On ebooks and libraries

2010 June 28
by Karen

I’ve been following Sarah Houghton-Jan’s post and the related comments to ebooks and libraries. As well as David Lee King’s follow-up post. As someone who just bought and ereader this spring I can sympathize but I also want to point out why ebooks can be a GOOD happy experience for users.

I’ve posted about the fact I bought a Nook back in May and one reason for buying the Nook was that it DID work with Overdrive ebooks. My experience with it and Overdrive ebooks has been pretty darn good. Since May I’ve read dozen ebooks via Harris County Public Library’s Overdrive subscription. That’s at least $80 worth of reading if all those books are paperbacks. Its also a dozen books I don’t have to resell or find a home for if I’d purchased them. Once I figured out how to get the books on Nook it was really simple and I could place holds and load books from pretty much anywhere on either my desktop or laptop. My process is pretty simple. Find what I want (little clunky), either check it out or place a hold. Download to computer, put on Nook. When I’m done “return it” and check out the next thing. Its pretty easy. There are a couple places for improvement in the process.

  1. I want to be able to perform the find and check out process natively from the Nook. No computer necessary. Mostly because I don’t want to have to have my computer with me to get new books. This is particularly important to me when I’m traveling for pleasure and don’t want to be tempted to do any work.
  2. Better searching would be a an improvement. Sometimes the Overdrive searching is just dumb. It is not fault tolerant when it comes to how you put in author names. While the catalog has better searching, the limiting and browsing isn’t what I’d like it to be to find what I want. So I use the Overdrive site and deal with its searching quirks. As a result, I do lots of browsing for new stuff and I keep track of what the library has as an ebook that I want using the Overdrive wishlist and LibraryThing. (Side note an RSS feed of new ebooks in a particular genre would be awesome).

Even without these changes, I feel quite good about my ebook experience with Overdrive and the Nook as a device. Ebook experiences can be good ones. However, whether or not users have a good experience is often directly tied to the relationship between the content provide and the devices provider.

So in contrast, I found the Overdrive App for iPod and iPhone a complete waste of time. Mostly because it is ugly and I can’t figure out how to make it work. But even more so because I can’t get all the content available on the iPod. So while I can get some audio things, I can’t get books, or videos. Just didn’t really feel like it was worth my time. It isn’t Overdrive’s fault solely nor Apple’s. Instead its like oil and water, they don’t mix because IMHO, the parties are looking out for their own interests more than that of their consumers. The Overdrive Apple thing isn’t unique, Overdrive doesn’t work on Kindle and Kindle content doesn’t work on Nook.

Ultimately, in my mind this almost always comes down to DRM; and content providers and devices providers supporting different kinds of DRM and formats. People are either held hostage by the device they have to particular content suppliers or held hostage by the content provider they want to do business with to have a particular device. Libraries need electronic media formats that are device and content provider independent. Otherwise we, like users, will be forced to make imperfect choices.

And as Sarah points out, the situation doesn’t stop people from hacking content anyway. Just Google a little and you’ll find ways to strip the DRM from various things. I’m quite happy to pay but I want it to work right on the device of my choice. After all, we have three Macs, two PCs, 3 iPods, a iPod Touch, iPad, Nook and soon an Android phone at our house. So we definitely need device and platform independence.

The sad thing is that the user experience, could and should be a good one. It doesn’t need to be this hard or frustrating. To me that is the most frustrating thing.

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