Libraries and publishing’s Ice Age

From a recent piece in Salon, titled “Read it and weep“:

Who will survive publishing’s Ice Age? Undoubtedly, the companies that can command developments in the impending digital book revolution. Early next year, Amazon will release the second generation of the popular Kindle, and the Sony e-Reader currently has more than 300,000 users. But the biggest shift might happen on cellphones. Lexcycle has created an e-reader platform for the iPhone and iPod Touch called Stanza. Since the application debuted in July, it has built up 600,000 users. So far, Lexcycle has partnered with big publishers like Random House, Pan Macmillan and Harlequin, as well as self-publishing companies like Smashwords.

Anyone who’s been following big publishing news in the last few months has seen the trend:  hiring freezes, pension freezes, layoffs, and even freezes on acquiring MSS.  Which is sort of nuts–publishers publish.  It’s what they do.  If they decide they can’t afford to buy MSS any more, they’re basically deciding they can’t afford to exist.

Does this mean publishing is dead?  Maybe yes, a bit.  Maybe no.  Jason Boog, who wrote the Salon piece, suggests that smaller, niche-based companies and on-demand printing may be the future of publishing.  He also points to digital book readers (see above) as a major trend and a mission-critical strategy for publishers.

What does this mean for libraries?  How many libraries do you know that lend Kindles or similar devices?  How many have subscriptions or publisher deals that allow them to offer e-books on demand?  How many academic libraries are doing this?  And how many academic publishers may start looking to print-on-demand or digital publishing in the next few years, as traditional print publication becomes ever less feasible?

I know at least one person who got a Kindle for the holidays, and another who wants one (but can’t afford it yet.)  I’d love to have one but the price is way too steep.  I’d love the library to have one available to lend out to students, but so far the content seems pretty heavily oriented to leisure reading, not scholarly study.  E-book readers:  make a well-designed tool that sniffs local wireless (i.e. Touch), has a page-like reading experience (i.e. Kindle), and offers high-quality interactive color graphics so students can read, rotate, modify, and annotate drawings, plans, and graphs (i.e….?)  Make that, and let’s see if we can get past PDFs on laptops in the next few years.

Never waste a good crisis…

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