Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Digital Libraries getting investment. It's an opportunity of a lifetime. The book version of itunes.

The advent of ebooks and online distribution has opened up a whole new world for libraries and indeed, for business.

The Digital Public Library of America has just announced an investment of 1 million usd to help make library materials available online. Now while this is intended as a public archive project, it symbolises what's going on with ebooks and libraries online.

Having books online, not only frees up the physical needs (and costs) of building libraries, but brings books to a whole new readership. It makes them easily accessible which has knock on effects of positive literacy (if that's how you spell it) never mind, bringing libraries into the digital age.

Simply, you could "borrow" or rent an ebook for say, 7 days and after that it's deleted from your reader. Not unlike if you buy an ebook by mistake, they can automatically delete it. Over Wifi or 3G, the library has control over your reader and it can automatically withdraw books. Something similar could be done commercially, no problem.

Now that's a magnificent opportunity commercially if it's not provided by the State or "goodwill" companies such as the Digital library of America. Imagine, for example, a "rent a book" website - not unlike the way you rent movies on itunes.

If you're a member of a library currently, you'll know the hassle of returning books and indeed, the issue with library admin in making sure that you do. With a digital library, all of those issues disappear. You're just renting the book until it's due back and when it is, it disappears. Plus renting a book will be significantly less expensive than buying it.

Plus you develop large groups of readers who'd like possibly to buy newspapers, magazines, accept ads from coffee shops and so on.

Copyright is of course an issue but already libraries work within that problem. Plus if a rent-a-book website is successful, it will drive publishers into it. In the same way that music publishers withheld support from itunes...until they couldn't because it became too strong to avoid.

Libraries loan you books, you read them, you return them. Nothing changes except it's all done online.

You can imagine too the improvements in Search, where finding your book is quick and efficient, without the need to call into your library and wander through shelf after shelf. Ordering books in advance is made easy too and membership is simple ecommerce enabled. A fee, paid online by debit/credit card.

It's likely that this will become a major hit, in my view and encourage people, to read, notably the young. Apart from that, it also means published works will be archived and available online forever - no more "out of print" for example.

"I love libraries" is on Facebook but with a relatively poor 43,000 likes. Pity.

Digital libraries make sense with the development of ebooks.
The only downside is that '50 shades' will be an even bigger hit.
Ah well, it will be worth it.