Forbes Wants to Close Libraries

I just read Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription, a Forbes article written by Tim Worstall. It’s a poorly-researched opinion piece about … well … what the title says. Getting rid of libraries and giving everyone a Kindle Unlimited subscription instead.

Yes, Forbes posted this. Thanks, Forbes!

Who is Tim Worstall? He’s a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a UK-based think tank. Working at a think tank, you’d “think” that Tim would get his facts straight, or at least do a bit of research first… apparently  not the case, which makes me wonder about the quality of research done at the Adam Smith Institute. Tim also has a blog, where he apparently likes to cuss. Alot.

I left a comment on the Forbes article – here’s what I said:

Tim – you say that it’s “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all.” Then you claim (but don’t cite) that only 8% of people buy more than one book a year.

Three things:

1. If you think no one reads, why would you want to shift tax payer dollars from a known, traditional institution (the local library) to a global corporation? That seems silly – you’re still paying tax dollars for something you don’t think anyone does.

2. I challenge your statistics. I’m not sure about UK stats, but I know American stats. According to Pew Research, in January 2014, 76% of American adults ages 18 and up read at least one book in the past year. So that trumps your “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all” statement.

And the average number of books people read over the past year is 5. I do believe an average is larger than 8%, no?

3. The larger problem isn’t lending books though – you actually want to get RID of local libraries altogether. You say this – “Let’s just close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription.”

That argument, for starters, could also be said this way: let’s buy everyone garden hoses. Then we could get rid of the local fire department! Brilliant, right? Wrong. Because the local fire department also has quite a lot of knowledge about what they do – they are professionals.

The same goes for your local library. Yes, they still lend books – both print AND ebooks. They also work really hard to buy the BEST books for your community (having access to 600,000 ebooks from Amazon doesn’t mean they’re all readable books).

And the library does a lot more than that.

So – you mentioned that you have a local library. Instead of someone providing a plane ticket for you [he suggested in the comments that someone buy him a plane ticket so he could visit their library], why don’t you simply get in your car and visit your own local library for starters, and see what they do?

At least when you write your next opinion article, you’d actually know something about libraries :-)

A couple of other things to point out from this very obviously uninformed article:

Tim says this – “The first being that paid subscriptions is exactly how lending libraries started out.” He mentions WH Smith as an example of a fee-based lending library.

WH Smith is a UK bookseller. They operated a circulating library service from 1860 to 1961, and even created ISBN numbers (who knew?) – got this from Wikipedia.

But Tim is missing a HUGE fact – libraries have been around for centuries, and … I know it’s hard to believe – weren’t actually created by good ole WH Smith. Again from Wikipedia – “The earliest reference to or use of the term “lending library” yet located in English correspondence dates from ca. 1586…” Most of those have NOT been subscription-based libraries.

Tim also says this: “ the stock of books available [from the Amazon Kindle thingie] is far larger than any physical library (other than copyright depositaries like the British Museum) has available to readers. 600,000 titles is, at a guess, some 550,000 greater than the library system of my native Bath and North East Somerset purchases with its share of my council tax (that is a guess by the way).”

Again, quite wrong. First of all, my library has 450,000 titles – already coming close to that number that Tim thinks is unreachable by all but the British Museum (I think he really meant the British Library).

The larger issue with the Kindle service is this – just because Amazon’s Kindle service is offering 600,000 ebooks doesn’t mean they’re all actually GOOD books.

Amazon’s service focuses heavily on classics, some popular series, and their self-published ebooks. Read more about it at the Washington Post.

Most libraries are much more choosy than that, and work really hard to buy the best books, and the books our customers actually want to read. Unlike Amazon.

So there you have it! Go read the article and see what you think!

 

Doing Your Part in the Library Ebook Wars

ebookWhen talking to librarians about ebooks and econtent, I often hear things like this: “we can’t do anything – we’re just a small public library going up against Amazon/Apple/Barnes & Noble/fill in the blank.” Or “we don’t have the right connections” or maybe “we don’t have the resources we’d need to do something.” Etc.

I think we CAN do something. Many somethings. From my library alone, here’s what we’re currently doing:

  • Our Ebooks for Libraries campaign – going for 10,000 signatures on a petition that will be mailed to the big six publishers, asking for books in all formats for libraries.
  • Our community novel project – our community is writing a serialized novel, and we plan to publish the finished novel in print and in ebook formats. This is a small step in teaching our community that they can “do it themselves.”
  • We have two staff members on the Library Renewal board – we’re giving time and expertise to organizations that are trying to make a difference.
  • We have staff members on ALA boards – this one is indirectly related, but it gives us a say at the table when ebook-related issues get raised. And again, it’s giving time and expertise to organizations that have the potential to make a difference for libraries.

Other libraries and organizations that are trying to make a difference?

  • Douglas County Libraries – you might have read about they are purchasing ebooks directly from publishers, and serving them back out to customers? Here’s an article with more info on that.
  • Califa, a California-based library consortium, is doing a similar thing.

And those are just six examples – I’m guessing there are many others out there (and please – if I missed a major one, share the details in the comments!). My point? You CAN do something about it. Whatever “it” is to you and your organization, there are definitely ways to start successfully tackling the issue.

Why tackle this particular issue? Read Jason Griffey’s recent post about Amazon’s Lending Library. Amazon wants your customers to borrow from THEM. For free (well, after the purchase of a Kindle and an Amazon Prime subscription, anyway).

Sound like a challenge to you? Let’s meet that challenge head-on, folks!

ebook pic by nikkorsnapper

Amazon, Overdrive, Ebooks … and YOU.

You all read Sarah’s blog, right? (if you’re not, you should be). For those of you that don’t – check out her video rant about Amazon, Overdrive, Kindles, and ebooks (embedded above). There’s a bit of “language” in it … so you have been warned if that bothers you.

Great video, great content. And here’s the deal – Overdrive has basically allowed Amazon to sell their books on YOUR PATRON’S KINDLE. Via the Overdrive Kindle ebooks deal. And you and your library’s tax dollars are … paying for that privilege.

Did Overdrive tell us about that? Nope. Is that cool? Nope. Watch Sarah’s video for the details. And this is besides all the user data/privacy issues that I haven’t seen addressed yet (also discussed in Sarah’s video).

I’m not pointing the finger at Amazon – it’s not their fault. I’d guess they have been planning that functionality for months. Overdrive surely knew about this (I’m guessing here, but we’re talking about normal business practice too). Why didn’t they mention that?

What can you do about this?

  1. For starters – read your contracts/licenses, etc. You don’t have to automatically agree to everything written there – you can actually change things. Or you can try, anyway.
  2. More importantly – if you don’t like what Overdrive “allowed” Amazon to slip in (ie., direct selling and marketing to YOUR PATRONS without your permission) – let them know!
  3. Or … simply don’t buy it.

Overdrive – no more secrets, please! Or if you DID share that and we somehow missed it – could you kindly point out where? Thanks!

Copying Other Websites During a Redesign

During my library’s last website redesign, we went through quite a few design iterations, and we still weren’t happy. Two people in our Creative Group team (more on that in the next post) … ok, our head of marketing and the deputy director … kept sending us website examples they liked. Sites like shoe stores or clothing shops. Yes, they were beautiful websites, and nicely designed. But they weren’t really all that similar to a library website.

One big difference – these attractive websites did one thing well – they sold shoes or clothes. They didn’t have any catalog to speak of. The websites were full of single pages that pointed to single items.

But a library website has at least two basic needs – a site that talks about the library, and shares useful stuff. And we have a library catalog. So it didn’t really make much sense to me to base our library website design around a site that only does half of what we do.

So I started poking around, looking for websites that focus on two things:

  1. stuff, like a storefront.
  2. a “catalog” of some sort.

Amazon and Zappos? Pretty much all catalog. News sites? Pretty much large multi-blog sites – focusing on stuff. Then it dawned on me – library websites are like Apple. Apple essentially has two separate websites – the main site that focuses on their stuff, and their “catalog” – their online store.

We based our redesign around Apple, in these ways:

  • Top horizontal navigation with drop down menus. We also found some “nav bar inspiration” at NPR’s website.
  • Focusing on a single large ad, then a couple of smaller ones, then more detailed content below that – based on many of Apple’s pages. This directs customers to a few things that you REALLY WANT THEM TO DO, while still having easy access to everything else.
  • A prominent link to the store. That’s where you’d click “Find Stuff” to get to our three catalogs (catalog, digital downloads catalog, and DVD dispenser catalog).

So far, it’s working out great – few complaints, lots of compliments. Our public trainers have told us they cut down training on how to use our website from an hour to 10-15 minutes. Fingers crossed that it stays that way for a while!

My Experiments with Ads

Walt Crawford is thinking about clickthroughs and ads, and mentioned me as an example of someone using ads on my blog. And it’s true – I do! I’ve been meaning to write a post about my adspace experiments, and here’s a great opportunity to do it (ie., because I’m thinking about it again after posting a comment to Walt’s blog).

Why am I using ads on my blog? I started using ads as more of an experiment than anything – it was a part of the whole web thing that I wasn’t very familiar with. I held off for a long time, because I thought that putting ads on my blog would somehow water it down, or somehow feel like “selling out” … or some other nefarious deviant-like behavior.

Then I realized I was being silly, and curiosity just got the best of me. So I jumped in.

Here’s what I do right now:

  • I use Google Adsense and Amazon Affiliate ads.
  • I put google adsense in posts. I’m using a plugin for those. I use the WhyDoWork plugin for the in-post ads, because it does a really cool thing – it lets me turn on ads after a post is 7 days old. So you regular readers generally don’t see those, but visitors from a search engine might see them.
  • I also turned on adsense in my rss feed, using a link-up between adsense and feedburner (those, you might see once in awhile).
  • I sometimes us an Amazon Affiliate ad. I put those in my most popular posts, or when I’m talking about something that’s sold on Amazon, like a book or a microphone.
  • I also use pre- and mid-roll ads on my blip.tv videos.
  • Oh, and I have recently been playing with Google Adwords.

Combined, I’m making around $5-600 a year off those. Not much, but then again, it pays for my website and for my pro accounts on services like Flickr.

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my adspace experiments:

  • It’s a completely new language and set of tools. I still need to make time to figure it out more, but I’m learning about things like ad impressions, CTR (clickthrough rates), RPM (revenue per thousand impressions), CPC (cost per click), and CPM (cost per thousand impressions).
  • Amazon Affiliate ads can be funny. Some months I’ll make nothing, and other months … well, I think someone clicked the Amazon ad to read about the product, and then decided to do their monthly shopping – while still under my affiliate link. ‘Cause people are buying things that I haven’t mentioned!
  • Another thing with Amazon ads – their “link maker” includes a bunch of link wording that ends up making their ad … well … look really cheesy. So I just grab the underlying affiliate link, and make my own text or image link.
  • I rarely see a check from the blip.tv ads, but I turn those ads on primarily because I love the blip.tv service – I figure if they get a little bit of money from my silly videos, then yay! I’ve helped keep their service alive.
  • Adwords – that’s just weird. I received a couple of those “$100 free Google Adwords” cards and a nudge from someone using them, so I have very recently been playing with them. I made an ad for “Digital Experience” and pointed to my book. Possibly a couple of people have bought the book because of that… but otherwise, I don’t think adwords are for me.

So – that’s what I’m doing. Should more librarians be playing with online ads? Let me put it this way – any library out there a bit cash-strapped lately? If you have a well-visited site with good content, you can potentially supplement your library’s revenue streams. That is, if you know what you’re doing. And I know that some ILS systems include an option of a “buy it now” button that points to Amazon via an affiliate ad – why not use those?

If nothing else, ads are part of the modern web, and those of us building sites should at least experiment a bit – otherwise, we’re like a carpenter who refuses to experiment with a nail gun because it seems, somehow, likes it’s cheating.

pic by quickonlinetips