I came across this website this morning, OpenLibrary.org. The Consumerist states that “OpenLibrary.org current operates a database with more than 1 million e-books without restrictions.” While that number certainly may be true, I could not find a single book I would be interested in reading. A lot of the books on OL.org are non-fiction so if you are craving the latest Stephen King without the trip to bookstore, you’re out of luck. There are some newer non-fiction books, but you have to know how to search for them which isn’t apparent.
I think the idea of being able to lend people books is one of the last hurdles e-books have to overcome before the truly become mainstream. It’s becoming super easy to get public domain books on your e-reader, but who really wants to read Pride and Prejudice? The big problem is a lack of modern books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or the latest James Patterson. The reason you wont ever find those on OP.org is because the publisher wants you to go out and buy the book. They want your money and if you could easily get it at a virtual library, how will the publisher make money and stay in business?
Well, i’m glad you asked. Because I have a couple ideas about that.
E-Library Business Model #1
The first concept I would like the bounce off of you is based off of the iTunes model of renting movies. In iTunes you can rent a movie for $3.99 and have 24 hours to watch it. Amazon offers a similar model of movie rentals (but they give 48 hours). Since Apple and Amazon, I would argue, are the current leaders in e-readers, their respective e-bookstores could offer a rental of the newest books like Tick Tock (James Patterson) for $0.99 for 7 days. Dedicated booklovers can easily get through one book a week. From that $0.99, part can go to the distributor (Apple, Amazon, etc) and the rest the publisher (to pass along to the author). They could also let self publishing authors put their books up on this library for the same price similar to Amazon’s strategy for letting authors publish stuff on the Kindle.
There are a couple drawbacks for this model. The first is publishers might think their books are worth more than $0.99 and will want to charged $1.99-$2.99 to check out books. Granted, at this point this system is more akin to a rental library than a traditional library. The other problem will be what happens on the 7th day and the book is due back? Does it automatically lock or delete itself in the e-reader until the reader re-checks it out? Or will there be a late fee assessed ($0.10/day?) until the book it officially checked back in somehow?
E-Library Business Model #2
This model I call The Netflix Model. I’ve heard this one brought up before on other web sites. You, the reader, pay a monthly fee of $10-$15 and you can checkout 2 books at a time. When you return one, you are allowed to get another. All this could be done through either Amazon or Apple’s iBookstore. With this, Amazon/Apple will have to buy the rights to distribute the books through their sites. Publishers could get paid solely on the number of times the book gets checked out or get paid a flat fee for a set amount of time the book is available to check out.
I think sites like OpenLibrary.org are taking a bold step in the right direction, it’s not enough because most mainstream readers don’t want public domain books. Do you think Netflix would be doing so well as a company if it only offered documentaries or public domain films? The futures of e-libraries, sadly, needs to be a business because that’s the only way I can foresee it being agreeable for everyone involved (readers, publishers, businesses).