Skip to content

ebooks, pbooks, mebooks, and parrots

Yes, I Eventually Do Explain The Parrots

Yes, I Eventually Do Explain The Parrots

Here is a very interesting question others have posed: are libraries that license ebooks through Overdrive violating state patron-privacy laws because Amazon retains user data?

(For context, Sarah Houghton-Jan, who last spring proposed an eBook User’s Bill of Rights, recently taped a video recording her thoughts about the Overdrive-Amazon deal enabling Overdrive books to be checked out on Kindle devices and apps. To save time and  skip over the f-bombs, fast-forward to the 4-minute section, where Sarah talks about the complicated privacy issues.)

Full disclosure: I am a happy Overdrive customer. I do not, unlike Sarah, feel “screwed” by Overdrive. As a customer, I knew (most of) what I was getting into with Overdrive’s Kindle deal with Amazon. I knew in advance that Amazon keeps a fair amount of information about its Kindle book customers. I’m not surprised that they keep this data regardless of how the money goes in the pot – through a direct customer purchase, or an indirect library-purchase transaction.

At the start of the deal, the Overdrive-Amazon deal benefited people who already own Kindles, and presumably librarians don’t nanny the world. But that conversation changes with the first person (or library) who purchases a Kindle in order to check out “free” (to them) library books.

My “what next” thoughts: my take is that this is a prime time for libraries to work with eBook vendors, publishing and library associations, and standards groups to nail in some basic rights for readers AND authors AND publishers. It’s also a good time to review the mishmosh of issues and organizations related to accessibility and eBooks. And finally—and this is a librarian task—we should all look at state patron privacy laws and ask if they provide enough protection and the right protection.

I am setting aside other complaints. There’s a moment during the Kindle eBook check-in where Amazon nudges me to buy a book. Perhaps that should bug me. But I don’t see this as The Man. As a writer, I wouldn’t be offended if after checking out one of the books I’m published in, you then chose to buy it. And that’s because I want people to buy my books (whether through the agency of a library or strictly on their own).  I would be even happier if they actually read them.

Is this a bad thing? As a librarian, I partner with our small university bookstore, which is invited and encouraged to sell books at our readings—the same books available for checkout.  I rejoiced at recent readings when our bookstore manager sold a few copies of a professor’s book—two of them to our library, to fill requests. Isn’t this how it should work?

I see Overdrive as a company brokering a useful but transitional technology for placing current reading in the hands of mobile-technology users, leveraging known processes and practices. Overdrive is quaint—designed around the way fair-use works with print books–but it works for now. When things change, weeding will be a breeze!

However, if Overdrive’s current approach is transitional, eBooks are with us for good. (Am I allowed to again note that I was heckled in the late 1990s when I said the paper-based book would be an anachronism in my lifetime? Oh, and I do want stuff from Overdrive, but that’s another post.)

All of us in the reading ecology need to step back and do some serious rethinking. Some of us already are.  Take a look at Gluejar, where Eric Hellman and other thought leaders are proposing a digitization model for existing books that honors everyone in the process — readers, authors, publishers, and yes, libraries. (Eric’s blog, Go to Hellman, is required reading for all stakeholders in the reading ecology.) But while we’re rethinking, we also need to provide services.

We also need to leave the door open for conversations with data-lovers. The traditional librarian narrative wants me to be outraged, simply outraged that Amazon has all that user data, but in reality, I’m jealous. I’d like to have rich user data. I’d like to understand user behavior better. Frankly, I’m jealous not only as a librarian, but as a writer. Who among us of the writerly tendencies would not like to know more about our readers?  We need to at least acknowledge that this data has tremendous appeal.

I’ve held on to this post because I couldn’t figure out how to conclude it, so I’ll wrap it up with this non sequitur: hey, the wild parrots flew all the way from Telegraph Hill to visit us in the Inner Sunset! I have pics AND a video.




Posted on this day, other years: