I'm reading a great book called "The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army" by Stephan Talty
The questions I have for my academic library colleagues are not about Napoleon, or the Emperor's invasion of Russia in 1812, or Typhus (although I'd love to chat about these topics), but about how I got this book to read.
Question 1: Why do I need to pay Audible.com $229.50 for a Platinum Yearly plan to get my audiobooks (equal to 24 credits or $9.56 a book) instead of being able to check this audiobook out of my academic library?
Question 2: If I also wanted to be able to read the book on my Kindle why do I need to pay Amazon a further $14.85 for the e-book edition rather then checking the e-book out of my academic library?
Question 3: Why is it that if I wanted the paper edition that my academic library would either have it on the shelves, or inter-library loan it for me within a couple of days (or buy a new copy) if the paper edition was not in the collection?
The thing is that both my brain and schedule make audiobooks far more attractive then paper books. While I'd have a hard time arguing that The Illustrious Dead is essential to my work at the College, I would say that many (if not most) of the books I read are important in my work. I tend to think if my brain and schedule make audiobooks essential if I'm going to keep up with reading that some of our students are in the same situation. Would course books be more read if students could read them while multitasking? Would our students read more books in their majors if they could read them while exercising, or waiting for the shuttle, or walking between classes?
The academic library seems to be a wonderful organization for delivery of paper books, and less wonderful for supporting reading. It's the old Railroad analogy - were railroads in the train business or the transportation business? Are academic libraries in the paper book business or the reading and information business?
Having to purchase audiobooks from Audible (or e-books from Amazon) means that it is difficult to share books. Books are much better when more people read them, as I want to talk to people about the books. I don't want to keep my audiobook. Once I read it I want to pass it along, I want to have it shared. But I'm forced to buy the audiobook, when really I just want to borrow it.
I understand that academic libraries are, at least partially, about building a collection. But if the collection building is at the expense of devoting resources to securing books in formats that folks want to consume them in (audio, e-book) then it seems that this is not a great trade-off. I worry that our academic libraries have ceded too much ground to Amazon. Amazon owns Audible.com and basic has a monopoly on the audiobook business. Through the Kindle device, format and Kindle store Amazon control the e-book vertical market.
Academic libraries, particularly working in a consortia, could serve as counterweight to the power of Amazon. I've seen a great deal of concern from academic libraries over the Google Book scanning project, but very little about Amazon controlling the audio and e-book market. Could some of this energy and resources be devoted to digital books, including audiobooks?
My academic library is better then any bookstore. And all the books are available equally to the whole community. But academic libraries are loosing ground to Amazon and Audible in the format that I most want to consume books. And the gap seems to be growing.
Libraries make scarce resources abundant for everyone in the community. Audiobooks and e-books are scarce. I'm lucky in that I can pay $10 a week per audiobook. If I couldn't (if I were a student say) then I'm sure I'd be doing a great deal less reading.