As I write this, HarperCollins has honked off much of the library world by stating that the eBooks it sells to libraries will self destruct after 26 checkouts. OverDrive has moved their titles to a separate page on its ordering platform, and some libraries are boycotting them. HarperCollins may have put their foot in it by making this move unilaterally, but they raised an issue we need to think about and discuss: What is the best way--or set of best ways--to acquire, store, and lend "books" that never wear out and that could--technologically--be shared by many readers at once? Even if I had all the answers, they wouldn't fit into this blog. But let me toss out just a few to get you thinking.
Scenario One: Build on what we have now and give the reader more options.
Let's assume we retain the current model of "one user per copy at a time". For high demand items, this will mean waiting lists, just as it does with hard copy. So, on the web page where the reader can click on "Join the waiting list", add buttons that say "Rent a copy now" and "Buy a copy now". (OverDrive already has the 'buy' option. It's called LibraryBIN for "Buy It Now") If the user clicked on either option he could bypass the waiting list and get instant access to the book he wanted. The rental/purchase money would be split among the library, the vendor, and the publisher. Some patrons would choose the waiting list; some would choose to rent; some would choose to buy. The point is that they could choose! Publishers and vendors should like this idea, as it creates an ongoing cash flow in their direction.
Scenario Two: Flexible access; variable pricing.
Here we exploit a digital book's ability to be shared by multiple readers simultaneously. Rather than buy one copy from a vendor at the standard price and lend it to one patron at a time, we pay more than the standard price and get the right to lend it to more than one patron at a time for "X" months. There are lots of ways to configure this. Here is just one: We pay twice the cover price for a book. For the first three months of ownership, we can lend it to four users at once. For the next three months, we can lend it to three users at once. For the next six months, we can lend it to two users at once. From then on, only one user at a time. Feel free to substitute your own sales price, time periods, and number of simultaneous users. Now find a vendor and start haggling.
Scenario Three: the Rhapsody Model
Rather than going to the worldwide pool of books and buying a smaller pool for our patrons to draw from, we "subscribe to" access to the whole pool. Or at least a huge, huge part of it. Our patrons can then download and read any title they want. The titles they download expire after "X" days, just as they do now with check-outs. They always have the option to buy a permanent copy. (And we get a piece of the action when they do.) And if we let our subscription lapse, all the titles vanish. Would we need to put limits on the number of titles a reader could have at one time? Maybe. But, since we do that now, that's no big deal.
OK. I just gave you three ways for libraries to look at eBooks for their patrons. What's your idea?