The greatest threat to libraries today isn’t apathy. It’s funding. Funding and creativity, to be exact.
Where libraries were once able to rely on plentiful municipal funds, they are now dependent upon dwindling donations and fund-raising efforts to keep rapidly diminishing programs afloat. What was once the center of a community, the library is now little more than a budget deficit fighting for a slice of ever decreasing funds.
Several communities around the U.S. have begun addressing this issue by turning exclusively to digital resources. They are simply forsaking the physical presence of the library and leveraging the availability of eBooks to provide services to their communities. While lowering the operating costs of the library by going digital (virtual?), the cost of eBooks is remains very real. In order for your local library to lend you an eBook, the library must have purchased a license for the book. I’m going to over simply here for illustrative purposes, but if there are 5 licenses purchased, the library can only lend the book to 5 people at one time.
Don’t believe it? Visit your local library or its website. You’ll see that this licensing requirement essentially creates near indefinite waiting lists for top titles. Think about it. You no longer have to visit the library to get the eBook … you can simply add your name to the waiting list on the web. How hard is that?
In effect, while attempting to head down a well designed path to lower physical operating costs, eBooks further diminish a library’s value to its patrons. Patrons can now quickly and easily see what’s not available and go elsewhere, without having to even set foot inside of the library and, accidentally (or coincidentally) learn more about its offerings to the community (further diminishing the value the library can deliver).
Herein lies an opportunity.
Instead of turning the members of its community away for an eBook that is already borrowed, the library is ideally situated to sell them the eBook they wished to read, right when they wished to read it. There is nothing stopping a library from becoming an eBookseller. This capability is available from all of the major library solution suppliers who are equally well versed in eBook technologies and the publisher-required DRM necessary for them to be sold directly to consumers.
Imagine the opportunity this poses for a community. Instead of spending their money at Amazon, community members could just as easily spend their money at their local library. In the process of getting their book, they can help the library maintain its community services by becoming a source of revenue for the library (and the community)
Now, take this one (small) step further. Let’s enable the “owner” of the eBook to donate it back to the library when they have finished. The library knows they sold it, right? The library can “re-acquire” the right to the title pretty easily given the fact that the library is the issuer of the DRM for the eBook.
This simple program would:
If you want to get super aggressive, let’s add periodical subscriptions to the mix and execute the same model.
Publishers openly lament the power Amazon holds in the market.
Libraries (with help from the publishers) may just be the next (and most credible) threat to Amazon.
Whether libraries and publishers realize it or not, well, that’s an entirely different question.