay there more than a month at a time when this opportunity first appeared.

However, you must also realize that from 1999 to 2011, I obviously have aged 12 years, and the difference for me between 52, when I could still pretend to be ~40’s, and today, when there is little pretending possible, I am now much more likely to spend at least half my time there, if not even more, given that I might expect the pressures to increase to abandon my Illinois residence for various and sundry reasons we should maybe discuss when we get together next.

However, I can tell you that pressures of Winter, here in Illinois, plus those of advancing age, make it more and more difficult to look forward to more of this.

I should add that even though Spring is my favorite of all the seasons, this spring was an effort, but with a lot of luck I once again managed to do all I planned.

However, I must also admit that this, too, will get to be more and more difficult as the years progress.

Therefore I am very glad to announce that I have a job with John in Hawaii that will, when needed, provide me with the ability to live in a neighboring apartment to John’s for as much of the year as I would like, and we will see how this works out starting this Winter.

3. A Graceful Exit

I would like to support all the efforts I have before, plus the final one I have listed above, without any of repercussions that could take place with I shuffle off this mortal coil.

In some ways I would like to simply work behind scenes as much as possible so I won’t be missed when I’m gone from those activities, but I also realize that my name just might be worth something in public relations so I leave some of that decision open for your advice.

As John and Greg can testify, I am still capable of an awful lot of Newsletter writing, though it does take a toll, particularly when I have lots more to do for the other portions of my life. Again, I leave this open a lot for your advice.

Please refer to the previous message I sent about work on setting up a new, and much different kind of setup, for The Billion eBook Project, I will resend it.

If I/we play our cards right, perhaps I can leave this scene without causing undue trouble, and perhaps I can even manage it in absentia as some kind of motivation, perhaps setting some goal, perhaps even some rewarding procedures for accomplishment.

I, personally, do not think the world at large really, sincerely wants to provide literacy and education from anyone to The Third World, in spite of all lip service to the contrary. . .so I warn you that the possibility exists that this project will not be supported from an outside set of sources that I still plan to approach– so you might find that you are more on your own that I would like to hope, and that you might have to expect, really, a future that is more like the past, in terms, sadly to say, of having to do a LOT of this work on an individual basis more than having the world’s support.

I hope you feel up to the task. . .you will be tempted more and more to rest from exhaustion as you get older and older. . .the all nighters will turn into just get up early when the air is clear, but you will also find that what you can accomplish in those fewer hours will be more than you ever did before, because experience’s power is greater than you might think today.

That is what I leave you with. . . .

Another goal that is nigh well on to impossible.

Little hope of finding any real world support.

And the hope that your experience will leverage future endeavors for you as much as it has for me.

I hope you can put enough into these efforts that I am able to depart as gracefully as is possible these days.

Hoping to thank you soon for your time & consideration,


Thank you for the gift, Michael. Rest in peace.


August 10, 2011

[2b2k] Tim O’Reilly on the end of paper books

My interview of Tim O’Reilly for the Harvard Library Innovation Lab podcast series is up. Tim begins by arguing that paper books will go away before our culture is entirely ready for it because the disappearance will be driven by the publishers, not by demand. Good point.

The conversation ranges wider than that…

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April 5, 2011

My kids’ book on Kindle for $0.99

I’ve posted a Kindle version of my kids’ novel, My 100 Million Dollar Secret, at Amazon. You get download it for $0.99 here. (I make $0.35.) It’s about a kid who wins the lottery, but is unable to tell his parents, and who refuses to lie to them…which puts some serious constraints on how he can spend it. It’s also about him working through the moral obligations of the advantaged.

You can also read it in a browser, download it for the iPad, or download a pdf or Word doc, all for free. Or — my favorite — you can buy a print copy at LuLu.


March 30, 2011

What’s wrong with this picture?

A screen capture of an Amazon page:

Kindle pricing highest of all versions

Yeah, this happens a lot. It shouldn’t.


March 28, 2011

ePublishing business models

I’m at an education conference put on by CET in Tel Aviv. This is the second day of the conference. The opening session is on business models for supporting the webification of the educational system.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Eli Hurvitz (former deputy director of the Rothschild Foundation, the funder of CET) is the moderator. The speakers are Michael Jon Jensen (Dir of Strategic Web Communications, National Academies Press), Eric Frank (co-founder of Flat World Knowledge) and Sheizaf Rafaelli (Dir. of the Sagy Center for Internet Research at Haifa Univ.)

Michael Jensen says he began with computers in 1980, thinking that books would be online within 5 yrs. He spent three yearsat Project Muse (1995-8), but left because they were spending half their money on keeping people away from their content. He went to the National Academies Press (part of the National Academy of Science). The National Academies does about 200 reports a year, the result of studies by about 20 experts focused on some question. While there are many wonderful things about crowd-sourcing, he says, “I’m in favor of expertise. Facts and opinions on the Web are cheap…but expertise, expert perspective and sound analysis are costly.” E.g., that humans are responsible for climate change is not in doubt, should not be presented as if it were in doubt, and should not be crowd-sourced, he says.

The National Academy has 4,800 books online, all available to be read on line for free. (This includes an algorithmic skimmer that extacts the most important two-sentence chunk from every page.) [Now that should be crowd-sourced!] Since 2005, 65% are free for download in PDF. They get 1.4M visitors/month, each reading 7 page on average. But only 0.2% buy anything.

The National Academy Press’ goal is access and sustainability. In 2001, they did an experiment: When people were buying a book, they were offered a download of a PDF for 80% of the price, then 60%, then 40%, then for free. 42% took the free PDF. But it would have been too expensive to make all PDF’s free. The 65% that are now free PDFs are the “long tail” of books. “We are going to be in transition for the next 20 yrs.” Book sales have gone from 450,00/yr in 2002 to 175,000 in 2010. But, as they have given away more, they are disseminating about 850,000 units per year. “That means we’re fulfilling our publishing mission.” 260,000 people have opted in for getting notified of new books.

Michael goes through the available business options. NAP’s offerings are too broad for subscriptions. They will continue selling products. Authors fund some of the dissemination. And booksellers provide some revenue. There are different models for long-form content vs. articles vs. news vs. databases. Further, NAP has to provide multiple and new forms of content.

General lessons: Understand your mission. Make sure your strategy supports your mission. But digital strategies are a series of tactics. Design fot the future. and “The highest resolution is never enough…Never dumb down.” “The print-based mindset will work for the next few years, but is a long-term dead end.” “‘Free’ of some kind is required.” Understand your readers, and develop relationships with them. Go where the audiences are. “Continue experimenting.” There is no single best model. “We are living in content hyperabundance, and must compete with everything else in the world.”


Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge (“the largest commercial publisher of” open source textbooks) says that old business models are holding us back from achieving what’s possible with the Net. He points to a “value gap” in the marketplace. Many college textbooks are $200. The pain is not evenly distributed. Half of college students are in 2 yr colleges, where the cost of textbooks can be close to their tuition costs. The Net is disrupting the text book market already, e.g.,through the online sale of used books, or text book rental models, or “piracy.” So, publishers are selling fewer units per year, and are raising pricves to protect their revenues. There’s a “vicious downward spiral,” making everyone more and more unhappy.

Flat World Knowledge has two business models. First, it puts textbooks through an editorial process, and publishes them under open licenses. They vet their authors, and peer review the books. They publish their books under a Creative Commons license (attribution, non-commercial, share-alike); they retain the copyright, but allow users to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute them. They provide a customization platform that looks quite slick: re-order the table of content, add content, edit the content. It then generates multiple formats, including html, pdf, ePub, .mobi, digital Braille, .mp3. Students can choose the format that works best for them. The Web-based and versions for students with disabilities are free. They sell softwcover books ($35 fofr b&w, $70 for color) and the other formats. They also sell study guides, online quizzes, and flashcards. 44% read for free online. 66% purchase something: 33% print, 3% audiobooks, 17% print it yourself, 3% ebooks.

Second business model: They license all of their intellectual property to an institution that buys a site license at $20/student, who then get access to the material in every format. Paper publishers’ unit sales tend to zero out over just a few semesters as students turn to other ways of getting the book. Free World Knowledge’s unit sales tend to be steady. They pay authors 20% royalty (as opposed to a standard 13%), which results in higher cumulative revenues for the authors.

They currently have 112 authors (they launched in 2007 and published their first book in Spring 2009). 36 titles published; 42 in pipeline. Their costs are about a third of the industry and declining. Their time to market is about half of the traditionals (18 months vs. 40 months). 1,600 faculty have formally adopted their books, in 44 countries. Sales are growing at 320%. Their conversion rate of free to paid is currently at 61% and growing. They’ve raised $30M in venture capital. Bertelsmann has put in $15M. Random House today invested.

He ends by citing Kevin Kelly: The Net is a giant copy machine. When copies are super-abundant, and worthless. So, you need to seel stuff that can’t be copied. Kevin lists 8 things that can’t be copied: immediacy, personalization, interpretation (study aids), authenticity (what the prof wants you to read), accessibility, embodiment (print copy), patronage (people want to pay creators), findability. Future for FWK: p2p tutoring, user-generated marketplace, self-assessment embedded within the books, data sales. “Knowledge is the black gold of the 21st century.”

[Sheizaf Rafaelli’s talk was excellent — primarily about what happens when books lose bindings — but he spoke very quickly, and the talk itself did not lend itself to livebloggery, in part because I was hearing it in translation, which required more listening and less typing. Sorry. His slides are here. ]


October 6, 2010

Everyone’s a publisher

Barnes & Noble has launched PubIt, a service for authors who want to publish directly to readers — well, directly through B&N. Create a B&N user account and upload some files, and PubIt will convert them to ePub, list your book on its site, collect money from sales, and about 60 days later will send you your money.

Some miscellaneous points about PubIt: You can optionally add DRM to your books, but you don’t have to. You don’t need an ISBN number. You set the list price, but B&N can set the sale price. You have to charge at least $0.99. You have to guarantee that you won’t list it for less elsewhere.

How much does an author make per copy? B&N says: 65% of the list price for books priced at $2.99-$9.99, and 40% for books outside of that range. But a warning: I think I got that right, but B&N refers to the money paid to “the Publisher,” leaving us to figure out whether the publisher is the author or B&N. It’s getting so hard to tell!

(BTW, you can still buy books published at at B&N.

(PS: I also posted this at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab blog.)


July 5, 2010

[2b2k] The golden age of marginalia

Ian Frazier has a well-done-as-usual piece in the New Yorker, reporting on a visit to the Berg Collection in the NY Public Library, where the librarian Ann Garner showed him some literary marginalia — Mark Twain, Nabokov, Ted Hughes, Kerouac on Thoreau, and more.

It begins with a paean to the physicality of books, leading to:

In the soft lamplight, the open pages of the books she had chosen glowed like a physical and visible representation of the sublime.

All part of our culture’s long goodbye to the Era of the Book. Books will be with us forever, but functionally and iconically they’re being replaced by networks that don’t glow nearly as sublimely in soft lamplight.

The irony is that the digitizing of books should bring us into the Golden Age of Marginalia, in which not only is it easier than ever to highlight and annotate passages, but we can benefit from the marginalia of others, especially as reading becomes social. We will lose the thrill of knowing that Kerouac’s hand scratched that line of ink into this book, but we will gain the ability to learn from the digital traces left by all of today’s Kerouacs, Kerouac scholars, and Kerouac readers.


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