June 23rd, 2011

HarperCollins Circulation Limit for eBooks

There is a petition to get Harvard Libraries to speak out against HarperCollins 26 checkout limit on ebooks for libraries. The idea is that Harvard Libraries' collection is "Second only to the Library of Congress in size, Harvard's library holds immense sway and prestige in a country famous for its expansive public libraries." Never mind the actual content of Harvard Libraries, or who has access to that content, and how irrelevant all of that is to HarperCollins and the content they publish.

As background: most ebooks available for libraries are through Overdrive. (There are alternatives. Libraries can purchase devices and check the devices out loaded up with one more ebooks, thus getting unlimited numbers of checkouts out of the ebooks.). Overdrive has a policy of supporting whatever business model publishers request. HarperCollins has requested a 26 checkout limit.

With pbooks, libraries which expect heavy circulation buy multiple copies of a given book (say, _The Da Vinci Code_). After a few months or years, when circulation drops to a lower rate, the more heavily worn copies (perhaps all) will be weeded and a smaller number kept until the librarian(s) conclude(s) it no longer makes sense to keep it in the collection. eBooks don't have to be weeded and they don't wear out -- unless HarperCollins "makes" them wear out.

I think what happened is that HarperCollins looked at their most popular books and their rate of circulation and how many copies were available in any given library to support that circulation. They probably picked 26 checkouts because that struck them as really generous (assuming a 2 week checkout period, they were allowing for a solid year of use, 18 months with a 3 week checkout period, longer if there are any gaps in time when it isn't checked out and let me tell you, for most books in most libraries, those gaps are plentiful and long. I don't think Overdrive supports a longer than 21 day checkout limit but I could be wrong.).

Here's the problem: if a library wants something in its "permanent collection" and it doesn't circulate heavily, 26 checkouts is problematic -- especially if, two decades from now when nearing the end of the license, the book is no longer available for sale. So while the policy probably makes really good sense for books which are heavily circulated (and libraries would have had to buy multiple pcopies of anyway), and is not unreasonable for crappy fiction that's going to be weeded in five years no matter what, it creates a completely impossible situation for books that a librarian would want in the "permanent collection". At least I _think_ that's where the nut is. I kind of think this is chump change compared to the bad-paper problem we had for much of the 20th century (those books self-destructed in a comparable time frame).

Should HarperCollins _care_ about librarians who want to curate books? Well, this is one of those sociocultural reputation/prestige things. HarperCollins made a reasonable business decision (this is, after all, a trade press). A bunch of librarians across the country are responding in a way that makes sense: identify the source of the problem and apply what pressure you can to modify their position so the problem goes away. Should you sign the petition? I don't think it'll do any harm. Will it do any good?

Do I shop at Wal-Mart? No. So asking me to boycott Wal-Mart is barely symbolic and I bet Wal-Mart knows that. Does Harvard Libraries buy from HarperCollins? I have my suspicions, and asking Harvard Libraries to apply pressure to HarperCollins strikes me as missing the point.

Rowling/Harry Potter ebook news

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/06/rowling-reveals-pottermore-appears-to-be-hybrid-of-online-book-and-game.html

There's an embedded video which is the real news; I did not watch it.

"One thing that was clear was that Pottermore will be the exclusive distributor of digital audiobooks and eBooks of the Harry Potter series, according to the video."

Available to a lucky few sooner, but everyone in October.

Rowling's resistance to releasing the books in ebook form is, er, legendary. This is a big development.

Recent Economic Trends

There are some economic trends that have gotten a little coverage, but only a little, because they are not exciting. I'm particularly aware of them mostly because I've been seeing direct evidence, and they are trends that I predicted would accelerate (think: smug. That's me. Smug.).

(1) People moving into more densely populated areas. Lots of things drive this tend: commute time, access to services. Small practices in suburbs won't serve people who only have Medicaid, so if you need services for your kids, it might be more convenient to be in an apartment in a city than in a house in an exurb.

(2) Multifamily growth; single family stagnation. The last decade was all about single family housing and related statistics. That's where the bubble was and that's where all the attention was. The attention was very conspicuously not on multifamily and it still isn't, even though vacancies are down, shadow inventory in multifamily is moving onto the market (mothballed condos from the boom coming online as apartments; that unoccupied mother-in-law apartment being rented again, etc.) and rents are starting to rise. Oh, and there's that tiny blue house across the street from the gas station that has been torn down and replaced by a whole lot of tree and stump removal and big holes in the ground. This being New England, lots of large rocks being moved out of the way to make way for what will either be apartments or condos. And the other one in Concord (http://www.concordriverwalk.com/for-sale/for-sale, http://www.wickedlocal.com/concord/features/x55985081/Work-begins-on-Concord-Riverwalk-development). And the condos still slowly selling on my street. And so forth.

The irony here is that even in a town which is perfectly positioned for this kind of development and which is happy to have it (a lot of this multi-family is 3 bedroom and intended for kids who will be attending our excellent schools while their parents hop on the conveniently located highway -- which is incredibly slow -- or the commuter train to go to work), a lot of people in the town are completely unaware that this development is happening. Or, for that matter, that there's a van you can call for pickup to get to that train station, the parking for which is always full very early in the morning. They don't even realize that double track is being extended further out the line, and it's hard to know how you could live here and fail to notice that.

(3) People paying down their mortgages/overall private debt reduction and not just through writedowns by banks.

(4) Remodel/renovation rather than moving. The good construction guys who did remodel/renovation were never completely out of work in this area, but now they're so busy that the less good/more annoying guys are seeing a good amount of work as well. Permitting is up and it's a little harder to get in touch to schedule an inspection than it was for a while there.

(5) Small businesses popping up in long-vacant and therefore cheap commercial space. Sure, there are still empty spots opening up (sometimes because one of the older small businesses has taken the opportunity to expand into a new, larger space). A lot of these small businesses are exactly the kind of thing people want in tight times: consignment, inexpensive restaurants, small ethnic grocers, etc.

I'm sure we'd all be much happier if we were having the kind of recovery where every week we checked the news and learned about how some company was offering spectacular packages to relocate executives and hire new kiddies out of college and so forth. But this is the recovery we've got. Saying it _isn't_ a recovery (or at least the beginnings of one) because it isn't the kind we wanted is Not Helpful.

New York Times Magazine article about an "ex-gay"

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/magazine/my-ex-gay-friend.html

4 pages, very depressing photo of the guy in question at the beginning.

I felt like the author sort of missed an opportunity by mentioning that the guy's father died when he was 13 and his mother when he was 19 and then not really following up on that.

I felt that these paragraphs were particularly unfortunate:

[quote begins here]a young man who was fascinated by queer theory — namely, the idea that sexual and gender identities are culturally constructed rather than biologically fixed — and who dreamed of a world without labels like “straight” and “gay,” which he deemed restrictive and designed to “segment and persecute,” as he argued in a 1998 issue of XY. Though he conceded back then that it was important “to stay unified under a ‘Gay’ political umbrella” until equality for gays and lesbians had been achieved, Michael preferred to label himself queer.

As Ben and I reminisced, I couldn’t help wondering if Michael’s new philosophy might, in a strange way, be a logical extension of what he believed back then — that “gay” is a limiting category and that sexual identities can change. Ben nodded. “A radical queer activist and a fundamentalist Christian aren’t always as different as they might seem,” he said, adding that they’re ideologues who can railroad over nuance and claim a monopoly on the truth."[quote ends here]

Really? That's where you're going to go with this piece? Equating radical queer theory and related ideas of sexual fluidity with fundamentalist Christianity of the Everyone Is Straight form? Really? In what universe does _that_ make sense?

Look. The guy in question clearly has some issues (his parents died when he was young, of _course_ he has issues), and one of those issues is that he doesn't feel right unless he's thoroughly marginalized. He was gay and became straight. He hung out with Buddhists and became a Christian. He joined the Mormons and decided they weren't Bible enough. Believe me, if there's a safe prediction to make about this person, it's that he'll find a way to marginalize himself out of every group he joins. Given he's picked Montana [ETA: H. correctly points out it was actually Wyoming], I can only say that I hope someone notices if he holes up in a one room cabin and writes a manifesto, at least notices enough to make sure that's _all_ he's doing up there.

Surprisingly Silly Rowling Coverage

http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/2011/06/23/electronic-harry-potter-books-jk-rowling-just-ruined-amazons-day/

I sort of would have expected better from the Seattle PI. [pause] Ok, that's only because I knew a guy who was worthy of respect who worked there. So never mind.

"Rowling’s announcement Thursday stated the e-books would be compatible with “any electronic reading device.”"

The blogger, Amy Rolph, is struggling to reconcile this thing that she believes with this, that she also believes:

"the soon-to-be-released Harry Potter likely won’t be compatible with Amazon’s Kindle device, which only supports e-books released through the online retailer."

She concludes:

"That could mean there’s a deal in the works to make Amazon open up the Kindle to the widely-used ePub format."

Well, I can't speak to the ePub, but I _can_ say that Amazon's kindle device supports e-books released through other vendors. I know this because I've bought books from Baen's website that work just fine on the kindle, altho they are not maintained through the Media Library on Amazon, which is sort of a bummer, and you have to use the cable to get them onto the device. *shrug*

Rolph didn't invent this on her own. No, she had help.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/06/23/businessinsider-pottermore-kindle-2011-6.DTL

"Here's the problem: There isn't a single e-book format right now that will work on "any electronic reading device" with digital rights management (DRM) copyright protection."

That's actually not the problem. There's nothing stopping Rowling's website from supporting multiple formats, but I'm not certain there's _any_ DRMed format that works on the kindle other than the one Amazon is a sole purveyor of. That could be a problem. This paragraph is completely incomprehensible:

"As an alternative, Pottermore could sell e-books in different formats for different e-readers, such as ePub for the iPad and Nook, PDF for the Kindle, etc. This sounds obnoxiously complicated, though, and could make it difficult to use DRM for Harry Potter e-books. (We assume that's a non-starter, as it could encourage piracy. E-books aren't MP3 song files, yet.)"

Obnoxiously complicated? Because that's how I'd describe buying a book from Smashwords or Baen, right? Obnoxiously complicated?

Earlier, Dan Frommer says:

"Rowling could exert pressure on Amazon, aiming to either get it to let her sell Kindle-format books through her own store (seems less likely), or to start supporting ePub books on the Kindle (seems more likely, but still a potential challenge)."

I'm _fascinated_ by the idea that Frommer thinks it is _more_ likely that Amazon would add a new format to the kindle (based on someone else's DRM enforcement, with the breathtaking complications that that would introduce) than that Rowling and Amazon might work out some sort of deal where she could DRM her books in a .azw compatible way and sell them on her website (or, say, some third option where Amazon provided the fulfillment for the kindle compatible format).

We'll know in October. And honestly? I would not be surprised to learn that negotiations are ongoing.

h/t to my husband for pointing out the PI blog entry

ETA: I just want to rub this in a bit:

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9142005/Amazon_s_Kindle_winning_battle_but_Adobe_poised_to_win_e_book_war

9 Dec 2009, Eric Lai writes something that was a little silly at time, and just gets funnier as time goes by.