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Libraries struggle to afford e-books, seek new laws in fight with publishers (go.com)
269 points by notRobot 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 194 comments



The argument in publishing industry (about papers and textbooks) is that if you cannot afford to buy/rent at the current market value then you still can use a public/university library to get it. This became actually more of a cliché than an argument over time.

Now with a significant portion of textbooks (and books in general) become mainly E-books, the industry limited library capabilities and required pay per lend and restrict number of simultaneous lends. For papers, many universities canceled access contracts because it became too costly. Not to mention that smaller universities couldn't afford most of these subscriptions anyway.

Publishing industry really needs more regulation. Free market hardly work there.


Its actually an argument for less regulation. Its the regulation causing the market failure. Cut copyright to a less stupid number like what it was originally 14 years. Make maintaining a copyright for those years contingent on having X % of sales available for free in libraries. We are asking the fundamentally wrong question with copyright, we should not be maximizing monopoly for copyright owners, we should be minimizing market disruption to get a chosen amount of extra creative production


>Cut copyright to a less stupid number like what it was originally 14 years. Make maintaining a copyright for those years contingent on having X % of sales available for free in libraries

I’m nitpicking but this isn’t less regulation, it’s different regulation. Some would even say it’s more. You’re reducing a number but adding complexity with the percent sales requirement.


And if we're talking textbooks, I'm not sure what cutting copyright to 14 years actually accomplishes. I'm also not sure how you dole out X% of sales to libraries that might be interested. Especially given libraries are often ill-defined.


I don't think anyone would really complain if such an act assumed "libraries" == "public libraries", a very well defined term that's already enshrined in federal legislation.


Plus, if you got rid of or reduced copyright, publishers would just find other ways to engage in cartel-like behavior and continue to screw everyone.

I can’t think of any case where regulation/government was reduced and companies responded with something less profitable for the company.


Airlines are often brought up as becoming cheaper with less regulations.

While it was mostly manufacturers building more efficient aircraft, people are generally willing to trade leg room for a cheaper fair. That’s exactly the kind of thing regulators and the free market may come to a different compromise. Worse, but cheaper is often quite appealing.


During the era of heavy airline regulation in the US, the Los Angeles to San Francisco route was significantly (about 4x IIRC) cheaper than other routes of similar length. This was because it was the only (popular) route of this length that didn't cross state lines, and so the onerous federal airline regulations did not apply.

So no, it wasn't just manufacturers building more efficient aircraft.


Average ticket prices didn’t suddenly fall anything like 75% within 2 or even 10 years of reduced regulations. Which should make it clear it wasn’t onerous federal regulations causing that difference.

Adjusted for inflation and including fees domestic round-trip airfare in 1979 averaged $617.47 vs $366.92 in 2016 a 40% drop. Which looks pretty good, though there was that 1979 oil crisis which needs to be accounted for which complicates the inflation comparison.

Meanwhile Jets become 70% more fuel efficient between 1967 and 2007. As airliners use a mix of newer and older aircraft there’s a delay before improvements affect prices. But most of that improvement was front loaded so by 2018 domestic airlines where getting 58 pay passenger miles per gallon of fuel an unheard of number in 1979 which again also happened to be the middle of an oil crisis.


Anything else you've noticed the free market compromising on re: air travel.


Luggage. Airlines make quite a bit hauling cargo on passenger flights so they are essentially subsidizing seats as long as people don’t check bags and charging inflated prices when they do.

Convenience especially in terms of number of flights. This gets into a bunch of economic and logistical issues, but airlines are happy to abandon less profitable areas. While regulators want regular service even if the demand isn’t quite there

Service. The minimum number of attendants is based on safety, airlines would happily cut those workers.

Safety.


Quality generally with many manufactured goods. There are health and safety regulations but if there were a requirement for a 20-year warranty (which is about what my Aeron chair has) both quality and prices would probably increase significantly.

In the opposite direction, you're not actually allowed to generally buy a car without modern safety features. (Although automakers do make cars that are have higher or lower safety ratings within the regulatory framework.)

A common thread is that when push comes to shove, a lot of consumers will choose the lower price.


The straight-to-landfill consumer goods make me sad, but I guess I can buy cheaper tires and only drive in ideal conditions so there can be a place for middling quality.


Or tools for the occasional household use. You might not want junk but that table saw you use maybe a handful of times a year may not have to be as high-end as what a carpenter might use most days.


Which would be fine if you could tell if you could actually reliably find high quality products. But I'm increasingly finding it difficult to distinguish between paying more for quality and paying more for overpriced junk.


The 'Project Farm' reviews on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/@ProjectFarm) really have been eye-opening for me in that regard; sometimes there is still a strong correlation between price and quality but half the time the best quality (not just price to quality ratio -- subjective or otherwise) ends up clustering in decidedly interesting places.


The market in question was airlines. US airlines have rather a lot of competitors:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines_of_the_United...

How many does Boeing have?


free luggage, free meals (on shorter flights), legroom, time on the ground and flight cancelation headaches (far less of a problem if you don't offer connecting flights like Ryanair).

If you get all of these right, price decreases, demand increases, average seat occupancy goes way up, and that causes the per-seat price to drop even more, in a feedback loop. If your costs are low enough, you can go for a direct model instead of a hub-and-spoke model, catering more towards casual travelers who just want to go somewhere instead of the business types which need to go from X to Y at time Z, no matter the cost. THe direct model drives the cost down even more, as you only need one flight instead of two, and don't have to worry about the insane costs of passengers stranded at your hub when something goes wrong.


How they respond depends on whether the regulation causes or mitigates market power. for example,Something like deregulating the last mile for internet is probably not going to end well because the incumbents control that and that is the mote that is expensive enough to recreate that it causes monopoly. Copyright causes monopoly because it stops marginal price being able to equal marginal cost by allowing only one person the right to provide the copyrighted thing. get rid of it and price goes to zero pretty fast because cost of electronic diatribution is near zero


> that is the mote that is expensive enough to recreate

A somewhat large part of why it is so expensive to recreate is all the regulations and burreaucracy involved in laying cables along public roads. Make that significantly easier and cheaper, and you suddenly need those last-mile regulations a lot less.

Network effects are where you actually need regulation.


I am skeptical that removing rwgularion would solve all of the last mile issue because there is a moaaic of different starting posotions and what that looks like determines the deregulated cost of dupkicating service (eg does a govt owned utility own the poles and will allow cheap usage or does the incumbent fpr profit own it and will blocl usage as justone starting condition of many).


> I can’t think of any case where regulation/government was reduced and companies responded with something less profitable for the company.

When the government deregulated air travel prices, routes, and schedules.


Some regulation liberates closures, and some protects closures. I believe the person is advocating for less regulation that protects private closures, and is throwing in the idea of more regulation to liberate closures... perhaps as a way to repair the damage caused by the closure.

Maybe I'm assuming too much tho...!

I appreciate your comment regardless :)


It's literally less in that the time the copyright is enforced (aka regulated) is less.


It is less regulation in that it gets the governmemt out of interfering with the market outcome (marginal price of dostribution is effectively zero so market outcome without copyright is zero price electeonic diatribution). The percentage sales requirement is just an easy way to force intelligent behavior by copyright holders for public libraries to lessen the market failure for the poors caused by copyright. I am open to simpler ideas as long as the outcome is copyright fuckery does not result in no provision of knowledge for the poors and only extractive pricing for a short time period that incentizes additional content creation for the rest of us.


Fine, abolish copyright then, let's see what happens.


We know what will happen. Germany had no copyright protections in the 19th century. The country's economy boomed, making Germany the industrial powerhouse of Europe.


Can you expand on this point? Having no copyright being a leading cause of industrial expansion seems pretty tenuous. Especially given that they now have copyright and other countries also had booming economies at about the same time.


The printers went looking for things to print, and they printed anything and everything. The easiest way to get material to print, besides copying other printers' output, was to commission how-to manuals. Germany was flooded with how-to informational manuals on every topic.

Much like the software industry. Free software runs the world.


What you really want here is for ebooks to be subject to First Sale. In general "licensing" should be restricted to the rights of the copyright holder, e.g. giving someone a license to permanently increase the number of copies that exist in the world, as when an author licenses a publisher. If someone has bought a copy, that should be theirs, they should be free to transfer it to other devices and other people as long as there continues to be only as many permanent copies as they've purchased, and the copyright holder can't impose any further restrictions on that, essentially as an anti-trust anti-tying rule because copyright is a monopoly.

Then libraries could buy physical or digital copies and do the thing they've always done.


It doesn’t really make sense to transfer the concept of first sale to digital goods. Even assuming a scheme that allows a library to fully control lending so that only one copy is in use at a time, a digital copy is not going to wear out. So publishers lose out on sales of popular titles when a library would need to refresh a physical copy.


Being free to share information is the natural state. The copyright is an artificial restriction introduced to allow authors to benefit from their works, and by proxy, the publishers to whom they sell those rights. Perpetual rent seeking is not now nor was it ever the purpose of those laws. They certainly have nothing to do with some sort of physical copy planned obsolescence system.

One of the best features of Valve's Steam platform is exactly that it gives users the ability to perpetually install the software they have purchased, even if the publisher other removes it from the platform. If users were allowed to resale their purchased games, it would be nearly at full par with first sale doctrine.

Digital systems are a modern bypassing of such prior conventions and laws, and it makes perfect sense to extend them in that direction with time.


It takes longer for a physical copy to wear out than copyright terms should last to begin with. Also, you're allowed to repair books -- because it's your book.


If you're going to nitpick on this, fine... some research can be done on the number of uses a book can go through before it wears out and apply that to the e-book. It's certainly more than 26 and absolutely more than 2 years (how this 2 years condition is acceptable I'll never know)


I own multiple books that are over 100 years old. They weren’t even that expensive.


What you’re proposing would require a literal quantum shift in DRM, where it’s only possible to use a copy of something if that thing hasn’t been itself copied somewhere else. That world would ironically unite the desires of publishers, creators, and actual archivists, leaving only the pirates out in the cold. Whoever figures out how to do that is going to make a fortune.


No you wouldn't. It's not about DRM, it's about the contractual agreements between libraries and publishers. They already track the number of times it's borrowed and for how long. OP is suggesting that it should be dealt with the same as a hard copy, i.e. only one person can borrow it at a time.


Proposing that any rights holder would accept a solution where there is no technical control preventing arbitrary copying is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be cool, I’m saying it’s never going to happen.

Secondly, you should reread their post, it’s much broader than your interpretation. They were envisioning a world where the device and copying restrictions we have today don’t exist.


I'm not sure we're on the same page. How do you think libraries loan out ebooks, currently? DRM for this exact functionality is already implemented by most publishers


You should reread their post, libraries usage is incidental to what they’re talking about. Their point, that first sale should apply to ebooks, requires a fundamentally different approach to DRM. If I own my content and can put it on any device I want, how can the seller be sure I’m only using one copy at a time? Consider the case that I might have it on multiple different devices which aren’t connected to the internet, they’re saying I should be able to do that while keeping the requirement that only one copy be usable at a time.

My reference to quantum was saying that this usage pattern would require something like quantum entanglement to replicate the state of which copy is active among all copies.


> If I own my content and can put it on any device I want, how can the seller be sure I’m only using one copy at a time?

They can't, which is the same as it is now. DRM is a farce and everything is on The Pirate Bay. Which is why restricting libraries like this is ridiculous -- anybody who doesn't care to follow the law doesn't need to get a copy from a library, they can just download it from a piracy site. The reason you go to the library instead is that you want to follow the law.


There is no justice in following unjust laws.


I'm not sure if the librarians in the article meant this but that's beside the point. The publishers can enforce a DRM on their side such that only one reader gets it at a time and adjust the contracts with the libraries accordingly, no need for fancy quantum stuff for client-side DRM.


> that it should be dealt with the same as a hard copy, i.e. only one person can borrow it at a time.

That's how it works in every library system I have dealt with


Yeah same but as the article states, there are extra terms in the agreement such as a maximum of 26 loans and a two-year renewal, whichever comes first. And the ebook is usually 4 times more expensive than the physical one just for that period. It should be treated just like a hard copy in all these manners.


In a zero regulation world, you consider either that there's no copyrights, or that copyrights have infinite length


>Free market hardly work there.

You literally have a government granted monopoly on producing books. How can you even bring in the free market into this?


On producing specific books. Nothing to stop me writing a novel with the same themes as yours has.


If one company has a monopoly on faucets, another has one on pipes, another has one on valves, you're trying to argue that there is plenty of competition for "plumbing supplies" but that doesn't help you if you need a faucet and there's only one supplier.

Notice how your argument, if true, would defeat the point of the monopoly. If there were ten books that were all fungible with one another then each of the suppliers would want to lower prices to increase sales and you'd end up at the marginal cost, which for digital products is zero. And sometimes this even happens -- there is a lot of free-as-in-beer software, free-with-ads news websites etc. But the context of lending libraries is for when that isn't the case. You don't need to get a copy of nginx from the local library because you can get it for free from the authors.


That’s not how this marketplace works at all. A better analogy is to say that BMW has a monopoly on making BMWs, yet they are still forced to compete with Porsche, who has their own monopoly on creating Porsches.

There’s a two-sided marketplace for creative works, where publishers need to get works from creators and license them to customers. They want to maximize their own profits, but they also need to make a certain amount revenue as all methods of distribution have fixed costs.


> A better analogy is to say that BMW has a monopoly on making BMWs

BMW is a trademark. You can't take a Kia and put a BMW badge on it. You can, in principle, make an exact replica of a particular BMW model and put your own badge on it, and in that sense BMW doesn't have a monopoly on "BMWs" except insofar as some of the parts may be patented or (for the software) copyrighted. But that isn't an analogy, it's the original thing.

Notice what happens when you take the original thing (intellectual property) out of the equation, your statement becomes "Bayer has a monopoly on aspirin", which they don't, because the Aspirin trademark became generic and it's not under patent.


First, BMW has thousands of patents. They also have trademarks, copyrights, and trade secret manufacturing processes. Second, if you make a non-BMW you can’t legally sell it as a BMW or you’re committing fraud. Third, most of the reason that people buy luxury brands like BMW is actually because of the cachet that the name has, so even if you could make an identical one in Prussia and call it a PMW, it would be a different and less valuable thing. All of which is a long winded way of saying, BMW are the only ones who can make BMWs. Thus they have a monopoly on making BMWs.

Taking intellectual property out of a conversation about intellectual property has predictably strange and totally irrelevant results. Why is that surprising?


Given that book prices are rising faster than _anything else in the economy_ the market place isn't working at all.

Let them eat competition.


Huh? In the United States books have inflated by -0.1% per year since 1997, compared with the overall economy which inflated at 2.46% per year on average during the same period. Because of the stiff competition.

Unless you mean specifically textbooks, which are inflating because piracy has destroyed the demand (the annual revenue of the textbook market is down ~33% since 2014, despite increases in both prices and enrollment in colleges). You can see the causal link here as increases in pricing are lagging decreasing sales. If the prices were driving the decreasing sales you would expect the opposite behavior.


Why start at 2014?

https://archive.attn.com/stories/1164/heres-exactly-why-coll...

Between 1975 and 2014 college books outpaced inflation over three times.


You should look at that chart a bit more carefully.


No. I have a monopoly on faucets made to my design, not on faucets generally. Bloomsbury have a monopoly on Harry Potter books, Penguin can still publish Percy Jackson.


> No. I have a monopoly on faucets made to my design, not on faucets generally.

You can try to subdivide any particular market but you still can't get yourself out of the second half of the post: If the products were actually substitutes then the prices would approach the marginal cost. If they're not, they're not.

College textbooks are an obvious example of this. Anybody can make "math textbook" but only one of them will have the homework problems your professor will assign in them, so you need that one and the publisher has a monopoly.


Exactly.

This is the same as saying a carpenter has a monopoly on their work. They can sell it to an employer up front by the hour or afterwards as a good. But no one else can come along and take it without paying.


I mean, the free market is working pretty well.

http://libgen.rs/

The government-granted monopoly, not so much.


> I mean, the free market is working pretty well.

> http://libgen.rs/

Exactly. What a lot of economists tend to "forget" is that markets also include black/illegal markets and markets that are hardly controllable by the government.


Unfortunately many are misled to believe that pirating books published by cartels is unethical.


> Unfortunately many are misled to believe that pirating books published by cartels is unethical.

It's not a question of ethical vs unethical, but about which evil you consider to be the worse.


Yeah, I agree. I think it can be a case-by-case situation depending on both the reader and the publishere/author. An undergrad needing a course textbook that's published by a monopolistic cartel with a 300% markup? Absolutely. For well-paid worker in a developed country buying a novel written by a niche author? probably not the right thing to do.


It's very unclear how book sales translate into income for authors. You are rewarding middlemen; these middlemen have a role that may or may not be important these days.


Please explain your alternative mechanism for compensating the author for their work.


I'm not proposing an alternative mechanism. I think people who can comfortably afford to pay the asked price for a book should of course do just that. On the other hand, for the billions of those who do not have that privilege, I wholeheartedly recommend piracy. It is of no cost to the author/publisher (since they weren't going to pay anyway) and of tremendous positive impact for equality and social mobility for the community. In a perfect world piracy would be an unfair and unnecessary venture. In this one, for many people it is absolutely justified.


How is this a market if Boone is paying? If anything, this is communism?

You can’t even have a market of IP without government granted ownership of IP.

This tired old trope that Government vs market doesn’t work here


The bad communism is when the government takes your stuff and you don't have it anymore. This is "communism" in the same way that everyone being able to breathe the air or speak English without paying a proprietor for the right is "communism". This is often a motte and bailey that communists use, but you're attacking the motte.

You're essentially arguing that there isn't a market for air. But there is. This is the market served by submarines and firefighting gear and spacecraft and HEPA filters.

If no one had a monopoly over copies, you'd still have a market to supply them, they'd just generally be really cheap and the supplier would be someone like Cloudflare. Likewise there would still be a market for creating works, because people would pay for commissions. There might not be as many of them, but there would still be a market.


> You can’t even have a market of IP without government granted ownership of IP.

Sure you can. See Germany in the 19th century with no IP protections. Business and prosperity boomed!

Consider also the incredible success of open source software.


> You can’t even have a market of IP without government granted ownership of IP.

What on earth are you thinking? For essentially all of human history, every work of art was produced for the market, and it was impossible to own any IP.


I mean digital - of course you can have a market for physical things.


Songs are not physical things, but that has never stopped them from being produced for the market. Same goes for stories, and for all other forms of oral content. These are not things that we've ever been short of.


How could you possibly arrive at this conclusion? Think of the most famous stories / literature works before year 1500 - myths of Ancient Greece, the bible, ancient folklore about fairy folk - none of it was produced for a market of any kind.

You are unfairly taking credit for the fundamental human need of self expression, and assigning it to your preferred ideological position.

Can you name 5 famous stories, before year 1500, that were made ‘for the market’?

Even penicillin was not created for the market. Most scientific discoveries weren’t.


> How could you possibly arrive at this conclusion?

Because I know what it means to create something for the market?

> Can you name 5 famous stories, before year 1500, that were made ‘for the market’?

Given that I've already pointed out that all such stories were made for the market, how do you expect me to answer this?

Can I name five famous stories from before the year 1500?

The Tale of Cupid and Psyche

The Shahnameh

Nüwa Knocks a Hole in the Sky

The Divine Comedy

The Epic of Gilgamesh

> myths of Ancient Greece, the bible, ancient folklore about fairy folk - none of it was produced for a market of any kind.

As I have already pointed out, all of these were produced for a market. Why would you state otherwise? What do you think it means to offer something on a market? (Why do you think the general term for the space where these things live is "the marketplace of ideas"?)

> Even penicillin was not created for the market. Most scientific discoveries weren’t.

Penicillin wasn't created at all, as you suggest by calling it a "discovery". But we use it today because it was offered on the market by someone who hoped to receive the rewards that the market would offer for it.


> Given that I've already pointed out that all such stories were made for the market

You made unsubstantiated assertion that lays claim to a millennia of human history. You offered no evidence of any kind.

> I know what it means to create something for the market

Firstly, that that statement itself is debatable. Secondly, one would need extraordinary knowledge of history to make claims about for thousands of stories written across thousands of years.

I cannot help but conclude that you are an ideologue and you believe there is no life outside ‘the market’ and when I write something in my personal blog, or invent a story for my child, that’s ’the market’ too.

I find this level of ideological appropriation repulsive.


Yeah, surprised (not surprised?) to see the used-textbook market seemingly gone now when I was recently visiting my daughter at the University of Kansas.

It used to be a small industry that nonetheless allowed a brick and mortar store to thrive as a secondary bookstore to the university's student union. Never mind the savings for students.


One of my students told me they all pirate textbooks. I haven't been a student in a university for almost 30 years but I remember what it was like. It was a scam back then.

When I was in college, the internet was relatively young, but that didn't stop us from using it to cut out the bookstore out as the middleman for reselling books. Our local test Usenet group was where all the cool kids hung out and we used that as a place to sell and trade used books for a fraction the cost of the bookstore.

But that mechanism no longer works in the ebook era. So I'm not surprised students found another way.

(Dad was a teacher, too, and he also couldn't bear forcing his students to pay for new editions of a textbook. So he wrote his own. Students could print copies at cost in the print shop (pre-internet). I've continued the tradition of writing my own books and putting them online for free for the students. Greed over educational materials is a poor look. Also, AI is coming.)


Is the state of open source textbooks that bad? I guess the top link is a U of MN site, which is laudable and a Big10 school, but not exactly a banner carrier.

It saddens me that with github and the like, and the armies of wikipedia entries, there aren't open source textbooks of greater/higher quality than any of the publishers. I guess biology and some sciences deviate a lot edition to edition, but basic math? physics? chemistry? economics? history? languages?

Of course institutes of higher learning have well exposed themselves as being anything but in the last couple decades. So it doesn't really surprise me. The entire "open coursework" movement died quite quickly when the colleges realized this might cut into their annual 10% hike to tuition.

But like your father, I'm surprised some retired teachers don't do this as a side project, or an emeritus professor, or SOMEONE that wants to leave a legacy.

You could have a site that presents concepts in entirely different fashions, so you could choose a path that suits you, or if a particular concept didn't stick, have it presented a different way.

State institutions in particular should be required to produce and use open textbooks and courseware. Rile up some republicans to make it contingent on getting their state funding (they love doing that).

This is even more egregious since there is the entire British Commonwealth of nations/english speakers and their educational systems to leverage.


>The entire "open coursework" movement died quite quickly when the colleges realized this might cut into their annual 10% hike to tuition.

My sense is that there's quite a bit of "open coursework" out there if you're talking about mostly raw materials.

If you're talking about MOOCs, universities started pulling back after it became obvious that they had mostly "not lived up to expectations." The combination of the students most needing them largely lacking motivation, the fact that credentials weren't generally viewed as valuable, the lack of lab and tutorial resources, and VC-companies pivoting are probably just the main factors.


Check out LibreText and OpenStax.


"Dad was a teacher, too, and he also couldn't bear forcing his students to pay for new editions of a textbook. So he wrote his own. Students could print copies at cost in the print shop. I've continued the tradition of writing my own books and putting them online for free for the students."

Thanks for that. My professors were in part like yours. But some other professors (I think it was about MBA folks, not IT people) apparently urge everyone to buy their really expensive book. And if you did not, you would have no idea about the weird case in chapter 2, he makes the exams about ..


Even with paper textbooks, publishers will now provide online assignments (which is convenient for universities) and other online materials which you will not be able to sell (it will expire) with the book. So they force students to buy new textbook for each class.


The crazy thing to me is that for a lot of the classes that use these online materials, nothing has changed in 50 years. 100-300 classes are largely the same as they were before digital learning.

The problem from a broader point of view is a coordination problem. The people making the buying decisions (professors and departments) are not the people paying (the students). I would wholeheartedly support legislation that forced professors to pay the same textbook fees as their students, and for departments to be required to cover the costs for scholarship students.

I’ll bet we would see a lot more schools opting into open source textbooks and articles from the library if that were the case.


> I would wholeheartedly support legislation that forced professors to pay the same textbook fees as their students, and for departments to be required to cover the costs for scholarship students.

What will happen is that universities will pass these costs to all students where now paying students will pay more.

A better regulation will be encouraging and funding more open access materials that can be used and require public funding receivers to adopt them or decrease the funding and cap the tuition increases.


This is classic rent seeking behavior. The more insidious aspect is that this is foisted upon a captive audience of kids/young adults that agreed to tens of thousands in non-dischargable debt when they turned 18.


Didn't the kids go into debt to learn how the world really works?

This is how we are. For now.


If I buy an ebook, can I give it "used" to a library? I would like to, but I don't even know if that's a thing.

(Let's assume for the sake of the question that the book I buy is also DRM free.)


In theory, maybe. In practice, no.

In theory, a publisher could sell you an ebook, declare that you own it and can transfer it (like a digital right of first sale) as long as you don't keep a copy.

In practice, it would be a hassle for libraries to verify that permission, so even if you had such a book, they might say thanks but no thanks. Essentially all ebooks are sold under license that each book is for your use only, and no transfers are allowed. Because ebooks are licensed, and not sold complete with a right of first sale, retailers can set whatever conditions they want depending on who they sell to, and the market can't arbitrage. That's why libraries have to pay more for an ebook they're allowed to lend 10 times than you have to pay for the same ebook on Amazon.


For textbooks? No. And nowadays a lot of them also expire after a year since by then the student likely no longer needs it.

It's a really gross industry


I would question that you don't need a university textbook after a year. I can't say I remember specific examples but I'm pretty sure I referred to earlier textbooks for later engineering classes.


I still refer to my undergrad textbooks in maths and physics till this day. There are usually the basics and you need to review them a lot if you are working in STEM fields.


Its very rare that "buying" a ebook results in you "owning" the copy you bought, at best its a rental. A physical book though, if you are holding it in your hands, you own it.


> Now with a significant portion of textbooks (and books in general) become mainly E-books

I don't know about textbooks, but the overall share of publishing industry revenue that comes from ebooks is really low. Something like 7%, and falling steadily. I had assumed it was much larger.

https://wordsrated.com/ebooks-sales-statistics/


> Free market hardly work there.

This is hardly a free market. Libraries receive a budget to spend _ dollars on books every year. This entire publishing industry exists to capture that cashflow, because consumers aren't buying it with their own money.

The university version is more complex, but the bottom line is you do not have consumers spending their money on products they use.


For now I will teach my kids to pirate. Not the best solution because honestly I did pirate when I was poor then honestly tried to move away from those days and got a Netflix account and Amazon prime account but the amazon movie site is just so horrible. Every movie I click it wants me to buy or rent. I never did figure out a way to filter those from not showing up I don’t know if that has changed but I ditched it. Then Netflix disabled the account sharing and I argue I wasn’t really sharing I bought Netflix for my kids to use and I am divorced so that means at 2 different locations. It worked for a bit but now seems to detect the location change and I just said screw it and canceled. It was much more convenient to just pirate which was and still is so easy even my kids know how to find the shows they want. And when they get to university I imagine I will show them how to access text books and articles for free. Sad state of affairs as I really do want to contribute my fair share but not when it is pay hundreds of dollars for a new revision of a text book that didn’t add any new context but simply rearranged the pages a bit so they can call it an new version. In the end the publishers are the problem no piracy so I do not feel bad one bit.


> Free market hardly work there.

Buying things with taxpayer funding and legal mandates is not free market.


yep so is buying back bank, mortgage and insurance companies


> Publishing industry really needs more regulation. Free market hardly work there.

Most of these problems wouldn't exist if not for copyright law, which is nothing but regulation.

You can either fix the problems by introducing more regulation for publishers or by lessening the regulatory restrictions on libraries. Make it legal for them to break DRM (and discuss / purchase / commission DRM-breaking tools), offer scans of physical books to more than one person at a time etc, and your problem is gone.


Free market needs to be allowed to work. If enough universities cancel contracts, then publishers will have to adjust right? Why are we going to ask government to regulate publishing? Everything else they regulate/manipulate gets far more expensive. Health care for instance. Housing (especially in rent control cities.) Education. Transportation (note with deregulation of air travel, flying places became significantly more affordable.


Copyright owners are monopolists. Of course the free market doesn't work: the government grants them a functionally eternal monopoy on what's essentially numbers. Copyright must be abolished or we'll never move forward as a species.


>Free market hardly work there.

Lmao, what? I download most of books and documents from Z-library (donated several times), that's the free market. Btw, FBI seized all of their domains recently.

Most of the time I need that one medicine textbook on a narrow subject, costing $100+, which I'd use just to look something up. I'm not going to buy all these books under any condition.


Not trying to throw a straw man argument, but from what I understand in that space is that there is no free market there.

If you want to publish so it is read by anyone you can only go to big ones - if you are not publishing with big ones, good luck no one will read it.


I've never actually heard that argument, must have been invented by the highway robbery textbook market since I was in college.

Piracy is seemingly the only bulwark against publisher abuses functionally. With that horrid multi-century copyright ruling, there won't be any free market in specific publications within living human lifetimes.

Libraries don't have the political power to do anything. In the video game space, piracy has been responsible for the only preservation done, and arguably enabled the market for remasters and releases on new platforms.

The ebook publishers will probably start encountering AI that is way better at OCR and scan cleanup. Imagine an AI that you simply run on a camera looking at a screen and you fast forward through a book at 10 pages per second: the AI picks it all up, scans it, possibly detecting layout and images.


There are consumer-priced scanners that are already pretty good at supporting de-warping and OCR. (Glossy pages work less well.) I'm surprised I haven't seen a better iPhone app--at least one without a subscription fee. But we're definitely very close.


Free market works fine. You are welcome to write and release any book you want at whatever cost you want. Authors require lots of money, support costs to create, illustrate, bundle, bind, and ship books. And they won’t waste their time doing that without a profit. Lots of people work for and support those companies and it’s getting more expensive as minimum wages increase.

You are just reacting to this because “free for me”. What industry do you work in? I want to see you backpeddle or try and explain in your response when I say the same about your “product” needing regulation.


Why do you bring up the authors like they're the primary ones being harmed? Most aren't making money to begin with because they get such a small piece of the pie. A typical contract might see them get 20-40% of the cut if they do the distribution and marketing themselves. The vast majority of authors are not professional writers as a result, it's just a side gig on top of other jobs. Authors also can't set their own prices (publishers and marketplaces have a big say) and depending on the terms, they may not get any meaningful royalties. This is common in academic publishing for example.


> "They do have a funding problem, but the answer is not to take it out of the pockets of authors and destroy the rights of creators and pass unconstitutional legislation,” said Shelley Husband, senior vice president of government affairs at the Association of American Publishers

I'm guessing Husband's solution is to raise taxes to pay themselves for more expensive books.

The AAP is also suing Internet Archive, incidentally.


The Internet Archive is participating in the legal process to get to a conclusion that ebooks are the same as physical books, otherwise the concept of libraries is over (except for those who can pirate and the data stores that exist across the internet, Anna’s Archive, Zlib/libgen, etc).


The concept of libraries, especially those that aren't large research libraries, has already shifted quite a bit. I almost never go down to my small town library to take out a book or read a magazine. Maybe a DVD now and then that catches my eye. Sometimes I discount museum passes. I could go to talks. Their e-book service isn't that compelling.

Other people probably have different behaviors. People I know with younger children in particular use local libraries for children's books quite a lot.

But libraries as a place you checkout books is almost certainly already on the decline. For me, the pirate sites aren't even competition. I only have limited time. I read a lot on the Internet. If there's some new book I want to read, I'll probably just buy it for my Kindle. (Obviously many people are much more price-sensitive but I wonder how many of them are using libraries today.)


My wife and I are voracious readers, it would be a very expensive habit to have off we were buying everything for kindle. We are members of 2 local libraries with listings on overdrive/libby and rent the majority of our ebooks there.

I suppose it depends on your library’s offering and how many books you go through


To be fair, I don't go through anything like the number of books I used to. I have a ton of unread stuff on my Kindle--some of which is admittedly large collections of classics which I got for $1 or $2 each.


What about people who cannot afford a Kindle, or cannot afford to buy e-books?


A new Kindle runs less than $100 in the US (it's largely subsidised by Amazon, they want you to buy books). You can find used models for as little as $20 on Craigslist currently.

Other eBook readers from firms such as Kobo or Onyx start at about $100 to $200, and again may be found used for a small fraction of that price.

That's still a hurdle, but roughly the cost of a new trade-paper volume with the capability to hold many hundreds or thousands of books.

Depending on what you're looking for, there are ebooks which can be found, legally, free of charge from sources such as Project Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, the Internet Archive (both to check out or to download with no limitations), and other libraries. The US Library of Congress has been expanding its own offerings (I'm not up on the latest, though am given to understand it's generous), and many large-city libraries (Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Kansas City, etc.) have extensive digital lending programmes.

That's without leaning on book liberation sites such as ZLib, LibGen, or Anna's Archive, though those have quite extensive holdings.


This also assumes that Amazon never gives up the ghost and finds ways to make sideloading books onto Kindle more difficult than it currently is.

I've always been surprised that they haven't cracked down on it, given the relative ease with which you can circumvent the necessity of the Kindle store for the majority of popular titles. Simply load up Calibre, pop almost any file type into your library, and away you go. We're really living in the Limewire age for e-book piracy, even if we don't realize it.

My guess is, someone has run the math and figured out that it's better to keep people on a Kindle device and occasionally spending a few dollars, in exchange for the slow death of physical media and legitimate alternatives. When those become less readily available, then perhaps you can begin to boil the frog.

You can be sure I won't buy a kindle if I can't sideload onto it. I buy at least 5/6 new hardcover books a year from local independent retailers to support authors I like. I wish more authors would allow an e-book copy to be distributed with hardcovers they sell. Do what vinyl did.


There are a ton of free books, many even out of copyright, online. I also fully expect libraries will continue to have physical books including recent releases. I'm not advocating for libraries de-emphasizing this aspect of their mission. But I think it will probably naturally happen over time.


The detriment to society due to the lack of proper access of the lower class to knowledge is too much to take this lightly


>Their e-book service isn't that compelling.

My county library system has about 100k ebook titles and another 30k audiobooks. I've probably read or listened to well over a hundred library books since the last time I actually went to the library.


Maybe I should look again. It wasn't that interesting last time I looked. But that was quite a while ago. It's just a small town library but I assume they use one of the regular services.

ADDED: Indeed. They use the rebranded Overdrive (Libby). Last time I looked at (maybe) Overdrive ages ago it seemed to be highly populated with things like self-help books. Looks useful.


I read books pretty sparingly, but my wife reads about 150 books a year. We heavily exercise our local library.


Yeah, there's definitely a subset of "super-readers" who really benefit from taking out library books. I used to be probably in the 50-75 range plus a ton of magazine subscriptions. I'm more like 10 or so now. I also bet there's a sizable percentage of the population who doesn't read one book a year.


Even if you disagreed with IA's emergency library thing (which I did), they're providing an amazing service to humanity orders of magnitude larger than anything AAP will ever accomplish. I encourage everyone to support them (which I do).


The answer may be to change copyright law to allow book owners to freely shift mediums (I forget the term for it, but converting a paper book to PDF by scanning, or vice versa by printing), and to restrict the ability to lease everything - you buy it, you own it (a debate older than this issue, and there's term for that too).

Then I could donate my book to the library, they could scan it (or buy a scanned copy), and as long as they restricted checkouts based on the number of copies, they'd be fine.

The Internet Archive seems to do something similar, though it seems to be an issue in the courts. I wonder if libraries could donate their books to IA and direct patrons there for electronic versions.


> The Internet Archive seems to do something similar, though it seems to be an issue in the courts.

There was a brief period of time at the beginning of COVID when the Internet Archive decided to do away with the "one digital copy per purchase" restriction, essentially arguing that since libraries across the country were closed, this was justified. [0]

The courts disagreed.

[0] https://blog.archive.org/2020/03/24/announcing-a-national-em...


Because e-books are digital, publishers will use the the technology for increased telemetry, control, and ultimately to extract more resources. Much like music or movies, there's not inherent reason why e-books would need to work this way, but the publishers can't help themselves. For the average consumer, the solution seems obvious. Pay for physical books, and pirate e-books.


I have consulted in this sector, specifically academic publishing and textbooks. My sense is that publishers in the education market are biding their time while old pedagogies wane.

Every new paper book soon becomes a used book, worth zero or even negative revenue, whereas ebooks are sold de novo to every student at nearly full price with much lower fixed costs (print, distribute, stock, return). But publishers are wary of being seen as interfering with academic freedom by pushing to ebooks.

There are a couple of use cases where students overwhelmingly prefer paper. Cost savings with used books is obvious, but also, for example, if a prof -might- allow a paper book on an exam but -wouldn’t- allow laptop ebook access, most students will -never- take the risk of being disadvantaged, even if it’s only in rare cases.

I’d have to think about corresponding forces in the general publishing and public libraries realm, which I’ll assume is more complex but roughly analogous.

Publishers are waiting until there are a few successful targeted solutions and generational overturn, then paper will disappear in a blink and they will get a fat profit boost. Tech to enable this should be a nice little unicorn.


The value of ebooks isn't the content, but that they have specific homework problems or codes which are required to access online assignments. Particularly the latter, giving each student a different code, because otherwise an entire class can share one ebook. Otherwise, most ebooks have pirated online PDFs, and even without those, all the information is readily available in many places online.


I get so frustrated by these games.

Publishers should lose copyright to every work they do not offer in perpetuity with every purchase in every format, and there should be no postsale restrictions on any item beyond what is implied by copyright.


> Publishers should lose copyright to every work they do not offer in perpetuity with every purchase in every format

If such a law comes, the publisher will set the price to, say, 1 billion USD.


Yeah, I keep seeing suggestions like this and I just don't get it. Like the only way people can fathom something being available is if it's for sale. We really need shorter copyright terms more than anything else.


But they don't do that with physical books.


I do know examples where publishers did stop printing new editions (i.e. stopped publishing) some books.


Such a law could easily forbid price gouging.


When ebooks hit off the public libraries in Stockholm and perhaps all of Sweden starting paying (costs of running all physical libraries)/(number of books borrowed) with some obvious discounts to those values. Not sure how this has changed in the last two decades. "Libraries need to renew their leased e-material." that is impossible this is not how things should work. Libraires should have every book not being bound by publishers. It is clearly the case that you need new negotiators and laws for public libraries.

We should have an international law that allow libraries to lend photocopies of books, like archive.org does, or just a digital copy. There has been a rise in really good digital interactive books were there is no standard way to make an (pirate) archive, so change is comming even if such a law passes.


I’ve written and self published a few small books, including Publish Your eBook. Maybe we should create an author collaborative where we make our books available to libraries either free or at a more reasonable price. There must be a handful of authors who would be willing to do this and who own enough rights to do so. It sounds like even a few books would help libraries bolster their collections.

1. Publish Your eBook by Joel Dare https://amzn.to/49WjVrn


I work at a non-profit organization and part of our mission is exactly this. You can find more details here: https://indieauthorproject.com/

Another part of our mission is providing libraries an open source ebook and audiobook reader called Palace. Our project is on GitHub here https://github.com/thepalaceproject.


This sucks but was inevitable. Libraries are such a weird and wonderful thing. Even though books are widely sold, there’s a place where you can go and read them for free instead. And it’s not some weird loophole, it’s a basic unit of our society and an assumed part of every community.

Unfortunately this is America. Nothing can beat out profit motives forever. The libraries really never stood a chance.


By 1919, more than half the libraries in the United States had been built by an unabashedly profit-motivated industrialist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library . Most are still around, including the one I spent a large part of my childhood wandering through.

It's one of those fractal issues. The more you zoom in, the weirder it gets.


Is this unique to America? It seems the same problem exists for libraries globally, right?


Broadly every other system of library lending in the world has mandatory collective licensing, but coupled with a significantly larger state funding to pay for said license.


Libraries for the purpose of getting information simply don't make sense in the digital age. The internet is far bigger and more accessible than any library, and you can find information on nearly any topic in exclusively ad-free, public domain sites like Wikipedia, the Gutenburg project, and arXiv.

Libraries now exist more as a place for community: somewhere quiet anyone can freely hang out, access resources like 3D printers (or for the very poor, public fountains/restrooms and the internet), and attend workshops. Some libraries like the Boston Public Library are still nice and active even today (https://www.bpl.org/). But unfortunately as you mentioned, people today really don't fund community, and there are a lot of degrading and closing libraries.


The internet is better for factoids - for learning something, a book is a lot better, if you can get your hands on one.

E.g. for a niche topic there's maybe a 5 page wikipedia article, a thousand useless seo fodder blogs, and a bunch of academic papers on the topic. At the library, I can get a 300 page comprehensive text written by an expert whose motive is to actually teach me the topic.


Same experience here. The Web’s excellent for a handful of (important!) topics but kiddie-pool shallow for many others. You quickly run out of Web resources and have to hit interlibrary loan or books stores to keep going.

It’s telling that probably the single most-valuable store of knowledge on the web is… a book piracy website. And even that’s missing tons of stuff.


What's worrying about the article is the fact that electronic editions of ebooks expire, meaning libraries can't keep them indefinitely. It's reminiscent of the Hollywood blockbuster model, where there's only a short window to watch a new movie in theaters. So, while libraries might stock new releases, what happens to the older ones? Could this trend be pushing readers towards newer publications?


I've found a fair number of series at my library where they only have e-books of, say, #2 and #4, and I've always assumed it's because the rest expired and haven't been re-purchased.


Digital media costs library much more money than physical media.

In the US in the state of Wisconsin has a statewide digital library last time I was a resident there. That means all libraries share the digital library across the state. My experience was a incredible variety of content at the cost of somewhat longer wait times.

The same cannot be said of Minnesota. When inquiring why Minnesota does not have the same system when chatting with our local library it came down to publishers were no longer willing to have such an agreements. The library would love to have such a system in Minnesota but the publishers are against it. I wish there was a way we could bridge readers with their authors.

As a side note I don't quite understand the downside even with the Wisconsin system. For my understanding it was contracted per book for a length of time and also a fee per read.

https://www.wplc.info/wisconsins-digital-library-faq


In Germany the price is capped. Everyone has to sell a new book at the price that was set by the author. This also applies to libraries, for the usage libraries have to pay 3-4 cent per lending to an organisation that distributes the money to the authors(the organisation depends on tge type of the print)


That sounds like a price fix, not a cap?


Yeah he means fixed. It's a common way to stop bookshops being squeezed out. They abolished it in the UK in the 90s which combined with internet sellers emerging led to the odd effect that book prices didn't really rise for 20 years.


In the US, new books were mostly cover price until into maybe the 90s? There were some exceptions. It wasn't uncommon for larger stores to offer some bestsellers at something like a 15% discount. It was sort of an innovation when a large independent bookstore opened in Cambridge MA and sold most or maybe all their books at a 15% discount.

There was also a larger set of fair trade laws in the US because manufacturers didn't want their products to be discounted which, among other things, probably got their products on the shelves of small stores that perhaps couldn't otherwise afford to carry them.


They want to introduce that too in Poland and it's an awful idea.

If you set a price that's obligatory to sell book for, it won't become cheaper, it will go up.

And I just won't buy it. I see exactly zero reasons why I should care for local bookshops. I'm not made out of money and I won't buy stuff from them only to keep them alive.


To clarify myself - for example, when new book releases, it has suggested price of 60 zł.

Online I can get it for 40. In physical shop for 60; if it's there. Because most likely it won't be. And I can't order, none of the bookshops nearby do this.

Why should I be happy at unified price if all it means is that I will pay 1/3 more?


This is an interesting problem. I love my library. And I use both physical and digital books.

On the one hand, it's probably true that more people can read a digital book. Ob the other hand, I have read fewer than 20 pages of a bunch of ebooks - enough to see if I might like them.

Do these count as checkouts? Am I a very expensive library user?

(And I also am happy to have several ebooks that I'll read sometime, casually renewing them until I get to them).


This is a very important point. Libraries should fight to legislate analytics on exact usage when checking out an ebook, especially if they are paying for a set number of usages.


I hope some fair deal is worked out. I am wealthy and splurging on all the audio books (yeah for Libro.fm) and eBooks (yeah for Kobo) that I want, but I still experiment consuming the fine content my local library network has. Great books are available to easily consume with Libby and interesting movies and video content are available with Kanopy.

Libraries can also be a nexus for social events and on site education. Very well worth the tax money. In a world of dehumanizing digital tech, libraries are a human experience.


How about eliminating libraries and provide vouchers for Kindle Unlimited for the poor? Work with Amazon to create some kind of Amazon library using Kindle as the platform.

People with money don’t need public libraries — you can buy pretty much anything easily. People spend $18 on a McDonalds meal, $9.99 for an ebook is nothing. Big city libraries are mostly homeless shelters at this point.

I’m not going to a public library to use the World Book Encyclopedia like I did 35 years ago. Pretty sure most people aren’t. I’m not going to check out some music CDs — I have Apple Music. Unless it’s some kind of rare collections library for academic research, the average library doesn’t need to exist. It’s a vestige like Blockbuster Video.

It would be cool though if people could buy library access for university digital libraries. Being able to access journal articles is pretty awesome.


I am on the commission overseeing a major public library system. I strongly disagree with your interpretation of what libraries do.

First, the real estate presence of the library is extremely important. Children's storytime is one of the strongest drivers of foot traffic. Some of the buildings act as designated cooling centers during heat waves. They are community centers and gathering spaces for local organizations.

Also, just because you can spend $10 on an ebook does not mean others would choose to do the same! That's important money to many people.

Otherwise, here are some other things I've seen libraries do that I think your comment underestimates:

- supplies reading materials to jailed inmates

- helps new residents navigate city services

- manages the city archives

- provides wifi access for the 10%+ of a big city that does not have wifi at home

- gives free books to build book collections at home

- loans tools and other "maker" equipment

Not all libraries are funded well enough to do the above, and the specific definition of a library in 2024 is very hard to nail down - basically converges on a community center.

All I'm saying is that libraries are making concerted efforts to break out of the traditional definition ("gatekeeper of information") - you should check out your local library to see all that they do!


My city has a population of 800k.

The library's annual budget is $200MM.

I wonder what proportion of the population uses the library system at all. I can't imagine it's more than 25%. If I'm right, the cost is at least $1,000 per library user per year.

This seems like a lot.

(Of the $200MM, only $22MM is spent on books/ebooks/media aka 'collections'.)

The libraries are generally comfortable and well maintained, but given the cost I wonder whether the major functions (books, space, wifi) could be provided more cheaply by Amazon and Wework.


Very awful take, Brian.

Don't you realize that libraries are under attack by mostly all fronts (governments, politicians, publishers, copyright cartel, right wing zealots just to name a few) plus they're on the front lines of the country's problems because our government are too corrupt to do anything to help the marginalized and underprivileged. https://www.axios.com/2024/02/18/libraries-ebooks-hoopla-lib... https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39474151

Also read here: https://buttondown.email/ninelives/archive/the-coming-enshit... https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=36998643


Librarians should just begin directly teaching people how to use Z-Library and Annas-Archive.


That would not work long term because those same libraries are where those books and papers came from in the first place.


This isn't different from the media industry's overall evolution.

Publishers aren't different from Audio media. Authors have mkt reach through digital channels, unlike constraints of bookshelf logistics.

Why aren't they directly publishing their material? Margins are higher, without publisher fees.


Many authors do, but how likely it is that the potential reader finds their books among the millions of books pushed through channels saturated by well-oiled publisher-controlled marketing machine?



Title/site context: The Coming Enshittification of Public Libraries (karawynn.substack.com) 2023-08-04

<https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=36998643>

<https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=36998643>


The post has moved platforms since it was published, correct link is now here: https://buttondown.email/ninelives/archive/the-coming-enshit...


Thanks.

And I'd meant to post the (apparently stale) article link above, rather than the HN discussion thread a second time.

(I know why comment edits are limited in time scope ... but it's annoying. And yes, there is a workaround, ask mods how ;-)


See also the lawsuit against the Internet Archive, as some other comment already pointed out. What this also primarily is, is a direct attack by the publishers on the first sale doctrine, a crucial balancing part of copyright law.

Time-limited and self-destructing book copies, as for any (digital) media, is nothing short of a cultural atrocity that only philistines could have come up with. The word "scam" is more than apt for this latest effort by the publishing industry to milk the maximum amount of profit out of something without putting in any additional work or providing any additional value in return. Asking money for doing literally nothing -- I don't think that calling that a scam goes too far. This from an industry who, like many others, keeps claiming that they are acting in the name of protecting the creatives, while having a long and flowery history of fleecing and bleeding dry those very artists.


[flagged]


I think you're seriously undervaluing what libraries as an institution provide both as one of the few public spaces where people can just be, without having to spend money to justify their presence, alongside being a resource to access knowledge, with people trained in the art of suggesting good or at the very least not terrible resources to start people's inquiry into subjects they aren't familiar with, as well as being a unified voice acting in the public interest, to retain and expand those same offerings.


At least in the US, libraries are a major resource for homeless people, children without access to computers, etc. Libraries also serve a social/enrichment function in many communities.


I agree with the premise that ebooks can be a better experience than paper books, I don't agree that pirate libraries can replace, or even serve a similar purpose to physical libraries though.


Ah, I'm not comparing e-books to paper books; rather I'm comparing free libraries of e-books against DRM-locked lending libraries of e-books (the ecosystem that the OP article is about).


You are absolutely right about the searchability aspect. I want a PDF copy of every book I read now (I still prefer to read actually the deadtree copies) so I can find something again later.

But until we can demonstrate that digital libraries can preserve works themselves and access to them for hundreds/thousands of years, I would hesitate to suggest that libraries should be left to die on the vine.


This reads like that awful take a few years ago that libraries need to be replaced by private bookstores. Like the author of that, I don’t think you are familiar with the role that libraries play in their local community and probably should not prescribing a technocratic solution on an institution that you fundamentally do not understand.


Awful take dude, you don't realize that libraries are currenty on the front lines of America's problems where in a alternative universe, the nation should have done the job not to mention that libraries are under attack by mostly all fronts (governments, politicians, publishers, copyright cartel, right wing zealots just to name a few).

https://www.axios.com/2024/02/18/libraries-ebooks-hoopla-lib... https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39474151


Thank you for that link; it's clarifying.

I think we're actually in agreement that the "library" part of a library is obsolete; it's just (as I understand) you and the sibling comments are using a neologistic definition of "library" that's unrelated to mine. Your link explains it as a place for social workers to care for clients. I'm fine with closing libraries and replacing them with that stuff—I'm not going to quibble on language, but that is not a library.

I should have considered this alternative definition before I wrote my comment, and how I phrased it. I see now exactly how it's been misinterpreted, and that people think I'm attacking unhoused people or something.


You do realize that most people still borrow physical books, right?

> A pirate can run a local LLM for natural-language queries, and find a semantic needle in a thousand-page haystack; or select a dozen excerpts and present them side-by-side for immediate comparison. How can the clunky system of DRM-locked lending e-book readers compete? Near-future. A personal LLM could track a researcher's progress page by page, and pro-actively recommend reading suggestions for an individual chapter from an individual book from a million-volume library—and instantly display it, highlighting special lines, glossing words, annotating jargon, hyperlinking (other) books, writing explanations in the marginalia, translating languages. Transformative creations. What's the poor schmuck stuck in Andrew Carnegie's library doing?

Almost all these capabilities exist. Yet we do not have pirate libraries doing this. I will not simply assume they will happen if/when libraries disappear.

At the moment, the library offers more utility than these pirate libraries. Perhaps not more features, but definitely more utility.


> I think it's fine if libraries die out.

Honey, a new copypasta just dropped! This made me laugh almost as much as the first time I read the navy seal 'nothing personnel, kid' copypasta. Amazing.

I genuinely cannot tell if this is sincere or satire (a hallmark of satire!). It's peak HN. I don't know what's funnier, this being sincere or it being a well crafted satire of the utterly insane beliefs of the deeply out-of-touch rand apologists (who genuinely don't seem to be aware that other people experience the world differently than them) that plague the tech industries. Beautiful.


These are feelings not argumentation. Since the dawn of ebooks this has been true. Referencing electronic material is amazing. Books are incredible with physical libraries being one of the most important aspect, but the current form of digital libraries is a dead end.


My guess is it's real. But you're right that it's peak-HN that one can't be sure it's not satire (or trolling).


I'm absolutely sincere and I'll reply to any well-intentioned questions.

I don't think I'm out of touch. I think this is the future of society and technology—meaning for the future for absolutely everyone, not just a few tech elites. It's jarring to me to see that flavor of accusation, when pirate libraries are freely available to billions of people who don't even have theoretical access to the stuff you people are talking about.


Who is going to create all this content once it's going to be put up on this pirate library that billions of people use for free? I've written a couple free books but you don't need a pirate library to access them. They're on my website.

But if I were thinking of writing a book partially to make money and I knew it was just going to be given away and there was no reason for anyone to buy it, I wouldn't bother. Especially given most books have cost in addition to the author's time associated with them. Few authors are going to make a living off lectures and book readings. And most readers aren't going to buy physical books when they can get an e-book for free.


Data point: my stuff is all free online, yet people still buy for-profit paper copies. So it's not impossible.


I'm sure some of that happens. But generationally (and what's happened with vinyl notwithstanding) I have to believe that large bulging bookshelves in homes will become less common than in the past. Especially to the degree that more people may be inclined to live in smaller urban apartments.


My personal bookshelf is tiny and evershrinking. But you never know--maybe books will pull a vinyl.

But I think I'd still sell ebooks if I offered them, given the number of requests I've had. (They're programming books and those don't lend themselves well to ebooks.)


Certainly. "How to" books generically I tend to prefer as physical books. I'll buy a super-discounted cookbook now and then if it looks interesting but I much prefer physical cookbooks in general. Same for home repair, etc.--though a lot of that is YouTube these days.

I'm slowly depopulating my house of books I almost certainly won't open again by taking a couple bags to my town library for their annual book sale--and am absolutely not adding any new bookshelves.


You are out of touch, however much you think you aren't.


> one hardcover copy of Cook’s latest novel costs the library $18, it costs $55 to lease a digital copy

I buy the used paperback used for $3.

> a price that can't be haggled with publishers.

Of course they can haggle. They just don't know how to.


This is a poorly informed assessment. Nearly every single library system is subject to “take it or leave it” pricing and terms by publishers. The libraries need the publishers to purchase materials from, the publisher likely wishes the library was gone so they can think they are selling more product now.


The library can buy the stuff used and the publishers make nothing off of such sales.

I buy nearly all my books used.


Libraries cannot buy used because they need the asset prepared for circulation. This includes a protective cover, barcoding, etc. They usually have a vendor do this preparation, and the assets (books, usually) are often not the same as what you would find in a store, they can be different sizes to fit in Automatic Materials Handling Systems, have more robust binding, etc.


> Libraries cannot buy used because

They certainly can. They choose not to. When you decide to demand a special binding and special print run, and when you will pay any price, you're going to pay a lot more.


The books are often the same as what you would find in a store.

It's possible to put a protective cover on a used book.

The books at my local library come in many different sizes, including the size of a paperback novel.


My local library, too. It's also clear they handle the books by hand. There's no automated system.




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