Or, You can pry my free books from my cold dead fingers
So, today I’m on LinkedIn and I see this as a “top headline in online media”: Amazon Working on a Netflix for Books. You know, Amazon’s come up with this revolutionary idea: you can check books out and the return them and then get more books. It’s gonna be big. Um, hi, it’s called a library.
Except that actually, it’s a pretty sucky library. According to Mashable:
“The details about the project are scarce, but it appears that the library would primarily contain older works with restrictions on how many books a user can access each month.”
So, it’s a library with only old books that limits how many I can take out – oh, and it charges me for the privilege? Doesn’t really sound like a library that I would use, even if it were free. (Okay, I lied, I’d use it, but I’d complain about it – a lot, probably on this blog.)
Although the Mashable article isn’t totally clear on this point, it seems that this will be a digital only library, from which you can check things out for your Kindle. And that’s where it seems that they’re going to make their money.
“But Maggie, my library lets me check out ebooks for free.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
Like many of you, my library allows me to check out ebooks through the Overdrive Digital Media Console. Basically, it’s a program that you log into using your library card number through your home computer; it lets you check out ebooks that you can download to your tablet/e-reader. It sounds great. But, it’s the worst computer program that I’ve ever use. (Yes, I know that sounds a little harsh, but it’s true.) I pride myself on being pretty tech savvy (hell, I blog about digital culture), but even I got so confused that I had to call the library for help. “Uh, hi I have a problem…” (Yes, that was quite embarrassing.)
I thought it was just me; maybe I was actually a digital failure. But it turns out that, in this, I’m not alone. My Dad finds it so frustrating that he’s written a “10 steps to downloading a book for Overdrive” process that he keeps in his Evernote. (Yes, my Dad’s techie enough to user Evernote, but he struggles with the library’s software… Is this telling you something?) A friend of mine is a librarian, and she says that people constantly call/come in looking for tech support. All she can do is say, “Yes, it’s a horrible
program. No, I don’t understand it either.” (Also, she was on Jeopardy, so you know, no slouch in the brains department…)
At some point, through one of our mutual battles with Overdrive (my Mom has a Nook), my Dad suggested to me that maybe Overdrive is bad on purpose. So that you’ll throw up your hands and go, “F this, I’ll just buy the book!” (Okay, so my Dad didn’t really say ,“F this.”) At first I thought that maybe he was overreacting, but now…
I love a digital library, more, I love the concept of a digital library. Regardless of Overdrive, checking out ebooks from the library is difficult. You can’t browse. You can’t touch them. You can’t smell them. (Okay, so I may go a little overboard in my love of books.) But it’s more than even that. Currently, digital library collections are so limited. Because they’re purchased by local library systems, like real (Traditional? Physical? What’s the right word?) books. And you can only check out the ones the ones that your local library owns. (Unless you’re me and you go about joining all the libraries you can. Currently I belong to three county library systems; I’m about to join a fourth. Don’t tell.) Geographic restrictions on digital content just doesn’t make sense. The server’s are probably in Colorado anyway, so why does it matter if the book comes from a library ten miles away? I want to be able to check out a book regardless of the local library system. (I can already do that with physical books through OhioLINK, so why not with digital editions?)
I know that my thoughts on this are all over the place and jumbled. But, I think it comes down to this: I’m worried that the move to ebooks will lead to charging for things that have traditionally been free. I don’t want to pay for a digital library. I don’t want to subscribe to a service to borrow a book from you. I don’t want to have to rebuy my books when the technology changes. I want access to information (and stories!) to stay free. I want to be able to take out a ridiculous amount of books, to skim some, to read some cover to cover, and others not at all. I don’t want to worry about hitting my limit or fees. Basically, I don’t want reading to become like my cell phone bill.
There’s so much transition right now. With the switch to (or maybe addition of?) ebooks, it seems like everything’s up for grabs. The publishers and the retailers are reasserting themselves, the libraries aren’t keeping up, and the readers are the ones losing out. I don’t want to lose out.
Questions of the day: Have you tried Overdrive? Did you find it horrible, too, or am I really just that tech illiterate? Would you subscribe to Amazon’s digital library?
MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.