The many futures of e-reading

Future arrows

Back in August, I blogged a bit about the current state of e-books, especially with regard to libraries. However, the future of the e-book is diversifying, and several companies have begun testing new ways of marketing e-books. Some of these methods are intended for direct marketing to consumers rather than through libraries, meaning that libraries will be seeing even greater competition for providing e-books to patrons:

First, let’s look at Oyster, a company whose service has been termed “the Netflix for books.” Their idea is to court publishers into offering as many titles as possible, and sell that access as a monthly subscription to their customers, anyone using Apple mobile devices. Oyster offers access to e-books from its library on an unlimited basis, and has some large publishers backing them: Houghton Mifflin, HarperCollins, and SmashWords (a large self-publishing company). They have also tied in readers advisory functionality, social media and privacy settings.

Following in their footsteps is Scribd, with a similar unlimited-use service with a monthly subscription. Claiming to be the largest global digital library, their service is slightly less expensive than Oyster, and shares a focus on mobile users (though they also have an Android app, which Oyster currently lacks). Scribd claims also to offer supplemental information to its readers: “Scribd’s extensive collection of user generated content also offers subscribers additional reading options that enhance and add a social element to the books they’re reading or have read. For example, after reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, readers can access papers analyzing the different characters in the book, a doctorate paper on tenement houses in Brooklyn, and even a study guide for the book.”

A third subscription option is eReatah, though they do not employ the unlimited use option. Instead, users pay monthly for a certain number of tokens (between two and four), and reading a book costs one token. However, with eReatah, you are permitted to keep the content you have purchased, even should you cancel your subscription. They are also using a powerful algorithm used by Netflix for making recommendations based on previous purchases, making it easier to find new authors or titles that readers might not otherwise have encountered.

For people who are interested in deals on e-books, there’s also services like BookBub, which notify you when an e-book has been steeply discounted (or offered for free) by many of the major vendors. Rather than spend the time perusing the online marketplaces, these services do the work for consumers.

More and more, vendors of library services are shifting toward a pay-per-use model, such as Freading and the Gale Virtual Reference Library. This model seems to be very attractive for libraries that have the resources to support the reading habits of their communities, but retain some of the issues of other models, such as the lack of ownership of titles. However, the cost per use is considerably less than the cost of a single copy of the material, so it can be seen as “micro-licensing” of a sort.

Finally, publishers often find themselves choosing platforms of preference, such as Overdrive3M Cloud Library or Axis 360. We’re pretty familiar with this model, though it seems like the one that makes no one perfectly happy (except the owners of the platforms themselves). They will remain around until a critical mass of e-reading consumers have sided with a different method.

Which future do you think is most likely?

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