September 14, 2010
eBooks and Library Borrowing
There's an odd little item from the Salt Lake Tribune with the headline "Oops. Kindle cannot support library books." The author, Vince Horiuchi, is correcting an assumption that he published last week that because the Kindle can read PDFs it can handle eBooks loaned in that format. Yes, the Kindle can read PDFs but not those with DRM attached. That, in the wallet of the provider, would be bad. As the story notes, quoting Greg Near of the Salt Lake County Library:
“At this point, they want customers of the Kindle and iPad to purchase the files — hence, not making them available from their local library. With the explosion in popularity of e-books, it could take a while for the manufacturers to catch up with the public’s demands and work out a plan to include public libraries in their service.”
That's Apple and Amazon. Other libraries do lend eBooks in an Adobe Epub format and the commercial readers out there that can read them are the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader.
I suppose that it is the trade off between coolness and functionality. Sony has never been known to open with their products. They once created a portable music player that used a proprietary format (Atrac) that wasn't compatible with anything. The company also invented a new form of DVD (UMD) that only worked with its PSP player. Both products and formats were market losers, and gone the way all bad market products should go.
It's refreshing to see Sony lighten up a little with eBooks and not attempting to reinvent the wheel in its own image. In fact, it's even more refreshing to see them host a page that acts as a Library Finder, searchable by state/province or zip code for electronic lending compatible with its reader. I assume that the Barnes & Noble device will take advantage of the same borrowing opportunities. It seems, though, that setting up for loaned eBooks on the Nook is not easy for some, if the comments on this page are accurate.
While I acknowledge the popularity of eBook readers and tablets, I still have concerns about the devices in that they lock in consumers to one store, more or less. It's just that devices tend to go obsolete, and it really is a trust that the manufacturers will carry forward the content they sold (leased?) on successive devices. It's not that I expect Amazon or Apple will go away in the near future. Companies, though, can be bought or change sales philosophy. For this reason I appreciate that there are devices out there that can borrow from a library. There is a source for content that doesn't require a store. For the record, the Salt Lake County Library system can loan out eBooks, just not to an iPad or a Kindle. [MG]