in eBooks, Libraries/Info Sci, Tech

Death of a Middleman

Related to the HarperCollins/Overdrive fiasco*, Jason Griffey makes a couple of ominous points over at Library Renewal. I want to focus on one bit in particular:

“It is vital that libraries find a way to move out of the middle-man between vendor and patron, and even out from between publishers and patrons. In the world of the digital, disintermediation is the rule.”

This is something I’ve wrestled with for a while now, and almost been afraid to articulate. Heretical statement time: In the Overdrive->Library->User chain of loaning library ebooks, why does the library have to be part of that deal?

Overdrive has the potential to be the Netflix streaming option of ebooks. What happens when they decide to offer a direct subscription option to individual users? And what if that individual subscription cost is less than an individual’s library-related tax burden? Which option is more appealing to support?

Jason’s right – we need to step out of the middleman role in this equation. And we need to do it fast, before it’s too late. I don’t have the answers about how to redefine ourselves in regard to the new reality. But if any good comes out of the HarperCollins nonsense, it can at least start the conversation.

*(Sarah Houghton-Jan has analyzed the situation far more insightfully than I ever could.)