I had an interesting e-mail chat with librarylis, one of MetaFilter’s many excellent librarians, about the problems of libraries, with which she is infinitely more familiar than I, and she recommended “Reality Checks, by Andrew Richard Albanese. Albanese summarizes the discussions at a recent Media Tools of Change (TOC) conference and then provides “ten reality checks—broad observations about the web, libraries, and publishers, where there is value to be found or added, where there is danger, and, of course, where users are going.” I can’t summarize it, so I’ll just give you a snippet to whet your appetite:

Certainly, publishers are right to want their own footprint on the web. Oxford University Press’s Scholarship Online (OSO), essentially an all-inclusive database of its book content, is an example of how that can be done right in-house. There’s no shortage of vendors to help, either. Ebrary, for example, has proven itself a durable, nimble service, with a powerful, easy-to-use platform that integrates digital book content with all digital collections—a key point, librarians say. Ingram’s MyiLibrary and Lightning Source, meanwhile, are surging fulfillment and POD services—virtual warehouses for publishers—that allow publishers to squeeze money forever from their greatest asset: the backlist.

The problem with both Random House and HarperCollins, however, is that they are more interested in driving web users back to physical books than driving a new market. Only now are they “experimenting” with selling chapters online or giving away content—and those experiments seem rigged to fail. Random House, for example, is selling chapters of Chip and Dan Heath’s Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die for $2.99 each—a good choice but a curious price point, given the physical book is available online for under $10. HarperCollins is offering free downloads of some titles—including a new novel by Paulo Coelho—but those editions are only available for one month, and readers can’t download them to their computers or print them.

Limiting online activities to the marketing of physical books avoids any real engagement with the future….

Thanks for the thought-provoking read, lis!


  1. I’m always wanting to look things up in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a fantastic resource that costs a lot to subscribe to online. Through your library (or school) you can do it, and you can always ask them to subscribe. They can only say no (or nei, in my case.)

  2. This poor post has been up for over 24 hours now…

  3. Hmm, well that’s an interesting point you made about the Oxford DNB, Crown. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you AFTER EVERYONE ELSE HAS COMMENTED.

  4. *sound of approaching hoofbeats*

  5. *sound of receding hoofbeats*

  6. “Who was that masked hat, anyway?”

  7. Oh yes, here they come now…
    Boy, this is interesting.
    Libraries, you say?

  8. Yeah, the Hat had an emergency over at British Collective Plurals. It’s quicker sometimes to cut through on horseback…

  9. What? Libraries? I love libraries. I really do.
    *rubs eyes, checks alarm clock*
    I’ll have a comment within the hour for you, I swear.

  10. Huh, So much for getting up at five. It doesn’t count if you go back to bed at eight, you know.

  11. I wake up at five, do yoga, make coffee for my girlfriend, and start her car so it’s warm for when she has to drive to work; then when she’s gone I drink myself stupid and pass out until you call me to fulfill my obligations as a part-time LH commenter. I think that counts for a lot, thank you.

  12. Just wait till the poor guy finds out that the money I pay him in is accepted as legal tender only in Zembla. He may not get out of bed at all.

  13. Oh, you bastard.

  14. Doug Sundseth says

    Baen Books provides (not “provide” 😎 ) free versions of many of its back-list titles, in unsecured text versions here. In addition, it sells (my first inclination was “they sell”, for some reason) front-list titles in electronic format, also in unsecured formats.
    From the reports the company has released, this policy has increased Baen’s sales pretty dramatically.

  15. Thanks for the Baen link, here’s some more:
    Scandinavian medieval classics online:
    Fiction, reference, classics online:
    Most of the LH posts are about language itself, this one is about the business of language. I think people are not commenting so much not because of a lack of interest, but a lack of experience in the business end of language. Also this link was a little longer article than usual and I always meant to come back and read the rest of it later…..

  16. a lack of experience in the business end of language
    Most people here make their living directly from it.

Speak Your Mind