American Libraries released its 26-page “E-Content: The Digital Dialog” supplement for May/June 2012. Inside the issue, which can be read online or downloaded as a PDF, are articles on the status of ebooks and (mostly public) libraries.
If you follow the ebook publishing world, you know that Amazon is working on its next-generation ebook format. They call it Kindle Format 8 (KF8) and have based it heavily on HTML5. HTML5 is the latest Web markup language able to structure webpages (or ebook pages in this case), draw shapes and animations (without the need for Flash or Silverlight), and present audio and video without plugins.
There are a handful of ebook standards which are being adopted by publishers and ebook vendors. There is Adobe’s ubiquitous PDF. Barnes & Noble offer ebooks in EPUB (and the new EPUB 3) standard. Amazon has its own proprietary Kindle format (AZW) not compatible with non-Kindle devices and supports Mobipocket’s MOBI format. Amazon’s KF8 is the latest format developed to offer rich content. Amazon hasn’t yet released it, but some bloggers are suggesting that the Kindle Fire may already support it.
Because ereaders and ebooks are still in the adoption phase, many people and libraries have yet to evaluate and purchase them. Buying that first device isn’t as simple as picking out the model you prefer, it is choosing which digital ecosystem you will join. We have witnessed this with the development of smartphones. Beyond selecting a particular phone, you must decide to join Apple’s, Google’s, Microsoft’s, or RIM’s walled ecosystem. Once you’ve climbed the learning curve, entered all your data, and purchased some apps, it’s no trivial matter to leap the wall and switch ecosystems.
We are seeing this concept of digital ecosystems emerging in the ereader market. As Steven Levy writes in Wired magazine:
Indeed, [Amazon.com CEO Jeff] Bezos doesn’t consider the [Kindle] Fire a mere device, preferring to call it a “media service.” While he takes pride in the Fire, he really sees it as an advanced mobile portal to Amazon’s cloud universe. That’s how Amazon has always treated the Kindle: New models simply offer improved ways of buying and reading the content. Replacing the hardware is no more complicated or emotionally involved than changing a flashlight battery.
(That’s why, in a sense, some of the iPad comparisons and cavils you may read today in the hands-on reviews of Fire are somewhat irrelevant in light of this larger issue. Yes, the Fire lacks the industrial-design pyrotechnics that make fanboys foam at the mouth like the iPad does. But who cares? Like a lizard shedding its skin, next year there will be another Fire and in three years the original will look as antiquated as the bizarre-looking Kindle 1 appears today. When you pay $199 for Fire, you’re not buying a gadget—you’re filing citizen papers for the digital duchy of Amazonia.)
When you make that first ereader purchase, you are joining that vendor’s digital world whether it is Amazon, Apple, or Barnes & Noble. You’ll learn how to use their device, enter notes, create highlights, and even socially share your reading experiences. Very likely, you will shop in their online store for potentially proprietary-format ebooks (.mobi in the case of Amazon) with your licensed copies stored in their cloud. Your choice of ereader may also impact whether you can access ebooks offered by your library. Again, leaping the wall from one ebook ecosystem to another won’t be easily or cheaply done.
|NOOK Tablet||Kindle Fire|
|8.1″ x 5.0″ x 0.48″||Dimensions||7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″|
|14.1 oz.||Weight||14.6 oz.|
|1GHz Dual-Core Processor||Processor||Dual-Core Processor|
|16 GB (plus Memory Slot)||Memory||8 GB|
|Up to 11.5 Hours Reading||Battery Life||Up to 8.0 Hours Reading|
Both devices run on the Android operating system and connect using Wi-Fi. Screens have the same 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi.
Regarding ebooks: B&N claims 2.5 million available titles to Amazon.com’s over 1 million ebooks.
ALA TechSource recently held two workshops on tablet computers and their uses in libraries. Part 1 gives some background history on the tablet computer and some current tablet models with specifications. Reasons the presenters give for using tablets in libraries:
- Engaging users
- Suporting research
- As assistive technologies
- Providing new services
- Delivering new content
- Productivity enhancement
- Professional development
Part 1 also gives some examples of libraries that have implemented tablet lending.
Part 2 gives more practical examples as well as a brief overview of apps with many screenshots of useful ones.
Yesterday Amazon.com announced the launch of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.
With an Amazon Prime membership, Kindle owners can now choose from thousands of books to borrow for free – including over 100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers – as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates. No other e-reader or ebookstore offers such a service. With an annual Prime membership, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is included at no additional cost. Millions of Prime members enjoy free two-day shipping, unlimited streaming of nearly 13,000 movies and TV shows, and now thousands of books to borrow for free with a Kindle.
For now, it’s a very limited selection and resticted to one title per month. But this is just a start and useful for marketing purposes. Also, to use the service you must be an Amazon Prime member and own a Kindle device; there is no borrowing of books to read on your computer or mobile app.
Does Amazon intend to compete directly with libraries? It’s interesting to note the use of the term “lending library” in the name and that Amazon.com emphasizes that borrowed ebooks have no “due date”. But is it a really lending library, or rather a subscription service since it requires a paid Prime membership? Amazon isn’t going to give away their product unless they see that doing so will stimulate more sales.
Read more about the service at www.amazon.com/kindleownerslendinglibrary.