Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Public Libraries for Sale.

So libraries now have ebooks for the Amazon Kindle. And so does Amazon have us.

We often talk about the value of libraries, about the library building, about the collection, but we don't often discuss the value of the concept of a library and what it means and what it's worth.

Right now we're all broke. Except for your rich bastards. But most of the rest of us are broke. Either because of our own greed or stupidity or because the The Man keeping us down. In my case, it's The Man.

But libraries have value that we can't perceive unaided. Our library gets many requests from the public for us to allow them to become associated with us. Some want us to link to their website or some want to discuss their businesses or books they've written with the public.

I don't know about you, but when we're considering a purchase for our library, we look to see how many other libraries have made a similar purchase. Because libraries are home to many professionals and bright people so we've determined that libraries make good recommendations. And I think others feel the same. That's why some many people and businesses want to work with us.

I was once told that Google even views libraries as better than most other sites. And if a library links to another site, that site in turn gets an upgrade in Google's algorithm. And how much is that worth to have your business easier to find on Google?

So what is it worth to have libraries send our patrons to Amazon to borrow ebooks? You might think, nothing, because these people are Amazon customers anyway, Kindle owners. But now the library is delivering our patrons to Amazon. And what will Amazon do with our library patrons? In order to make our Kindle users happy, we're also giving away a little of their privacy. Amazon now knows which library books they read. Again, not a big thing by itself. But these are library patrons. And in this business world, this can be an entire demographic. I don't know. I only know that we've given a huge global entity access to something that, as libraries, we've been trained to protect. And we did this because our patrons wanted it.

So I don't think anyone can truly calculate the value of a library. Actually, I think the private companies that contract to manage libraries can because they exploit the goodwill that libraries have earned over the last 100 years when they use volunteers to run their for-profit *public* library.

Companies spend millions to create the perception that they are good, whether they are, or not. And libraries have this already. A library doesn't need sponsorship or logos or mascots or jingles. Build a library any place in America, in the world, and the neighborhood becomes a better place to live.

So the battle (okay, it wasn't a battle, yet) with Amazon is lost and it's not our fault. Our patrons don't really understand the value of their privacy and how it relates to freedom. Although, I've been telling them for years.

As far as the brokeness issue, I don't have the answer. But for libraries looking for money through partnerships with private companies, please rethink your true value. It's not just how many people will see the ad in your library stacks, it's how much each of those sets of eyes, those minds, are worth. In my view, they're priceless. But I won't criticize you if you sell out for, maybe, $50 million.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Amazon's Big Ass Library

News: Amazon copies the Public Library business model. And adds fees. The story is that Amazon is going to lend ebooks. And everyone says this is bad for libraries.

I don't know why Amazon didn't do this sooner. Here's what could have happened at any time: Let's say Amazon creates the Amazon Lending division and the Lending division buys ebooks from the Amazon Bookseller division. Amazon could lend those ebooks for $2 a week and make... $2 a week minus $10 cost per ebook, is $94 a year. Or given the short lifespan of a book, $47 for six months. So Amazon can make $47 dollars on each ebook it buys from itself.

And since Amazon the Bookseller creates the demand for the books in the first place by pushing them to the front page, it can target the most profitable books to purchase for its Lending division and not waste money on dogs. But given how the web page works, it can buy and rent pretty much anything at any time. "Buy Now for $9.99 or Rent Now for $2.00 a week." I don't think publishers would even be able to keep track of the bookkeeping.

Publishers could have complained. But since Amazon sells more of their books than any other outlet, they wouldn't complain for too long after Amazon gently, but purposefully, squeezed their balls.

What's funny is that libraries have been doing this for years. But without the $2 a week. The only thing Amazon adds to the Library plan is the rental fee. And Amazon's massive global presence. And the ball-squeezing thing.

Amazon's Subscription-based Lending Library vs. the Public Library.

Amazon: Thems that can join is thems that can pay.

Library: All are welcome. Even you.

Amazon: As quickly as possible, regardless of cost.

Library: As cheaply as possible, no matter the delay.

Amazon: We track every word you read. And we can tell which ones you don't understand. Don't you know what spurious means by now? God, my kid knows that.

Library: We couldn't give two fucks whether you borrow Catcher in the Rye. Or if you read, What's Up with Down There? (a guide to your lady parts) and it's companion, What's Wrong with my Dong? (a guide to dude stuff).

Well, actually that last two have wifi keyloggers that gather your Facebook profile if you keep the anywhere near a computer or smartphone. But that's just something I did. For research, not for spying. But I won't tell anyone that you checked them out. Except in my library school thesis. You know, for research.

Whenever our library would bring up charging for services in the past, the plan would always get shot down. The purpose of the library is to provide free services, was always the reason. It didn't matter that ALL real world examples had a cost. Book and movie rentals, computer use, instructional programs, research, all incur some cost in the real world.

So in the middle of a fucking recession, with this Amazon new, libraries are being told that people would rather pay than wait.

So watching TV, I see that most people still have $70/mo for a phone. And $8/mo for Netflix. And $6/mo. for Amazon Prime. But no one seems to have fucking dime for libraries.

Everyone says that libraries have become obsolete because people only want to pay for the things they want; there is no longer a common good. And I've also heard that people shouldn't be forced to pay for something that a private company could supply. Like private roads? Private armies? Because I'm sure you could find some company willing to keep the road in front of your house in good shape if you cough up $5 a day. And if you don't cough loud enough, I'm sure a good ball-squeeze is on the menu.

So you have librarians all shouting how library lending is dead because Amazon is willing to sell the same product that libraries could provide for free if only everyone would shut the fuck up and just pay their $8/mo. in library fees so that we can continue providing books to everyone. Oh, wait, and for that same $8 you get children's programs and online newspapers and computer classes and yoga and reading clubs and meeting space and internet access and music and SO MUCH OTHER SHIT it's not possible to calculate it all. If only you fuckers would just pay your fucking taxes.

But what these librarians are saying is that the book lending model for libraries is dead. Much like how the VHS and DVD lending model perished years ago when Blockbuster and then Netflix and then Redbox appeared. What? That part of library lending is stronger than ever? In fact, Redbox is only $1 and Blockbuster has repeatedly lowered prices AND Netflix users are quitting the service because prices increased?

So what is it about Amazon's model that will kill libraries? Is it the Kindle? So a business model that requires members to spend $114 upfront (for the cheapest Kindle) and then keep a valid credit card on record AND continue to pay $8 to $30 a month is going to beat out a FREE service?

What it will most likely do is allow libraries to get the same deal as Amazon and allow us to lease ebooks from publishers. So then the library will be able to lease 200 ebook copies of Stieg Larsson's ghost-written but based on his notes, second series of novels to fill demand. And then six months later, return them all and buy something else. And when libraries get the power to lease ebooks for one-fifth the cost of purchasing them, then we'll have the power to deliver content to our patrons and near-Kindle immediacy but without the added cost.

I'll say this again; if libraries could only manage to pool all the money, would could get publishers to give us what we want. Because this is tens of millions of dollars. Or even hundreds of millions. I don't have a calculator, but it's a lot. We could offer any book or movie or song to anyone at any time in any format.

Amazon isn't big because they're better. They're big because of that name: Amazon. It's a big damn river. It's the biggest river on Earth. So we'll need to come up with a bigger name for our combined national library. How about Library Planet? Or The Big Fucking Library? I'll leave the naming up to you.

But The Big Fucking Library would look great on borrower cards.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Science Fucked Up Star Wars

Fact: Star Wars is fucked up. But that's what's great about Star Wars. There are the movies and books and cartoons and toys and breakfast cereals and there are the stories surrounding each of those incarnations.

There's myth and legend. And it continues to grow. There's always some new guy with a story to tell about The Making of Star Wars. Here comes one anonymous fake source now:

When George came over to show me the script, it was just this handwritten copy. And just as he was handing it to me, he barfed all over it. He just blew chunks. He said it was something he ate. But just before that awful mess, I saw the title page and it said, Starlight Warrior. The original, original title of Star Wars was Starlight Warrior. But Georg had puked up on it and most of the letters were all wet and gross and all you could read was Star War. Which become Star Wars. True Story.

From what George had told me before he came over to show me that first draft of the script was that it was going to be a story of a small-town girl who leaves her farm to move to the big city to become a movie star. It was going to be a total glam-rock take on All About Eve with David Bowie as Margo.

But when George hurled on that script, he got depressed and so we hung out and got high. And I put on The Wizard of Oz. And the image of Dorothy evolved into Luke. Obi-Wan was born from the Wizard. And Han, Chewbacca and C-3PO were somewhat like the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man. And R2 was the Munchkins. Remember, we were pretty stoned. Later, The Emperor became the Wicked Witch.

And that's what great about Star Wars. It's mysterious. Luke Skywalker and Dorothy Gale, who knew?

So when some assholes came along and tried to apply Science to it, Star Wars got all fucked up. How do lightsabers work? How far is the Kessel Run?

What is The Force?

And that, for every single person who loves Star Wars is the biggest fuck-up. Have you read about midi-chlorians? What the fuck are those? Microscopic symbionts that detect the Force? Fuck you, George Lucas!

When I saw Star Wars, and more so, The Empire Strikes Back, I wanted to have access to the Force. And I sometimes convinced myself that it was out there for me to find, and control. To mow the lawn. If I could just get that mower to cut the grass by itself while being propelled by the Force, my life would be awesome, I dreamed.

But then everyone wanted Answers. Or maybe George Lucas felt he had to provide answers, but either way, all this cool shit that seemed like magic in the Star Wars universe got kicked in the ass by Science.

So now we know exactly how dense your cells need to be with midi-chlorians before you can even hope to get the lawn cut, let alone pull a Jedi mind trick and get someone to sleep with you. It's 16,000.

So all you writers and creators, try to remember that when you create a world and fill it with characters, leave a little magic behind for the rest of us, and let us wonder.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September is Library Card Sign-up Month.

Get a library card. Use it.
You can borrow all kinds of stuff for free. Ask us what we have.
Return what you borrow in about the same condition as you got it before it's due back to the library.
And if you ask us, sometimes you can keep it longer.
So don't steal from the library.
What the fuck is wrong with you?