Monday, September 18, 2006

Technology Nobody Uses: Are you buying it just to be cutting edge?

In the last week I have read three different analyses about online digital materials. My library is at the cusp of jumping into this format. However, these items give me pause (along with many other library user interfaces that are not popular and don’t meet user needs).

From Techdirt we find that most music listeners are not really downloading their songs from online music stores. Most of the users are just burning them from CDs so they can avoid Digital Rights Management problems. Your library comes in when they offer music CDs for check-out as opposed to online content. It is easier for someone to come in, burn a music cd from your collection than to download it from your website (or ANYBODIES website). How big is the market of downloadable music? Not as big as you think. I know Itunes is a loss leader but FIVE PERCENT?!!

The article:
iTunes May Not Be That Popular, But It Serves Its Purpose A new analyst report says that just 5 percent of the tracks on the average iPod are bought from iTunes -- a figure that really shouldn't be all that surprising, given that Apple intended it to be a loss leader to sell more iPods. People are still buying music on CD, and they're still using file-sharing networks, illustrating two realities: first, that the mere existence of digital distribution doesn't mean people will overlook its shortcomings and flock to it in droves; second, that despite the availability of free music, people are still paying for it. Digital music sales offer some benefits over buying CDs or other physical media, but for many consumers, the lack of playback restrictions on music ripped from CDs and the benefit of owning something tangible outweigh the convenience and minor price savings legal downloads offer. (end of snipped piece, read more at the link above.)

Here is another article on online audio content. Again, online audiobooks show steady increase, up a whopping 3% in two years!

APA Surveys: Audio Growth Continues

by Shannon Maughan
The Audio Publishers Association has released findings from two new surveys on audio sales and audio consumers that shows another gain in sales in 2005 and the increasing popularity of the digital audio format.
According to the sales survey, total spending on spokenword audio rose 4.7% in 2005, to an estimated $871 million. As expected, sales of downloadable audio are showing steady gains. Downloads represented 9% of total audio sales last year, up from 6% in 2004. Another obvious trend is the continuing decline of sales in the audiocassette format. Cassettes comprised only 16% of total sales last year, down sharply from 30% in 2004, indicating the inevitable fade of this technology. Additionally, member publishers indicated that they produced fewer titles in the cassette format in 2005. (end of snipped article)
Of course on both of these above issues, no library online audiobook/music vendor has provided a downloadable format that works for all music players. If all the music works for windows and is in mp3 format, and everyone has an ipod, who is going to use it, especially if you cannot hack it?
Another issue is e-books. No one has agreed to a standard e-book player. There are a dozen different format and no player in which you could read the item without hurting your eyes. Even then you would have to pay $500 to get it.
Another article from the Washington Times about the non-use of e-books and the problems that have arisen with it:
E-books unplugged
Start of snipped piece:

“Ms. Schroeder says that a few years ago, publishers were anticipating a surge in e-book sales. "We built it, and they didn't come," she says, speaking of consumers.
Part of the reason for consumers' hesitancy is the difficulty in finding an appropriate reading device. Mr. Bogaty refers to new e-book reading devices, such as the Sony Reader or IRex Technologies E-Reader but says the preferred platform in the United States is a personal digital assistant (PDA). In the future, he speculates, cell phones and PDAs will combine features in one electronic device with a larger screen and better resolution, which would be more conducive for e-book reading.” (end of snipped piece)

Start of another snipped piece, same article:

“Before e-books can truly hold up in the mass market, however, the industry has to agree on standards regarding digital rights management, known as DRM, for consumers to get full use and accessibility from their e-books.
Jonathan Smith, a graduate student at Catholic University who works as the electronic resources assistant at the university's library while he pursues his degree in library science, recently confronted one of the problems caused by the lack of open standards in the e-book industry.
After purchasing and downloading an electronic textbook to his computer, Mr. Smith realized that his e-book couldn't be transferred to another, more accessible reading device such as his Palm Pilot.
"DRM is the largest barrier," Mr. Smith says, referring to the lack of e-book popularity. "Open standards would help across all [reading] devices."”

(End of snipped piece)

I thought that because I worked for a semi-rural library that we were behind the curve in offering these services to the public, but the market isn’t here yet. I would see these items as services bigger systems are providing through their central library, but it seems like this market is still pretty small. Digital Rights Management seems to be the biggest problem and for libraries to provide this information, it would require heavier than usually since it expires after so much time and most of the vendors do not provide services compatible to all formats.

I guess we will see what happens, but I feel better about not being able to offer these services yet.

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