Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Library Mobile Service without the Apps

There are so many great ways to create a mobile app for the library. With a little know-how and coding ability, the library can save thousands of dollars in the set-up of a mobile destination. Recent presentations have indicated that it is important to minimize content to the most essential parts. It’s great to provide this service. However, I think more often than not, libraries do not have the ability to create it on their own. They need to have a third party developer create an app for them, especially when it comes to the library catalog.

A problem that arises, not just with mobile services, but with digital library services is compatibility. Your library has audiobook services, but it suddenly stops working for iPod Touches, what happens next? Apps are also problematic for this reason, once the platform ceases to support the operating system; you and your patrons are just out of luck. The general business climate with Apple, Google, Amazon, and others in relation to app development impacts libraries trying to get into the same market. When the companies don’t play nice, we suffer the consequences. It has already impacted brand new innovative services.

"Last Thursday saw new app updates from both Spotify and Rhapsody. And guess what? Both listings state that the only change was that the app dropped the subscription link. These streaming music apps are now as crippled as Netflix or the reading apps that fell victim to Apple over the weekend."

"Apple’s new in-app selling rules are in effect, requiring retailers to give Apple 30% of revenues from book sales.  As a result, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books have stopped selling books through their apps."

"While Google hasn’t yet confirmed that the rule change is the reason for the app’s removal (we’ve contacted them and will let you know if they do provide comment), given changes that have taken place in other e-book apps in recent days, it seems very likely. E-reader software from Kobo and Barnes & Noble has been recently updated, and the links to their respective online stores are now absent from the app."

"Now…I’ve always thought it silly that the app redirected me to the website anyway…shouldn’t an app do EVERYTHING? I guess not…"
(I feel this captures the expectations from most of our patrons, shouldn't an app do everything?

All this impacts how we deliver service.   If a patron used your downloadable audiobook site and it suddenly stops working, they stop using the service, blaming you, not the business environment. We have to look at other options in mobile service delivery.

Boopsie , Bookmyne, Library Anywhere, and LibraryThing for Libraries are three providers of mobile catalog services. (I am open to suggestions to anyone who can point me to others.) The problem with a reliance on apps is the exclusivity of service, but also an unrealistic demand. In the end, we are just as beholden to the technology market limitations just like any business and must be aware of these market trends. 

Some examples beyond the current news includes iPod Touches and Blackberries. IOS 3, which is the operating system for the iPod Touch doesn’t seem likely to receive further support. If Apple continues to provide a new toy for the public and then stops supporting it, we need to be aware of that change. (I know I was directly impacted when some of my apps on my iPod Touch went away after an upgrade several months ago.) Furthermore, RIM is in trouble. Even though they have never been a strong app creator and their native browser was one of the primary weaknesses, in which, Apple set its sites on when developing the iPhone. When it comes to any of these services, asking for mobile apps for the catalog, or other services, what can we expect from the vendor? When will the iPhone app come out, Android, Blackberry?

 It’s the pressure we put upon the vendor that’s put upon us by the public and the market, but it seems we really should be looking at a web based app that can do most of this kind of service. The content needs to be presented more mobile web friendly, not just app friendly. In that way, we can break free of many of these issues and not subject ourselves and our patrons to these problems. I think everyone would just like to take any device, point it at a url, and the easiest and appropriate interface should present itself. Without that it makes our services more difficult. I hope that we can see this alternative for our services including mobile catalogs, to mobile databases, e-books, and more. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Need More Competition in the EBook/Library Vendor Market

There are quite a few vendors selling eBooks to libraries. In my previous post, I asked for suggestions regarding all those that are currently available. Of the ones on that list, how many offer downloadable materials from popular authors? It didn’t seem like that many, Overdrive is probably the leader in this, getting materials from most of the publishers that are offering e-books at all. Ingram was doing this too, as will be Recorded Books, Baker and Taylor, and 3M. It doesn’t feel like there is enough competition to go to another vendor if I don’t like the one I have. For databases, I have a pretty good selection of vendors from general content, auto repair, and even languages. I don’t feel the same is true for e-books. Most of this post details what I would hope to see and possible issues with libraries delivering e-books to patrons.

Strengths and Weaknesses
3M’s entry into the market is the first real threat to Overdrive. They intend to provide both e-book and downloadable audiobooks and they have the same agreements with publishers as Overdrive, providing 60,000 titles available at the time of their launch to libraries with 200,000 available within a year. They are also going after Overdrive’s big weakness, the ability to download books inside the library. With 3M's download station (which is much cheaper than I thought it would be), a patron can walk in to the library and download a book more easily than with Overdrive. Honestly, Overdrive’s biggest weakness is the interface and it will be interesting to see if this competition in the market will force them to make it easier. Another aspect is the entry of Recorded Books into the market. Even though they seem to offer only downloadable audiobooks at this point, the service is cheaper and offers another option for libraries. This is the benefit to the consumer, competitors must improve their product to get your business. However, there is another aspect to this market. 

A Problem with Too Many Vendors
If more vendors enter the market, there could be an issue with rights to e-books. I would compare the e-book licensing with the audio book licensing.. Many audio book providers rely on exclusive rights to a book to gain an edge. Recorded Books is one of those vendors. In order to get a book that is exclusive to them, you would have to sign up for a standing order plan. Even though the books are of quality, it’s sometimes not what the patrons want. I end up overpaying for that one book. This practice may carry over into their downloadable audio book service. This exclusivity can breed confusion. 

Currently, most library e-book/downloadable audio books have their own platform. MARC records are available, but it is far easier to go to the platform and find what you need. With vendors have exclusive rights to books; patrons would have to search on multiple platforms just to find the book they want. Libraries, of course, can place everything in the catalog, but that can create a problem of expectation. When a patron searches for books in the collection, isn’t it an expectation that it is a paper book? Current catalogs don’t seem sophisticated enough to make that distinction clear to patrons, and current patron perceptions are libraries=books, paper books. Many vendors would be a good thing, but if there are too many exclusive rights, it can resemble the audio book market (which in a library with physical material, the patrons doesn’t see that).I also enjoyed this brief article about this problem with the future of e-books Alice in Library Land by Iris Jastram that speaks to this issue better than I.

Overall, it's fascinating to see all the changes in the e-book market. What I ultimately hope for is a time where library materials can be received cheaply and easily. When I see a book I want to read, I can get that exact book from my local library instantly. (It would also be nice to do the same for Music, Movies, Games). I hear the Ranganathan Five Laws of Library Science: Books are for Use, Every reader his or her book, Every book its reader, Save the time of the reader, The library is a growing organism. It will be a messy time getting there, but it's really part of a renaissance in reading that's going on now. It's fun to watch the change.