E-book eco-system: Empowering publishers, empowering readers

The advent of the e-book reader has changed reading for a whole swathe of the population. People have access to massive libraries of books, which can be purchased and delivered instantly. No longer do you have to wait a whole 24 hours to receive your book, you can now have your library in your pocket wherever you are.

While this is massively more convenient there are some downsides. The act of reading is a solitary pursuit, but the act of sharing knowledge and experience is a social endeavour. Discovering, discussing and sharing books is a big component if this.

Digital Rights Management

DRM means that it’s difficult, if not impossible to share your books with friends and colleagues. It’s also next to impossible to quote books as the expected, copy and paste functionality is usually prevented.

Hope is on the horizon though, Amazon.com have started to enable lend features, which allow a kindle user to lend their book for 14 days to another kindle user. Currently this is limited to customers in the USA but I imagine it won’t be long before it’s rolled out to the rest of the world.

Empowering publishers

I imagine the option to “lend” books is controlled by the individual publishers, and an inherent fear of most publishers is that if you can too easily lend books then there is potential for lost revenue.

Currently if you recommend a book to someone, you have to either share your login information with them or they have to buy a copy of the book themselves. Given the current situation, where people are recreating their libraries digitally, it must be a boom period for publishers; as books sales have declined massively in recent years. The switch to e-books, for a limited period, must be giving the industry a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

Empowering publishers, empowering readers

With the potential for this loss of a shared reading experience a middle ground must be found between publishers and readers; Whilst discussing this with a friend we came up with the following suggestions.

Firstly I would reduce the 14-day lending period offered by Amazon to a 7-day lending period and add two new elements.

  1. At the end of the lending period the recipient is given a discounted to buy the lent book.
  2. If the recipient buys the book the lender should be give a small discount off their next purchase.

Reducing the lending period would entice readers to buy their own copy while they’re reading the book; I imagine most people in our time-poor society would take longer than the 7 days to read the book.

Offering a discount would make purchasing the book more likely, as by the end of the lending period, they are hopefully engaged by the book.

Providing a discount to the lender for a future purchases would entice them to lend more books, which will increasing the potential for additional revenue to the publishers.

Whilst there would obviously be some additional constraints, I believe a lending system as outlined above would provided a win-win situation for readers and publishers and will bring the social element back into the activity of reading.

My notes, your notes

Another area of change would be in sharing notes and quotes, through the lending system I would like to see lenders and recipients be given the option to share notes. Allowing them to have a conversation, facilitated through the context of the book.

Currently all e-book readers allow for annotations and highlights. Notes are private but highlights are shared globally. In the lending situation outlined above I would expect to see the option to share notes with the recipient, and the ability to comment on each other notes.

Perhaps, in the future we will be even the ability to see everyone’s notes, and to facilitate a wider discussions. Of course you should have the ability to switch off or restrict access to the notes.