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E-books at local libraries: a fight between publishers and librarians (slate.com)
182 points by ForHackernews 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments



> There’s a tension in e-book pricing generally between consumer expectations that a digital file will be less expensive than a physical copy and the reality that very little of the cost of making a book is tied up in the physical format

There's more to this than the cost of making a book. As a consumer, a physical thing inherently has more value than a digital one because it keeps the value after I buy it. I can lend the book to someone legally after I'm done with it. I can sell it, trade it, or donate to a library.

With a digital book (or any other digital good) I lose all of that. Since I'm getting so much less, why should I pay the same price?

The digitization makes it impossible for businesses to control the distribution of their products, unless they go full DRM and effectively prevent people from owning the things they buy – but in that case, there should be no surprise that people don't want to pay quite as much.


People seem to instinctively feel that an e-book shouldn't cost as much as a real book. A paperback edition of a book often has multiple owners throughout its — sometimes considerable — lifespan. That's simply part of the deal, and it always has been.

E-books lack the ability to share, sell, and pass it on. That's fine, but the market won't bear nearly the same price as a paper book that can do all those things. An e-book should in all fairness cost perhaps a third or fourth of a paper book — i.e., the price of a paperback edition divided by the average number of readers it tends to have. Not pricing the goods accordingly leads to where we are now: mass piracy of e-books and hardly anyone feeling guilty about it.

I don't read e-books myself (I take delight in my collection of paper books), but as far as I know sharing USB-drives filled with thousands of e-books is common in a lot of circles — with middle-aged people in particular. Compare this with piracy in games, music, and video, which is comparatively rare due to the affordable and easy legal alternatives, and it is hard not to see that the market is simply not offering the best solution.


Video piracy's gone down specifically due to Netflix. As each brand stops allowing Neflix to host their content, and as long as income remains to flat for a large portion of America, I'm expecting video piracy to make a comeback as soon as people remember it exists. Subscribing to HBO, CBS, Disney, and whoever else, on top of Netflix, will soon become cost prohibitive. Doing without isn't a consideration, so illegal alternatives will thrive. (Not that they haven't been, but Netflix was sufficiently convenient that most people didn't bother.)


It's more about the convenience than the price, for me. I'd pay $30, maybe $40, per month for access to basically anything I want to watch (past that I may as well buy as I watch, and even at $40 I'd have to do the math to make sure it's sensible). It's having to keep up with several subscriptions, having to figure out where something is when I want to watch it, inconveniences like logging in on a new device, expired sessions on devices that don't have password managers (or keyboards...), multiple different interfaces (for basically the same thing) to stay familiar with, crap like that.


$40 would get you three or four full seasons of any individual show on Amazon, if you're lucky. There isn't anywhere that $40 would get you what you want. Disney+ is probably going to be the future, as much as I hate to say that.

Edit: I pay for netflix, I pay for amazon prime, and I'm a member of a really good tv piracy site. My wife is happy with the TV access we have. My thing is video games so I don't actually care about TV.


Three or four seasons a month is probably about the equivalent total TV+film watching in our five-person household, combined. As in maybe 50ish hours of distinct content of that sort watched a month, not counting one thing multiple times if several of us are watching it. Since some of that's re-watches we wouldn't necessarily be paying for it every time, too. $40's just the point where I might bother to check that the streaming service made sense—probably I'd conclude that it still did, just for convenience (again, assuming it had most everything) but that if they hiked the price to $50 I'd need to look again.

I'm fairly certain, without adding it all up, that at $60 we'd save money just buying/library-ing/redboxing, $40's just where I'd start to go "hm, better run the numbers" and there's a chance it'd work out against paying for streaming, so I'd call it a decent upper bound on what I'd probably be willing to pay for such a thing. Hell, I'm paying almost that now, but the fact that I can still only find maybe 1/3 of what I want to watch available on my three services is why Amazon's set not to renew next year and Netflix is on the chopping block soon (3rd service is a cheap, niche one with mostly anime, b-movies, and some original web animation stuff, sticking with it pretty much just because it's cheap).


Google Search deep-links from approximately every supported movie to the steaming provider that supports it. Just as easy as Popcorn Time.


Just tried it with Mission Impossible: Fallout, which I just watched the other day on Amazon Prime's streaming thingy. Google search results give me a list of purchase options across the top in a little box, including Amazon, so that's good. Doesn't say I can stream it but I guess it doesn't know I'm logged in & have prime, which it shouldn't, so that's fine too I guess, but it doesn't tell me I could stream it with subscriptions to any of those places, just tells me purchase prices. Oh well, I happen to know it's streaming on Amazon in this case, which is cheating, but whatever.

I click it. It takes me to Amazon, where I am already logged in. I can watch the trailer or "buy" (digital purchase, so "long term rental") it for $20(!). There's no indication I can stream it with Prime. Even knowing it's available I can't figure out how to do it from this screen—I'd have to just search again on Amazon and hope for the best.


Prime video has very user-hostile UX because they are simultaneously trying to provide an already-paid-for service and upsell other ones.

Video 'rentals' are grossly overpriced. I've never rented anything from Prime, and their prices would have to drop to about 10% for me to feel like I'm getting value. I think ~$0.25/hr would be fair.

Media companies are resistant to discounting the cost of discrete pieces of content despite the supply of entertaining free video exploding a thousand fold in the past decade.


If you’re in the US. There’s significantly less support for niche, specialist streaming sites as well as non-US, country-specific listings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked a Google result for a movie on Netflix only to have it be for a different country or currently unavailable...


Video piracy is absolutely making a comeback. Most of the pirates I knew slowly drifted away from the scene over the last few years, just because Netflix was so easy and cheap. But with so many studios pulling their content, I keep hearing comments about people firing up their seedboxes again and getting back in with their old trackers.

It was a nice little golden age for a few years, shame things can't stay this way forever because of corporate greed.

Personally I think I'll cancel my Netflix soon. There really isn't much quality content anymore, there have been zero improvements to the recommender system despite users' griping, and the prices keep getting higher.


It'll be interesting to see what happens. I do wonder if the threat of persecution isn't too high for piracy to become a significant market changing factor again though.


> An e-book should in all fairness cost perhaps a third or fourth of a paper book

The market is not about fairness. The prices are about what some segment of the market will pay.

> it is hard not to see that the market is simply not offering the best solution.

They are selling physical books for folks who want the traditional experience and the reuse benefits you describe, and Ebooks for folks who want the convenience of that experience. So they continue to cater to their paying customers.

It doesn’t seem reasonable to follow a race to the bottom with people who pirate ebooks. Some folks just do not pay for content.

One side effect of higher prices of the traditional publishers is that it opens a door to self published authors offering books in the lower price range you mention. These are often quite popular so obviously they are aware of the price point impact but for now are happy with capturing the premium market.

> Compare this with piracy in games, music, and video, which is comparatively rare

Can you cite figures for that? I would expect video and music and pc games to all have far higher rates of piracy.


> The market is not about fairness. The prices are about what some segment of the market will pay.

It's all about perceived fairness. If a price doesn't seem fair and alternatives exists (e.g., paper books, piracy), consumers look elsewhere.

> One side effect of higher prices of the traditional publishers is that it opens a door to self published authors offering books in the lower price range you mention.

The masses want the new John Grisham, Danielle Steel, or whatever is popular right now. The odd self-published author gaining a small audience does not offset this.

> […] but for now are happy with capturing the premium market. […] Can you cite figures for that? I would expect video and music and pc games to all have far higher rates of piracy.

The publishing industry is rather miffed at not getting as far with e-books as they thought they might get. I don't have exact figures (although they shouldn't be hard to find), but publishers and their representative bodies have been complaining about e-book piracy in the media a lot.

In 2014 Dutch research company GfK estimated that only 10% of e-books on e-readers was paid for legally:

https://www.ad.nl/economie/e-readers-staan-vol-met-illegale-...

An interesting related article from a Dutch newspaper from a month ago for who can read it:

https://www.volkskrant.nl/cultuur-media/keurige-boekendieven...

Nobody bats an eyelash at loading hundreds of pirated epubs on grandpa's new e-reader, and book clubs happily share their digital copies in Facebook groups.

The situation may vary by country, but in the Netherlands the vast majority of people pay for cable television or streaming services like Netflix, buy CD's or tracks on ITunes or subscribe to Spotify, and game on consoles or use Steam. Piracy is marginal; except for e-books, where it is commonplace.


> E-books lack the ability to share, sell, and pass it on.

How so? If you have the PDF file, it should be pretty easy to do all of these. Some or all of them may be illegal, but it is not the same as lacking the ability.

If it is DRM-protected, there are still ways around it.


PDF is not a suitable format for ebooks, which is why epub and mobi exist.


My experience differs from yours. Most, if not all of my e-books have been PDF. They work fine, and look absolutely great both on my PC, and my e-book reader. Epub and mobi on the other hand are horrible for medical books, for one.

Most importantly, my point is being ignored. I could have used epub instead as an example. It is irrelevant to the point I was making. I am not interested in a war over e-book formats.


I just saw some Evian water in a nice container to spray on people's faces for $8. The market in the Western world has jumped the shark. It'll put up with many things thrown at it.


As a consumer, the digital e-book is inherently more valuable than a physical book.

I often re-read or consult books (or chapters) I've read on a whim. If I had to e.g. take my library on vacations to do the same thing I can trivially do on a Kindle I'd need to travel with a minivan full of books.

There's all sorts of other value, like search functions, not having to fill my house or storage box with books, and avoiding that awkward every-other-page-sucks while reading a book laying sideways in bed.


Those are properties of the e-reader rather than the e-book itself, in other words, not something you should be paying for when buying the book.


I feel exactly the opposite.

I hate reading stuff on screens.

- It hurts my eyes when I do this for hours.

- It comes with lots of distractions.

- Digital Annotations are a PITA

- Zapping through a book works much better in hard-copy

If I am supposed to spent 1h+ reading your content. You better make sure I can buy a printed copy.


If you are reading on a proper* e-reader, eyestrain shouldn't be an issue.

*ie classic Kindle with e-ink or similar, not a tablet like iPad/Android equivalent or the annoyingly named Amazon "Kindle" Fire etc.

Not great for tech manuals, admittedly


Actually if you're willing to pay for it, you can buy 10+" eink screens with wacom digitizers on top (drawing pen support). They're quite good for tech papers and manuals because they're a similar size to real paper, no eye strain, you can draw notes directly on them, and ofc you can cram tons of papers/textbooks/manuals into something that weighs next to nothing.

Edit: if you're curious, look into the likebook mimas as a starting point. There are other options, that just happens to be the one I've used.


Thanks - I have the Kindle DX, but it's slowness and general lack of flexibility is a significant negative that doesn't really balance out its superior page experience compared to a tablet. This is much more of a thing with tech manuals where reading is far less sequential than fiction or articles.

I'm aware of the new breed of large readers but haven't been able to try any, and I'm concerned they won't be powerful or sturdy enough compared to the fragile, sloooow DX to justify the outlay. I don't have much use for notes.

I realise the DX is a dinosaur though compared to the new ones you are talking about, and would love to be pleasantly surprised by a quantum leap...


> I have the Kindle DX, but it's slowness and general lack of flexibility is a significant negative that doesn't really balance out its superior page experience compared to a tablet.

...I find it a bit amusing that its model forms an emoticon that fits your general sense of the device.


As a student that looks like exactly what I'm looking for, but I'm never going to shell out $400 for one when I can get an early-gen Kindle for free. Really hoping we will see prices decrease for higher-end e-ink displays.


Hi, a bit late now, but where can I get early-gen Kindles for free? I very much love the ones with hardware buttons (the cursor square, not necessarily the first gen with the keyboard) and without this annoying touchscreen, and I often find them offered for more expensive than they were new!


> Really hoping we will see prices decrease for higher-end e-ink displays.

Unlikely to happen: similar to silicon, eink's yield (that is, amount of parts produced with no errors) goes down quickly (quadratic if not cubic, I forgot) with increasing size.

A system based on lots of eink chiplets with small enough margins that you can tile them could scale up, but the margins are also a difficult area.


I don't think the eink part of it has issues with yields since it's essentially just conductive ink and a suspension of particles, but the fancy transparent transistors they sometimes use certainly do. The real issue with eink is the economies of scale will probably never kick in. Most people would rather have a color screen, or a screen that exceeds 10fps, or something that doesn't have artifacts like an etch a sketch, etc. There's only 1 oem for the entire eink panel market (over 6") last I checked.


The Kindle dx worked pretty well for tech books and manuals. It's been sad to see no replacement for that sized device.


Thanks - I've since related my experiences with the DX elsewhere in this thread, and as another poster has pointed out there is a new breed of large e-readers; I haven't used any of them though, I share your regret at the relative lack of progress, at least until recently.


If it hurts your eyes, you're likely not using an e-ink display. It's a reflective surface, just as paper is. It shouldn't hurt your eyes any more than paper will.

Distractions? Not in any of my e-readers.

Digital annotations suck, I'll grant that. But then again, I like my physical books and would never put markings on them, so for me this isn't a disadvantage.

Browsing is much better for physical books, but heavy hard bound books are much a pain to hold while reading.

Pros and cons to both.


When you get old, there may be a time when the ability to dial up the font size on any book is more important than all the things you list.

The accessibility benefits of a good ereader (ie not a phone or tablet) are important for a lot of people.


You might like a Kobo E-reader. Zero distractions and sneaky "special offers" options, and it has a traditional e-ink display.


But such a back and forth that could go on forever. Many e-books vendors frequently reduce their value by limiting access to a specific app/reader, or limit how useful the functionality you describe can be. For example, search is very much restricted within Kindle (e.g. I can't search for words across my entire library, I have to go into a specific book). And whilst it is true that some people are limited in how much physical space they have access to, it is certainly not universal.

Hence putting a hard price on this functionality is nigh impossible - whereas re-sale value is often easier to estimate and clearly tangible to the consumer. Claiming that they are equal is certainly not clear to me.


I'm not claiming they're equal, I'm pointing out that the GP's "since I'm getting so much less, why should I pay the same price" point is subjective, and not a statement of fact.

Sure, some people prefer hardcopies, good for them. But claiming that e-books being priced similarly is some market failure is taking it too far, for some of us it seems perfectly reasonable. If e-books were priced higher (even as much as 50% more) I'd still buy them over physical copies.


The "market" has decided that Amazon deserves a near-total monopoly on the e-book reader market, which allows them to unfairly pressure publishers who have no realistic alternative if they actually want online sales. (Publishers are not a fan of Kindle unlimited.) Just recently Amazon released a book ahead of embargo and they will face zero repercussion for doing so.

A market that had more than one way to "publish" books online would be a different ballgame than the one we're playing now


> Amazon released a book ahead of embargo and they will face zero repercussion for doing so.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-49592021


It may be subjective but if a big enough market segment has the same subjective opinion, then it becomes "reality".


> Many e-books vendors frequently reduce their value by limiting access to a specific app/reader, or limit how useful the functionality you describe can be

Yup, this is why I'm a fan of the likebook/boox type e readers. They all run stripped down versions of Android and many of them have SD card slots too. I use the likebook Mars (~$200) as my daily reader only (bigger ones are nice if your budget allows) and it is so much nicer than the Kindles imo. Default reader can handle all formats, you can dump your own fonts and dictionaries on it, and you can run the Kindle, kobo, libby, etc apps if you want to (since you can use Google play). Ofc being a cheap Chinese e reader it isn't exactly something that can run real apps at more than a couple fps but it's great for static content like books.


> I often re-read or consult books (or chapters) I've read on a whim. If I had to e.g. take my library on vacations to do the same thing I can trivially do on a Kindle I'd need to travel with a minivan full of books.

Isn't that a FOMO argument, though ?

As a consumer the advantage of e-books are: ease of organization and ease of buying, no page flipping sounds in bed, ease of transportation.

But what I really want ?

A real, thick book, with something like 200-400 sheets made up of magical e-ink so I can have a physical map of the book I am reading.


A multi-page e-ink book would be nice. I love my Kindle for certain types of reading, but when I read, I like to flip back to previous sections. Search doesn't work because I rarely know verbatim what I'm looking for or the search terms are flooded with answers from the entire book, when I really want it narrowed down to a particular area. With physical books, I just remember roughly how far into the book it was and can jump back there and start searching. I'd love to successfully replicate that with a Kindle.


Can you use the table of contents on your kindle? It's not the same, of course, and some books don't have a usable chapter system (too many or too few), but if you've got an idea of where you want to go, it should get you close.


Unfortunately, I really only know roughly how thick the stack of pages was. I realize it's an imprecise metric. And I might be able to convert to a rough percentage and figure out a page number from there. But, then the page turning is just slow enough to make rapid scanning like that annoying.


KOReader for the Kobo has a skim feature which works OK for this purpose, though you're always going to run against framerate issues on these devices until CLEARink or such becomes widely available.


> A real, thick book, with something like 200-400 sheets made up of magical e-ink so I can have a physical map of the book I am reading.

The value provided by a physical map of a book is knowing how far along you are in the book, yet that's also available in a visual form in an ebook as well. You can even riffle through pages on most e-readers as well, seeing a preview of the page as you move quickly forward or backwards.

Aside from weight, what value is the physical map really providing?


> The value provided by a physical map of a book is knowing how far along you are in the book

No, it provides more.

Actually your brain maps physical properties of the book to actual content, creating an overlay map over the story or the content (and our brain is really good at mentally mapping things). This is that map that is being used to know where in the book a particular piece of information is.

Reading on e-reader is more linear than reading a paper book. See: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-scr... https://insights.uksg.org/articles/10.1629/uksg.236/ and https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/19/readers-absorb...

Besides, no e-reader today can let your riffle through pages as fast as paper book.

When you are in a novel, or in a manual, you have some kinetic and touch feedback to build memories of where's what. The book becomes an extension (à la proprioception) with much less friction than an e-read for which you have to wait for visual feedback (screen refreshing).

With paper books things are at the tip of your fingers.

E-reader have more friction.

That's a reason why I only read novels on e-reader and jot notes in a notepad for non-fiction books.

If I had the budget I'd only have physical books.


> your brain maps physical properties of the book to actual content

Any resources detailing this? It's the first I've heard of it.

> Besides, no e-reader today can let your riffle through pages as fast as paper book.

True, though the iPad is actually somewhat faster than a physical book, in my experience.

> you have to wait for visual feedback (screen refreshing).

At least in my experience, the time required to flip a page is at least identical to (greater than, in most cases) that of a modern e-reader showing the next page.

> With paper books things are at the tip of your fingers.

> E-reader have more friction.

I simply can't agree with this. A well indexed ebook is easy to follow cross references in (such as footnotes), you can do an actual search on the content, and the lack of weight is something that can't be understated.

A specific example: I went through the "Physically Based Rendering" book a few years back. I simply can't understate how painful it was to deal with the physical book. It was the size of a large text book (it was a large textbook), heavy enough it never left my desk. More specifically, it was always flat on the desk, making it difficult to read.

It also had glossy pages that, to this day, want to stick together (not to mention being challenging to write on). Finding content in it that wasn't a chapter title included going to a glossary with a ton of page numbers, and flipping back and forth constantly (see comment about sticky pages) to see if page N was the one I was looking for.

There was no 'proprioception' between myself and the book, there was no convenience, there was only inconvenience. Even the authors recognized this, providing a digital copy of most of the code so you wouldn't spend all day typing code.

An e-reader version of the book could only have provided a better experience.


> > your brain maps physical properties of the book to actual content

> Any resources detailing this? It's the first I've heard of it.

The link to the guardian article in my previous post has more details and a link to the original study.

> I simply can't agree with this. A well indexed ebook is easy to follow cross references in (such as footnotes), you can do an actual search on the content, and the lack of weight is something that can't be understated.

> A specific example: I went through the "Physically Based Rendering" book a few years back. I simply can't understate how painful it was to deal with the physical book. It was the size of a large text book (it was a large textbook), heavy enough it never left my desk. More specifically, it was always flat on the desk, making it difficult to read.

Apple to oranges. The book you describe is 1200 pages of technical snippets that is largely used as a reference index. It's the perfect example where e-reader outclasses paper book, such is the case for dictionaries and encyclopaedia. I'd even venture to say that a laptop or an iPad would be better than an e-reader considering how important diagrams are in this example.

> Even the authors recognized this, providing a digital copy of most of the code so you wouldn't spend all day typing code.

Providing code for CS book was already common in the 90's when CD-ROM were bundled with books.


> The book you describe is 1200 pages of technical snippets that is largely used as a reference index.

That's referencing a fiction novel, whereas you are referencing paper as better for non-fiction (and e-readers better for fiction) - a fairly major distinction.

> The book you describe is 1200 pages of technical snippets that is largely used as a reference index.

Sorry, but you're incorrect on this point. It's an entire physically based rendering literate program, written in such a way as to teach you about PBR in a highly linear fashion (with cross-referencing). It's written to be read from one end to the other.


> It's written to be read from one end to the other.

But you wrote:

> Finding content in it that wasn't a chapter title included going to a glossary with a ton of page numbers, and flipping back and forth constantly (see comment about sticky pages) to see if page N was the one I was looking for.

So either you read it from one end to the other or you used it as reference material (which "(looking) to see if page N was the one I was looking for." strongly indicates).

Frankly, I am not interested in trying to convince you of anything. There are substantial evidences that paper and e-books have different strengths and all you are saying is that the strength I wrote about are wrong because you don't feel like it and your 1200 page monster should be the only point of data to refute what you don't want to agree with.

All the while asking for sources I gave in one of the first post, which tells me you take only what you want from the conversation.

Not interested.


> A well indexed ebook

That's a big "if".


I think this has something to do with how to brain stores memories, and that storage is highly entwined with a spatial location. Somehow being able to tie that memory to a location in space makes it more concrete for me. If I remember a fact from a book I can also usually remember the physical location of the fact inside the book.

My point is that it's not a conscious process, so the book/map isn't replaced by a simple location indicator. The experience of a book isn't reducible in this way.


> being able to tie that memory to a location in space makes it more concrete for me

This sounds a lot like the old "visual/auditory/physical learning" phenomenon to me. Were it truly the case, the old O'Reilly books would be the best possible resources for programmers, and not StackOverflow, blogs, and online programming language documentation.


You moved the goal post. Books can't cover everything but deal with the general. SO/blogs are typically concerned with corner cases or specific assignements/problems.


> SO/blogs are typically concerned with corner cases or specific assignements/problems.

No, blog posts and online documentation are hardly limited in such a fashion. They cover everything from corner cases to syntax introductions, to setting up the environment. Go, as a single example in a sea of examples, has their entire official getting started and other guides entirely online:

https://golang.org/doc/

And while SO has recently limited itself to corner cases, it has not always been that way. It has been a resource providing information on culture, machine setups, and "where's the best info on getting started online" for a very long time.


>> SO/blogs are typically concerned with corner cases or specific assignements/problems.

> No, blog posts and online documentation are hardly limited in such a fashion.

I purposefully didn't mention online documentation because it's too easy to make the case that man pages are more often than not too obscure as starting material.

Blog posts don't cover everything. Online doc. does though (that's like... the point).

The way you are trying to build the argument that it's either paper books or online/e-books/blog/SO and there are mutually exclusive won't lead the conversation anywhere (note the usage of the word 'typically').

I am not getting into a cherry-picking argument contest with you. You prefer e-books and online doc and dislike paper books ? Fine by me.


Imagine a ribbed touch sensitive bezel on a regular single-screen e-reader. When you rub your thumb across it, it flips the pages in the reader by a proportional amount.


You can say it's more valuable, but not to me. I get almost zero enjoyment from reading digitally. I don't know why but paper books feel better. I don't like the interface on my kindle for actually reading. As a device it's good but as a book, it just sucks. Also, I'm usually only reading one or two books at a time, so I don't need an entire library with me. I do use the kindle for technical books, because those are boring to ready anyway.


I like both. I'd like to think physical and digital books each have their pros and cons. I try to be pragmatic about the issue.

Thinking back about school I remember the heavy weight of the backpack. That can be more efficient, I thought back then. Same with vacation however I don't want to unlock my ereader for border patrol, as a matter of principle. Not sure if we are at that point already. The point is, each have also privacy implications.


Are you arguing that convenience function enabled by the digital format is more valuable than ownership of a physical good?


> a consumer, a physical thing inherently has more value than a digital one because it keeps the value after I buy it. I can lend the book to someone legally after I'm done with it. I can sell it, trade it, or donate to a library.

For me this was true ten years ago.

The tides have shifted. Now a physical copy means: it will degrade faster than my devices (think books for children). It will take physical place, we’ll have to find it (I can ping my iPad, not my books). Depending on the country it’s printed, it might not even come to my life, the price will be double, or it will be 3 weeks after the moment I wanted to read it. It wi be in a single place, I can’t share it with my family or even my devices the way I share my amazon account. There’s a physical limit to how many I can keep: floors cracking under the load is a thing of the past.

It’d need a very compelling reason to buy any physical book at this point. I get the tradeoffs, but I had enough time with digital copies to make them work under the best conditions for me, making the upside way higher than the downsides.


Physical books last at least ~50 years. That is longer than any physical computer lasts and longer than any of the companies that offer cloud services (IBM doesn't offer e-Books yet) have existed. There is a good chance that some of them will go bankrupt over this time.


> ~50 years

That’s very carefully handled books.

My kids books are in no shape in a matter of months. Then adults also spill, grease, and tear their books. I had to buy some cheap second hand copies for a series with no digital release and they’re gross, I made them grossier, and they’re going to the trash bin after me (there’s no shortage of them in the world).

My amazon account is outlasting most physical books I bought in these in the last decade (I also hate amazon kindle’s lack of book organization, biting me hard at the number of books I have, but that’s another topic)

PS: for people going through 3~4 books a week, storing books for 50 years is a nightmare.


...this'll sound rude, but I've never understood how people do that to their books.

I have original-run Animorphs books, over 20 years old, from when I was age 8-13, all looking near-new. The pages are a bit yellow from age, but there's otherwise no damage. Same for the rest of my collection (some of which were published earlier, though I think Animorphs might be the oldest-printed ones I have).


which is why you should get your e-books as drm-free local files


And store those files where? Do you own any working digital media from 1969? I know my carefully curated collection of 5.25" floppy discs are all corrupt and unreadable today.


This is entirely off-topic re: ebooks, but I, too, have lost data that I'll miss. All of my data on 3.25" drives is likely lost, not to mention most of them have been thrown away. I do oww a USB floppy disk drive that was a gift from a friend that visited Japan (it brings me joy). More shockingly to me is that some early USB drives I own have failed.

The collection my have been careful curated but it was improperly stored. The (onerous) way to "store" them, (in hindsight,) would be to copy each of them would have been to copy them all to 3.25" disk when those came out, then (briefly) to zip disks, then CD-R, DVD-R, Bluray-R, and then also included a drive to read them in this backup, once it became apparent that spinny plastic frisbees were no longer a popular data storage format. Or copied the data to archival LTO tape, going up in number as new standards came out.

Or instead of moving between archival format, the other options is to copy it to hard drive and keep moving to bigger and bigger drives, and have online copies and not offline.

If that all sounds too ridiculous and no sane individual would ever do that: you're right and we hang out on /r/DataHoarders.


I’d argue we have countless of digitized books, photographs and movies from way before 1969 that we wouldn’t get access to in physical form.

They might not be our individual personal copies, but they’re there, actually accessible.

To your point, I am strongly for enforcing DRM clearing after the copyright expires or the entity owning them goes under (it should be required by law IMO). I also think collectively we have a fighting chance to preserve copies as long as they’re free of DRM.


> Do you own any working digital media from 1969?

I don't know if they're from 1969 - but I do own a few punch cards...


Temperature variation? What was their advertised lifetime?


I don't know. They were only consumer-grade disks. It hardly matters because I don't own any machine with a working 5.25" drive anyway. Some of my old files I did copy onto CD-Rs in the early 2000s -- I wonder if those are still readable?

The point is that it's actually fairly hard to beat acid-free paper for archival storage.


Well offline storage of digital information is much more complicated than keeping a book around. I had countless external harddrives cds and floppy disks fail on me.


Honestly, the opposite is true for me. Ebooks download immediately and take up zero space, you can carry them all with you in one device. Way better than physical books as far as I'm concerned. Also, in terms of the sheer entertainment to cost ratio books are incredibly good value at current pricing.


I think the divide here's largely along the lines of what people read. E-readers are king for light fiction or airport nonfic, for instance, but pretty awful for heavy nonfiction reading (think: textbooks), with everything else falling somewhere in between—poetry: somewhat bad on ereaders but maybe tolerable, depending on what it is; good, older literature, depends on how much you want/need footnotes or to refer to other parts of the book, and how inclined you are to annotate; books of any kind used for actual research, you probably want several open at once and a bunch more with tons of bookmarks in them that you can have open to a certain spot (you remember which one with spatial memory and maybe bookmark color) in a few seconds, which gets dicey with e-readers, even if you have more than one; and so on.

Tablets are better in some ways than e-readers but much worse in others. There's no killer does-everything-pretty-well e-reader solution yet. They rock for casual, lighter reading, though, which is probably a fairly high percentage of all book reading that happens.


"Tablets are better in some ways than e-readers but much worse in others. There's no killer does-everything-pretty-well e-reader solution yet. They rock for casual, lighter reading, though, which is probably a fairly high percentage of all book reading that happens."

True - and this, for me, is another benefit of eBooks; I can and do read the same eBook on multiple different devices depending on my current mix of needs or priorities.


E-Books have some convenience that physical books don't:

1. I can pick it up from any device I have at any time,

2. I can pick up any book depending on my mood at that point in time (I usually read one fiction, one non-fiction and one craft related simultaneously)

3. I can highlight and keep notes with the book that's in a form I can just copy-paste later. More than a few times I have now bought the e-book even though I own the physical book.

For me these things make the cost worth it. That said I lament the things you mention above. I want to be able to "own" the book and be able to transfer or resell after I'm done. I also want guarantee that I can keep reading the book forever. Either that or a more Spotify model (Amazon Kindle Unlimited has limited selection so far) that I can just rent x number of books and month and don't have to own it. I'd be fine with that. It's the in between model where I have to pay more than paperback but can't resell it or even give it to a friend that bothers me - if anything as a matter of principle.


Kindle unlimited is absolute junk; it's not curated. It's just a muddied lot of self-published spam. I just gave up trying to find content.


Seconding the Calibre recommendation. It'll strip the DRM from your Kindle books with one click.


Stick it in Calibre, there are conversion plugins the deal with drm.


The ebook takes up no space, and can't be damaged or lost. It doesn't even have physical dimensions, so if you want you can read it on a tiny ultra portable screen or a large tablet for ease of use. All ebooks have large print options where as physical books these are separate purchases and may not be able to even have for anything but the most popular books. ebooks are searchable to a word level, where physical books rely on indexing.

There's a lot of benefits to ebooks as well.


A way to (maybe) reconcile consumer and publisher expectation would be to offer an ebook to physical book service.

Sell the eBook for about the same price as a paperback but let the buyer exchange the eBook for a physical book for a fee that depends on the requested quality. Paperbacks would be something like $1 (fair since you already paid for the same price as the paperback), but a hardcover could be $10 or so.


The authors and publishers created this problem and the marketplace is pushing back. I was buying a lot of e-books when they were significantly cheaper than paper. Now that's no longer true and I've renewed my library card for the first time in 20 years. I already own too many paper books and I don't want any more. But I also refuse to pay as much for e-books as paper. Libraries to the rescue.


I feel the same way about video games. When I do buy them, I try to buy a physical copy that I can sell/lend/whatever. Digital copies are pretty much useless once you're done playing them. Also kinda ridiculous that digital copies cost the same as physical, or often times cost more when the physical copies go on sale.


Not to mention libraries may only loan an ebook X number of times. A librarian told me this when I asked if there was a way to donate my digital ebook to them for their collection. Answer: no. Reason: because the ebook they have has a lending cap.


> With a digital book (or any other digital good) I lose all of that.

AFAIK, first-sale doctrine is accepted in both US and EU. There are ECJ judicates confirming legality of reselling used software. So i am pretty sure i can sell, trade or donate my e-books.


Note that pricing of ebooks for libraries is higher than for consumers - https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/the-fu...

>Among the Big Five publishers (HBG, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, PRH, and S&S), pricing for one copy remains excessively high, in the $50 range for two years of library access, compared with the $15 range for perpetual access by consumers. Four of the Big Five now employ a two-year access model, which poses challenges to collection development and preservation.

Note also that ebooks come with restrictions that inhibit inter-library loans.


> very little of the cost of making a book is tied up in the physical format

Either that's bullshit, or the costs are entirely artificial. I really, really want "Concrete mathematics" by Donald Knuth. I really, really don't want to pay €80 for it. A good alternative for me would be the e-book, but it isn't any cheaper. I doubt if anyone will buy the ebook for that price while there are free copies available online.


It's entirely dependant upon volume. According to [0], the average US non-fiction book will sell under 3,000 copies in its lifetime. For the proceeds from that to pay the author, editor, and marketing... Well, that's not a lot of copies to amortize those salaries across.

The numbers are obviously very different for a New York times best seller, where physical goods costs will represent a larger fraction of the cost. But most books aren't NYT bestsellers, (even? Particularly?) When they're by Knuth on advanced topics. :)

you could call paying all of the people involved in the process of creating a book artificial, but if we don't, we don't get more books.

[0] https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_1394159


You make a good point: There surely is a difference between someone like Donald Knuth writing a book that is relatively niche, and a best-seller. For one, I can imagine that a page of mathematics requires more expertise and time to write than a page of fiction.

However, there are dozens of free e-books on the web, written by respectable and knowledgeable professors, and this tells me that the only real cost involved is the effort of writing itself. The distribution and marketing cost for an e-book like 'Concrete mathematics' should be nearly zero. Unless my €80 goes directly to the authors, I'm wasting money. This is defendable for a physical book, but not for an e-book.


Reacting to this: "I can imagine that a page of mathematics requires more expertise and time to write than a page of fiction."

I cannot say exactly how much time it takes to write a page of math, but I do know that many underestimate the time it takes to write a page of fiction. Sure Dan Brown probably knocks out a page of pulpy prose in an hour. But that's not exactly equivalent to critical reviewed, prize winning, literature. Nor is it what most writers strive for. Many fiction writers have spent years writing their books, recieved graduate degrees (some that they paid for), stuck failed novels in drawers, produced multiple drafts, been rejected hundreds of times, etc. I.E. labored over each page and fought for each step. Beloved was Toni Morrison's 5th book, not published until she was 56. That's decades of work to get to that point. Try looking at any page of James Joyce Ulyssess. That book alone spawned the PhDs of hundreds (thousands?) of scholars in English departments across the world just to understand it. Math too takes this level of work, it's just that they're more equivalent than some think.

Except, even though many fiction writers labor over every word and punctuation mark, there are not the same institutions to support them as there are mathematicians. Want to pursue a career in math? - enroll in a fully funded PhD in Mathematics, hopefully get a post-doc, then a tenure track job, etc. Admittedly not all succeed on this route, and it's not easy, there are teaching and publication responsibilities, but it exists. For writing? You're on your own until you produce critically acclaimed works, generally two successful books, usually while pursuing separate careers. Then you can apply for tenure-track jobs. There's not the same caccoon to usher in writing talent. Even Dan Brown, whose prose I just bashed, spent 14 years as a songwriter and High School English teacher before the Da Vinci code (his fourth book) garnered attention.

So I'd disagree, many (most? - not sure) fiction takes significant expertise and time to produce, and usually without the support of academic institutions that budding math talent has.


To write a page of fiction, write ten pages of fiction, and then remove the nine that no one wants to read. Do all this entirely on your own, while working your day job.

To write a page of math, write a paragraph of math, illustrate it or insert the proof, typeset in LATEX, and leave the rest as an exercise for the readers. The readers will probably be your students, that bought your book because you required it for the course, and will make revision suggestions during class or office hours. Get a colleague to proofread for you, as you will proofread their math. Collect your pay for teaching and/or researching math while writing the math.


I have no doubt writing fiction isn't easy. I'm just saying that in general, a math book like I mentioned takes more time and expertise to write than fiction. Not in the first place because it requires that you have at least the level of expertise of a graduate student (which is 5 years of study). I'm not sure what Ulyssess being intensively studied has to with it. The only thing which makes a math book easier to write is that it's more accepted to distribute the work between different writers.

Some caveats apply: Many professors have teached a course repeatedly, at which they have such a level of mastery of the subject that they can just bang out the theorems and proofs (I've had one professor who wrote the 300 pages of lecture notes during the course). When the book actually contains new information, it takes much longer.


My point is less a knock on mathematicians and more that folks underestimate the expertise and time spent by fiction writers. And there is less support for writers along the way. And the emphasis on "more" here illustrations that. People tend to discount fiction writers because they write outside of institutions and because popular books distract and detract.

Expertise: Take the most recent 4 Fields medalists. All 4 have PhDs (all of which were completed in less then 5 years, though that's more a testament to them) and worked in academia/research since undergrad. Compare them to the two MacArthur Genius grant winners who are writers (announced today), only one has a PhD, the other an MFA. So does that mean that the Fields winners have more training? Maybe, but there are very few creative writing PhDs in the world (maybe 100 PhD spots across all programs vs. what 5,000 math PhD students?). MFAs are considered terminal degrees, last 2-4 years, and many require you to pay for them vs. Math PhDs mostly are fully funded. So what's a fiction writer to do? Get a PhD in something else (Valeria) or string together fellowships and jobs for (4-5) years (in Ocean's case) before you can get an academic appointment. Does that mean Ocean's 2 year MFA + 4-5 years on his own is less expertise than a math PhD? Maybe, but there isn't the same support. After this, mathematicians and writers start looking the same (have academic jobs, teach part-time, work part-time). Except both writers produced at least two books on their own before they could get academic appointments whereas none of the Fields folks have left academia since undergrad. That's years the writers had to support themselves while also writing.

Time: Hard to tell on this one. But Alessio Figalli (Fields) has produced 125 papers that seem to be about 20 pages in length in 12 years of publishing, so that's ~2500 pages, or ~200 pages a year. And Valeria Luiselli (MacArthur) has published ~1000 pages in books in 8 years, or ~125 pages a year. If they both spent the same amount of time working and each page was unique (may not be the case for Alessio), then Valeria spent more time per page. If Valeria had less time because they had a full time job versus part time teaching or Alessio's papers repeat some of his work, them maybe it's similar amounts of time per page. And if a student leaves their MFA with half a book and a few small publications, keeps writing the book for a few years before publishing it (Ocean Veong's Night Sky With Exit Wounds) vs. a math PhD publishes their thesis plus 2 short papers out of their PhD (Akshay Venkatesh's thesis + 2 short papers from 2002) isn't that roughly the same output in the same amount of time?

Admittedly one can't use isolated examples to deduce general truths, but it's illustrative. And when you start comparing, say Donald Knuth to Toni Morrison, both have decades of expertise and spent hours laboring over each page, so it starts to seem moot. And fiction books tend to sell more copies so can be priced less because of scale.


Coincidentally, it costs between $2000 and $4000 to print and market a book. So, what, say $1 per book pays for that. The rest pays the author.

But wait! Authors only get a buck or two royalty per book. So why do they cost so much?

Use your imagination.


> it costs between $2000 and $4000 to print and market a book

It costs between $2000 and $4000 to print a book. It costs about the same to warehouse and distribute a typical hardcover.

It costs maybe $100,000 to market a book. Often much more.

Printing, distribution, and royalties are a small part of costs in the publishing industry. Marketing and amortized overhead are a large part of the costs.


Most books, especially non-fiction have incredibly small marketing budgets. Often it's up to the author to self-promote the book.


If you spend $100,000 to market a book that only sells 3k copies.. maybe you're bad at marketing.


Marketing, type setting, cover design, editing, distribution channels, licenses for fonts, lawyers for contracts between everyone, accountants for managing the money flow of all the above, analysts to track how well each genre is selling and why, etc? And if the cover is particularly glossy, has metallic shiny lettering, velvet, etc. That also jacks price because that stuff all has to be custom made.


The author's cut, the publisher's cut and the cost of printing the book are each about 10% of the gross[1]. The rest goes to the retailer.

[1] https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/03/why-i-d...


Many authors also get paid ahead of time to write their book as well. So, a portion of that also goes towards managing the loan given to the author, and distributing the risk of any given book not living up to its sales expectations.


Some of this is economies of scale. It's fairly cheap per unit to print 1,000,000 copies of a book. It's much more expensive (again, per unit) to print 1,000 copies.

Books like Lord of the Rings which are guaranteed to sell a large number of copies are much less of a risk to print large numbers of than books like Concrete Mathematics. The publisher rolls that expectation into the retail price.

Additionally, all one-off production costs (like paying an artist for cover art) are rolled into that retail price also, with the expectation that X number of copies will sell over the "initial life" of the book.

That "initial life" is usually the first year of a book's publication.


The Doom and Wolfenstein 3D Game Engine Black Book(s) were priced at cost, per the author. Print on demand full color is very expensive.


> Either that's bullshit

It's misleading in that it ignores all the costs between creating a physical copy of a book and a buyer placing it in their hands. There's the obvious things like logistics and less obvious things like paying for placement and future liabilities for "unsold returned inventory" (typically destroyed instead of returned because an unsold book is less-than-worthless).

But 10 years ago, an e-book was often cheaper than a printed copy, allegedly because Amazon was willing to take a loss and everyone else had to follow to compete. The Great Steve Jobs didn't want iBooks to compete with Amazon by losing money, negative gross margins aren't the modern Apple way, so he colluded with the Big 5 publishers to force the agency pricing model on everyone. DoJ slapped them all on the wrists and the agency model lives on.


Concrete Mathematics is 672 pages, hardcover for $72 on amazon.

Lord of the Rings is 3 hardcover books, 1214 pages total for $39 dollars.

Considering that you get much more "book" out of the second one, the content seems to be most of the price.

Similarly, if you look at China-only copies of math books, you pay about $10 (IIRC), which gets you admittedly bad quality paper and binding but still makes the publishers money.


I was just at my local library over the weekend, not having stepped inside one for a very long time. I was actually there to get my library card renewed, as I hadn't used it for so long it became out of date.

So, I'm browsing the stacks, and see a few books that look intriguing. But here's the thing: I don't have time to check them out and read them. There was a time I could and would do that, but age and responsibilities have cut that short.

So - I do what any 21st century citizen with a smartphone does - I searched for them on Amazon. I ended up finding all of the titles on Amazon, but the kicker was that the physical copies of the book (even hardbound!) were cheaper - cheaper! - than the ebook (kindle) version.

So - I purchased them; they should arrive at my door in a couple of days. I'll get to read them at my leisure, I won't have to worry about overdue fines or anything like that, and best of all - I have physical copies.

Overdrive goes away? Well - I can still read my copies.

Publisher decides to revoke the ebook license? Well - I can still read my copies.

Long story short: Nothing beats having a unencumbered, non-licensed, non-encrypted copy of a piece of information (physical or otherwise). Without it, you are just borrowing it from someone, and they can take it back at will, and you are SOL.

I'm not sure what it's going to take for people - ordinary people - to understand this. Maybe the 50,000th time they have to repurchase the "White Album"?


> If I wanted to borrow A Better Man by Louise Penny—the country’s current No. 1 fiction bestseller

> Public libraries are engaged in one of the most valuable series of community services for all ages, for all audiences

> If you think about equitable access to information for everybody, there shouldn’t be discrimination or anything like that

Devil's advocate: the article (and many of the persons mentioned) seem to be discussing primarily works of fiction, not e.g. textbooks or technical reference books. How is this part of "a valuable series of community services"? It seems like they just want the ability to consume more entertainment media for free, and are trying to disguise it as part of the (noble) effort of trying to make access to information egalitarian.


To play an advocate from a deeper level of Hell: Why should the ideas in fiction be dismissed as uninformative?


Fiction is quite illustrative as well. I don't know how to, or if we need to, draw the line between entertainment and education but I think that it's unfair to say that you cannot be entertained and educated at the same time.

I don't know if that was your point specifically but there are undertones whenever library funding gets brought up. It's also comparable to welfare fraud. There are people who campaign against welfare because of abusers but the amount the fraud amounts to is relatively low.[1]

I'm not learned enough to tell you what percentage of fraud is acceptable but I worry about us treating this the same way. I understand the campaign about how your taxes are spent but I also think we agree that this is a valuable community service, especially for people who do not have access to tools and networks like I do.

A very fair point though fouric!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_fraud#United_States


Librarians are trying to make available materials that their reading communities want. Their bias towards entertainment media is a reflection of librarians doing their job of providing to local communities who read and listen to a lot of fiction.


I have found it nearly impossible to get any non-fiction titles that I'm interested in at my local library (San Mateo County Libraries). I have tried older titles, newer titles, popular titles, etc. The OverDrive app always autocompletes the title in the search bar, and then it tells me there are zero results.

I have tried dozens of books over a decade or so of living here. It is really frustrating, and only very occasionally (once or twice in that period?) have I actually been able to check out a title I was searching for.

So this is not just a fiction problem. It is definitely applicable to non-fiction books as well.


It's interesting because these expectations from consumers began with rampant illegal file sharing in the late 90s.

Many people made the claim that music (and now books) cost nothing to distribute, so they should get it for free.

The actual cost of creating the first copy is always ignored.

I always thought it was worse than theft because at least when you steal a TV, the value of the entire product line doesn't decrease.


> consumer expectations that a digital file will be less expensive than a physical copy

That expectation is justified, because bits haven't been a scarce resource ever since Shannon's digital circuits drove marginal cost of copying a file to approximately zero.

> very little of the cost of making a book is tied up in the physical format

If the market isn't willing to pay that price, then their business model isn't sustainable. Blaming libraries and attempting to make their product artificially scarce (with rate-limiting contracts or technical tricks ("DRM") at best only postpone the business model's eventual failure. While it would be unfortunate if authoring books became unsustainable, the publishers may not be needed. That's what capitalism does: it removes inefficiency, including middlemen that no longer strictly required..

> Potash said that studies consistently show library patrons to be more frequent book buyers overall—which is another reason Macmillan’s letter stung. “They are taking their readers, their customers, their fans, and intentionally trying to frustrate them,” he said.

Giving your actual paying (even indirectly through a library) customers a worse experience than they could get by sim0ply downloading a pirated copy is always a bad idea. It takes a long time to rebuild from a bad reputation.

However, the bigger problem is failing to recognize that the real competition is for people's attention. Rate-limiting or otherwise restricting libraries is throwing away the most important resource: people's awareness that your product even exists. Do you want free advertising even when people read your book for free, or do you want fade into obscurity without even the possibility of making a sale?

> The licensing model for libraries and e-books itself is complex and difficult to explain to outsiders.

That's intentional, because they are trying to use complex tricks to artificially recreate scarcity instead of adapting to a new business model.


But the cost of printing a book isn't exactly high. Most of the cost of a book is in the author, editorial staff, and other human services. The manufacturing is near nil.


What is more important, culture or company profits?


For a company, it's obviously profits. Without them, the company will cease existing.


You are confusing profit with revenue. Without revenue, the company will disappear. A company with revenue to cover operating costs but no profits will survive, even thrive.


And for a country? A company or the ease of access to culture?


These are books for which there is high demand within 8 weeks of publication, so culture is not a factor.


Apparently neither if the book publisher actually refuses to sell the ebook to libraries. It's almost like they want people to pirate it.


Company profits indicate what is important to a culture.


Indicate, not dictate, like it seems to be the case. In this case it looks like the company profit is deciding how the culture should be given to the population. There has to be some wiggle room here between company profits and general access to culture I think.


New question, what if it's not "company", but individual? Do we not support people who put their resources into a book?

Also obligatory false dichotomy.


> Do we not support people who put their resources into a book?

Another false dichotomy. Why does "support" equal banning libraries from buying books for 8 weeks, when anybody else can buy them freely?


I guess I'd call that "property rights" - the owner of the book (or its digital version) should be able to sell or not sell to whomever she wants.


With my local library (Santa Clara county), I've noticed that there is no requirement to revalidate my local address. After I move away, I would presumably join my new library, but I'd still have the option to log back in on my Kobo E-reader using my SCCL membership. I love Overdrive, but I think a lot of users abuse the system in this way.


they don't seem to care. my wife went around to about four libraries in the bay area so she could get easier access to some books which may not be available immediately in Santa Clara, but are available in San Mateo. I assume this is for the reasons stated in another comment: the licensing forbids individual libraries from sharing their copies with other libraries...


I feel it's only natural for this sort of thing to happen, as ultimately the purpose of libraries and the purpose of copyright are in direct opposition to one another.

In my view, the primary reason public libraries were created was to provide the public with free access to informational and culturally-relevant media (books, newspapers, movies, audio, etc). Previously, a library's effectiveness in fulfilling that mission was naturally limited by the need for the library to acquire physical copies of every article of media they provided access to, and by the natural geographical restrictions imposed by the need for members to physically travel to the library to view, check out, and return those articles. These limitations made it relatively easy for libraries to coexist with copyright law, as libraries would never be able to compete with the convenience of personal ownership of a physical copy of media.

With modern, digital media, such physical limitations are no longer present. Were it not for copyright law preventing digital media from being acquired and loaned out the same way that physical media are, it would be rather easy to build a public library system which would fulfill its mission so efficiently and with such convenience that it would supplant the need for personal ownership of media for the vast majority of people.

Imagine a national library purchasing 100 copies of a movie, then instantly "checking it out" to you when you stream it to your phone, and "checking it in" as soon as the movie finishes playing or you pause it for more than a minute or two. Such a system could be many orders of magnitude cheaper than our current public library system, while at the same time being far more convenient. They could put Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney+ out of business overnight. Now apply the same system to books, music, magazines, etc. Why would any significant number of people bother buying any of those forms media ever again?


>>Were it not for copyright law preventing digital media from being acquired and loaned out the same way that physical media are, it would be rather easy to build a public library system which would fulfill its mission so efficiently and with such convenience that it would supplant the need for personal ownership of media for the vast majority of people.

You've just inspired me. How do we make libraries the next "great disruptor"?

>>They could put Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney+ out of business overnight.

All of those services are also primary-content creators. They no longer just serve as repositories for content, they also produce unique content that adds value.


>> They could put Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney+ out of business overnight.

> All of those services are also primary-content creators.

Right, so they would remain in business only by distributing exclusive content that's not available in public libraries by virtue of the fact that copies of those media can never be purchased, only streamed directly from their original creator.

Thinking about where that would lead in a world where that business model suddenly becomes extremely profitable compared to selling copies of your movie... it almost seems kinda dystopian.


As usual, RMS is right about DRM.


RMS unfortunately has picked a different hill to die on these days


I don't think that libraries should purchase ebooks anyway. The checkout model translated to a digital file is awkward and un-natural- how does one checkout a single copy of an ebook? Why can't there be an infinite number of copies?

I'd rather see libraries give up ebooks entirely until there is a non DRM alternative. Libraries should not reinforce existing DRM regimes. Meanwhile, it would be great if they could function as the physical location for furthering the distribution of Free ebooks already in the public domain and helping to make these available to people, maybe by lending ebook readers instead! Imagine going to a library and checking out a cheap 2nd Feb Nook loaded with 1k of Project Gutenberg classics? Or being able to choose and load the ebooks you want at the library to a device and then taking it home?


What is the logic behind this? A library e-book can be loaned at most 4 times during the 8-week hold off period. Are they after the potential four additional sale? Didn't make any sense to me...


Seems like libraries should team up and combine their purchasing powers to get more equitable purchase agreements.


They should team up and use the existing copyright laws in a way that is more suited to their mission.

Which is to say they should create their own shared digital-lending infrastructure that does not depend on publishers supplying the e-books.

That would provide a significant incentive for publishers to be reasonable enough that public libraries don't cut them out of the loop entirely using the first-sale doctrine, with books purchased at retail.


Macmillan should look into putting more covers up on their site for their own books as to the reason their sales are going down. When you don't have the motivation to properly merchandise your products its your own damn fault.


Paper books are always better tha ebooks, but in terms of practicity, ebooks could make your like easier. Lightweight, storing, fonts format... But the top advantage is the fact that are water resistant.


I didn't know libraries lent ebooks. Seems kind of strange.


Some (many?) libraries lend out WiFi hot spots so people can have free internet at home.

When I lived in New Jersey, the library lent out power tools.

The Chicago Public library lends out museum passes.

Libraries are about knowledge, not books.


The Chicago Public Library also lends small toy robots for teaching children about programming: https://www.chipublib.org/news/finch-robots-land-at-cpl/


Sounds like you could use a refresher on all the free and worthwhile services provided by modern libraries.

Where I'm at in NJ, the local libraries offer books, e-books, cds, dvds, career services, access to legal assistance, community meeting spaces, crafting programs, and will even lend you tickets to several great museums. And that's just the start.

Libraries are dope.


It's actually really great! I check out a book, click "send to kindle" and about 30 seconds later, it's on my kindle to read. 2-3 weeks later, it's automatically "returned" to the library and removed from my kindle.

Most libraries in the US use OverDrive for their eBook collections and lending.

https://www.overdrive.com/


Time-limited access to e-books isn't that strange, considering we do similar things with movies (e.g., renting a new release on Google Play).


It's actually pretty awesome. Combines the benefits of library lending with convenience of an e-reader. Check out the Libby app.


Why? Some readers want e-books, so not facilitating them means losing readers.


Well I imagine people go to libraries as it's the only way to get physical copies of what they have. Ebooks are obviously more conveniently download from the internet. Or is this ebook a physical device not a download?


You use the Internet to check out a book from the library onto your e-reader, from home, allowing you to read it for free totally legally. The other ways of getting an ebook are generally only one of those last two.


Libraries offer movies, video games, some even have a "library of things". A library near me offers go-pros, knitting needles, telescopes, a whole bunch of odd things.


It seems to me as though an interlibrary alliance could pool resources to create their own digitizations of print-version books. They already pay extra for the library edition of a print book. For that higher price, they are supposed to get more durable covers and paper. For a more expensive e-book, what do they get? Self-destructing DRM. Why would anyone agree to that--especially a library?

If it is legal to lend out that physical copy, what is the difference, philosophically, between taking that copy off the shelf and placing it in a reader-proxy robot that can turn pages and focus its camera on them? What is the difference between that and flipping through static photographs of the pages while the physical copy is kept in a "digital lending" vault? What is the difference between that and flipping through pages of OCR-digitized text that correspond to the photographs? And if the physical copy is permanently placed in a defunct mine and no one ever has physical access, what prevents the mine from lending the digital text to any partner library, so they can in turn lend the single digital copy to a person?

If the publishers want to play stupid games, award them stupid prizes. Buy the paperback/cheapest edition of the book, shear off the spine, scan both sides of each page in a machine at 1200 dpi, re-bind the pages (plus paper cover) into a corrugated plastic cover, catalog it, and put it in permanent storage. Now OCR the 1200 dpi images, downsample them to 96 dpi, and package the text and low-res images into an e-book. When a user thinks the OCR made an error, the low-res image can establish a page and location, and a rectangle of the high-res image can be delivered from a web interface. The user's guess at the text content can then be verified or rejected by AI--easier than OCR from scratch--and used to update the book file.

All the lending software needs to do is verify that no more than N natural persons are looking at the digital files for N real copies at the same time. The physical copy could always be retrieved from storage and shipped to the borrower, after all. The legal copyright model has nothing to do with the time and money costs of physical shipping. A property title can move faster than the speed of light, even when the property itself is immobile. Even if the lending model doesn't work, sell the beneficial interest in the book for $20.00, and then pay $19.99 when they sell it back, the $0.01 representing physical-book storage fees and bandwidth costs.

Whether or not the end-user can copy the files they receive is immaterial. I can already borrow a library book and scan every page at home. That would be me violating the copyright, not the library. The burden on the library is to say, "please don't do that, unless it is for legal, fair-use purposes". And the burden of policing it is on the owner/assignee of the copyright. If going along with the copyright system voluntarily is reasonable, people will go along with it voluntarily. If not, people will pirate. This may seem tautological, but increasing forced compliance will reduce voluntary compliance.


Your scheme requires copying the work, probably several times, and distributing some of those copies, so it won't fly.

I'm pretty sure the fact that digital lending necessarily makes tons of copies of the work—consider live server disk, backups (possibly many copies there), copies in cache across who knows how many devices on the Internet, the copy on the user's device, copies in RAM all over the place, et c., such that there might well be twenty copies of a book before it reaches the eyes of a borrowing reader—is why publishers are able to put license terms on ebook lending in the first place, since technically the whole process, practically speaking, involves copying the book a bunch of times.


What we know to be a copy by common sense, real world interpretation of the word "copy" is not necessarily what copyright law considers to be a "copy" for the purposes of enforcing copyright laws.

Is holding a book up to a half-silvered mirror making a copy of it? Is looking over someone else's shoulder as they read making a copy? Do the activation levels in a person's visual cortex count as a copy?

It may be useful to keep hairs unsplit, forget about the quantum mechanics of copying and focus on the observers. If there are two files with identical content on a filesystem such that only one user is authorized to read them, how many copies exist?

To me, that's two copies in fact, but one copy by copyright law, in that the second real-life copy is not separable from the first for the purposes of commerce. The act of changing the access permissions on the second identical file would be what makes it a copyright-copy, not the act of duplicating the bits.


In that case why are libraries bothering with jumping through these hoops and paying extra money for expiring ebooks anyway?


They want to be "good citizens" in the book-publishing ecosystem. They follow along with the publishers' schemes, to ensure that the channel for public access to the material remains open.

They don't want to risk the possibility that there might be knowledge out there that an ordinary person might be barred from accessing via the public library. And as long as the publishers are reasonable, even when charging a higher library price, that's cheaper than libraries setting up a different infrastructure.

The mission of most libraries is about access and public service, rather than raw price. The publishers can abuse that.


Usually I'm against restrictions like this, but this doesn't seem that bad. It's only for ebooks and for first 8 weeks, with people waiting years for the next book of their favourite author, waiting 2 more months when they are not willing to buy that book is nothing.


The book is being bought. The libraries aren't getting these books for free.

If you, private citizen Hitton, want to buy this book the day it's released and then lend it out to every single person you know, you're able to do this. Why shouldn't the library?

Also, there are lending limits on e-books from libraries. It's not as if the library can buy the e-book and then lend it out simultaneously to 20,000 people. They're already required to rate limit how many people can have an e-book checked out at once.


The limit of 1 (one) copy per library described in article seems fully reasonable to you?


No, of course not. That's my point. OP is throwing out a "let them eat cake" argument about how he's fine with this state of affairs. I'm pointing out that the libraries are buying these e-books in order to lend them out.

Personally I feel that the publishers are misunderstanding their market. Library people are library people. It's a small, heavy-use userbase. People who buy books the second they come out aren't going to suddenly become library people because a few dozen more e-books become available early on. There's still limits on how the libraries are allowed to lend them (i.e. they can't buy one book and lend it out 100 times, but they could buy 100 books and lend those out 100 times).

This feels like publishers are misunderstanding their users, but at the same time I'm just one user, wtf do I know.




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