December 12, 2011
An eBook Divide
eBooks seem to hog up a lot of space in both the information and legal professional trade presses these days.
On pg 12 of the December 2011 Information Today issue, there is an article on "Ebook trends" (the author used Ebook instead of eBook, not me) that discusses the international marketplace. Specifically, it notes a white paper issed by O-Reilly Media at their Tools of Change for Publishing conference called "The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions and Future Projections."
The research report discusses the current state of the eBook market. It projects growth and preferences. It reviews the state of the market country by country, noting some interesting facts that impede eBook domination. (This first report focused on continental European countries using the UK and US as benchmarks. According to the article, there will be two more supplements to complete global coverage by 2012.) For example, unlike traditional books, eBooks do not enjoy a reduced VAT tax in Europe. This is because they are classified as a license, not a product. Result: eBooks cost more than their print counterparts and slows their adoption in the EU.
In addition to the pain of the pocketbook, Europeans seem to have a negative opinion of things that go digital. They have a dim view of the Google book scanning project and see it as a cultural attack. There are also concerns about surveillance and privacy, particularly in countries like France where they already deal with the Hadopi (three strikes piracy law).
Nevertheless, the eBook market continues to grow even in Europe.
In addition to the research conducted by Tools of Change for Publishing, Bowker announced that in 2012 it will launch a major study to "assess and track device adoption, attitudes, and purchasing habits of ebook consumers in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North and South America." It will be interesting to see if these studies conflict or support each other's findings.
Obviously there is money to be made in the eBook market.
Contrast this information with a story about an African library movement that was published in this same issue.
On Pg 34, there was a sidebar to a larger story about bringing libraries to impoverished children. The sidebar spotlighted the Lubuto Library Project in Zambia (Lubuto is the Zamibian word for enlightenment). Founder and Librarian Jane Kenney Meyers started her first library with finaical assistance provided by Dow Jones and with books from Follett Corp. I was struck by this quote:
"We have been helping our librarian colleagues in Zambia define what a good book collection is, and we will go to Follett and request seven more collections that match our guidelines."
Will "a good book collection" include eBooks? Probably not. The end user of an eBook has to make an initial outlay of about $100 USD before they can even access an eBook. These children are not likely to have an e-reader handy. In case you had not noticed, Bowker will not be conducting any research on eBooks in Africa.
Will the eventual domnance of the eBook format divide the digital and not-so-digital native generation even further apart than we have already seen? We are already seeing books only being published in digital format.
And what of our universities? Will those blessed by large, well-managed endowments be able to provide digital tools, or attract the clientel who are able to afford these devices while less wealthy institutions of education will de facto be at a disadvantage?
Don't get me wrong, I see great promise in the eBook future; however, the commercial discussion of the eBook marketplace juxtaposed against the laudable work of Librarian Meyers was quite stark. And it caused me to think about how the playing field will change, even at a very local level.
I had one bright thought that made me smile and that I would like to pass on to you. I bet that those Zambian children will learn how to read a book from cover to cover and be in a better position than many of the very smart people who go to law school to concentrate on one 'thing' for extended periods of time and actually reflect on what they have read. Of course, this is not ONLY due to a lack of eBooks but hey - Way to go Meyers! (VS)