“There is a better counterargument that the eBook license does not allow for the establishment of the material in question to be library material in any form; basically, it is and never will be library material.”
There’s been a bit of a dustup in Libraryland as it seems many (most? all?) librarians were unaware of the details involved in finally getting Kindle compatibility via Overdrive — the leading ebook distributor to public libraries (for now, at least) — as Amazon pulled off a not-at-all-surprising move that gives them at least two opportunities to make a sales pitch directly to library patrons every time they borrow an ebook from them.
But, wait a minute…
Woodworth, who has one of the more level-headed takes on the situation, steps back to look at the bigger picture and asks the most important question: who actually owns those ebooks?
When the detail-light announcement of the Overdrive/Amazon deal was first made back in the Spring, Josh Hadro, my colleague at Library Journal, read the tea leaves and did a bit of foreshadowing that ultimately proved to be right on the money:
As others have pointed out, it is perhaps telling that the Amazon release refers only to Kindle customers, not patrons: the new feature will “allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 libraries” [emphasis added]. So all the folks doing the lending, they’re Kindle customers from the start, taking only a brief detour into patron territory, and hopefully back into customer mode “if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it.”
The ebooks being borrowed by Amazon customers aren’t the same ePUB files being licensed to libraries via Overdrive, they’re Amazon’s files that they’re allowing their customers to access via a marketing partnership with local libraries.
Basically, Amazon one-upped Barnes & Noble’s Read In-Store feature that allows Nook customers to “read NOOK Books FREE for up to one hour per day” in any of their 700+ stores, and put the exact same feature in every Kindle customer’s living room via 11,000+ public libraries, without the physical and timing limitations. Notably, it seems they’ve also side-stepped Overdrive’s new WIN (Want It Now) Catalog that allows library patrons to purchase books (and audiobooks) directly, via links to retailers.
While I understand the ambivalence, frustration and/or outright anger some librarians must feel over the situation — it kind of goes hand-in-hand working with Amazon — there’s an unfortunate combination at play here that seems to be an underlying truth of the digital age: “Be careful what you wish for,” and, “If you get in bed with the devil, sooner or later…”
Ebooks are disrupting business models left and right (even Amazon took it on the chin when Macmillan dared to stand up to them way back in January 2010), and no matter how much everyone loves (or claims to love) libraries, they’re not immune. Hell, in some cases, they’re being eyed warily or left out of the ebook game altogether!
As “licensing” increasingly becomes the norm for various forms of media, knowingly or not, libraries are finding themselves on the front lines of a battle that most consumers arguably don’t even realize is being fought: the question of ownership in the digital age.
It’s a question that doesn’t offer any easy answers, and is so much bigger than the symptomatic issue of who knows which Kindle ebooks you’re borrowing. On the bright side, if anyone’s up to the challenge of fighting for answers to these questions, it’s librarians!
Be careful what you ask for, indeed.