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Friday 18 May 2012

How libraries can buy DRM-free ebooks

Libraries hate DRM because our customers hate DRM because it makes the ebooks we buy really truly appallingly horrible to use. I can never find the cartoon when I want it, but it's something like "How to download an ebook in 37 easy steps". It involves lots of installation of software and restarting of the computer and logging in to things and troubleshooting, and the final step is to give up and look for it on BitTorrent. (ETA: As per Andromeda's comment, here's the cartoon.)

But what can we do when publishers require DRM before they sell anything to us?

Well, the new venture could change things. The idea behind is that:

  • author/copyright-holders pick a lump sum that they think is fair compensation for the rights to their book;
  • people who want to read the book pledge however much they want;
  • when the lump sum is reached, the book is released as a DRM-free, open-licensed ebook, free to the entire world. (If the lump sum isn't reached, no money's taken from your credit card.)

This is aimed at individual readers, but why shouldn't libraries get in on the game? There are apparently some 16,000-odd public library branches in the USA: if each one of those made a one-off pledge of US$1 then American Book Award-winner Love Like Gumbo would be available to their members (and everyone else in the world) in perpetuity. That's one heck of a cheap ebook. You can store a copy on the library server, or just link to it from the catalogue. You can print it out, if you want - as many times as you want. And you won't have to buy it again after it's been borrowed 26 times.

Currently has campaigns for five books. (If this takes off, and I'm convinced it will, there'll be more.) If any of these books would be of interest to the members of your library, then figure out what's a fair price (or what you can afford -- whichever's less) and then pledge just half of that from your book budget.

If you really can't afford it (or purchasing really has to go through approved suppliers, no exceptions ever), well, then promote the campaigns to your members instead.

Or do nothing. When the books are funded, you and your members will get them for free anyway. :-)

I just think that this is such a natural extension of our mission to use our funds wisely to provide resources to our communities that it's hardly an extension at all. I think it's the answer we've been asking for to the problem of ebooks. And I think it's the best consortial deal ever.

So let's go forth and Unglue!