The Goethe-Institut New York is planning to offer e-books in the future. Perhaps because I’m so preoccupied with this at the moment, I get the impression that an especially large number of blogs are addressing the topic of e-books lately. “Agnostic, Maybe” states that librarians in particular are in an unjustifiable panic over e-books, and thus many of them are issuing comments that are ill-informed and/or not objective. Where is this fear of e-books on the part of librarians coming from? Amazon’s announcement that in the second quarter of 2010 more e-books were sold than bound books made waves, it’s true, but this doesn’t have a direct effect on libraries. Incidentally, the partner in Germany with whom we’re negotiating on e-books has quoted this same report to us. But one has to take a closer look: first, this number applies only to the United States, and second, Amazon has priced e-books so low that: a) there is no wonder so many are sold and b) the publishing houses are rather sour about this (I’ve already written about this in this blog). A much more crucial problem – which “Agnostic, Maybe” refers to – is that up until now libraries haven’t had a seat at the table when e-books are discussed. I’ve even heard someone telling me that publishers would prefer to block e-book sales to libraries for a period of three months from publication, so as not to hurt sales. Even those libraries that buy e-books through a consortium are eyed with suspicion by publishers. When it comes to e-books, publishers themselves are as nervous as librarians. Due to this, the development of e-books has greatly slowed in several countries -- in France, for example, because publishers are not fond of the idea of circulating their electronic content.
At the end of his article, “Agnostic, Maybe” includes a statement that is meant to be comforting, but that, to me, is poorly chosen: Modern technology does not totally replace old technology, as in the case of the automobile, which even today has not completely replaced the horse as a means of transportation. It may well be that the equine industry still turns over 39 billion dollars a year. But a look at what portion of this money comes from the horse as a means of labor and transportation and how much comes from the horse in the leisure and horse-racing industry would put this statement in a different light.
I hope that the printed book vs. the e-book will become comparable to going to a movie vs. watching a DVD at home: a different experience with both advantages and disadvantages. An obvious comparison would be that between the old medium of the LP and the new medium of the DVD. The LP still exists. But if printed books face such a development, the future looks less promising: record albums have a market share of 1%. And even if LP sales have improved markedly in the recent years – they are merely a sideline and not an economic factor.
Friday, 27. August 2010
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