Sunday, March 25, 2012

The ee!book is coming!

So I've been thinking about e-books, and the rise of self-publishing. The short version is this: libraries of all types need to have systems enabling them to "publish" and manage content directly. As I've oft-stated, there were 2.7 million self-published titles (mostly electronic) in 2010, about 9 times the output of commercial publishing in the same year. This trend will continue.

So now let's say that your library does have such an infrastructure for the management of digital content -- as my library does. I anticipate that there will be at least four kinds of content coming our way:

* crap. It takes real effort to become a fine writer. A lot of what will be written won't be very good. But that's always been true. It disappears into the ages -- or at least, it has until now. (Do we need to weed e-books? Or will we finally have the ability to preserve every title forever?)

* OK stuff. There will be many works that do a reasonably good job of telling a genre story, or capturing a memoir, or reporting in a journeyman-like way on some event or non-fiction topic.

* great works. This is what inspires me. Somewhere, right now, a definitive new voice is working away. That voice will lift us up, and change the world. It just might be your local library that discovers him or her.

* the evil e-book. Let's call it the ee!book. The idea is that the ePub format -- the emerging standard for e-books, not only has text, but audio, embedded video, and external links. That last one is the problem. 

This is inevitable: there will be books that are (a) 80% plagiarism (stolen from other works), (b) 15% links to live pornography, and (c) 5% malicious code. 

Librarians have often spoken of books that take over your life, that are so compelling, so much better than your own life, that you are swallowed up by them for a while. 

But I'm talking here about books that clean out your bank accounts, then e-mail, or tweet, or otherwise transmit themselves to everybody you know.

My whole philosophy of librarianship is that I think we're supposed to anticipate change, and then get ready for it. So how do we cast our electronic acquisition nets to capture the silvery new fish of user-generated content, but avoid the poisonous jellyfish of hackers?

Automatic link checkers, completely scanning an e-text before we let it into our catalog, is one strategy. But trust me: we'll need more than one strategy to combat Spam 2.0. The ee!book is coming.

7 comments:

Andromeda said...

I think it's more complicated than that, because of course there will be ePubs that take full advantage of multimedia and hyperlinking, and are not evil at all...

Eric said...

Also, people will figure out how to use the javascript capabilities of ebook readers (which are almost all based on the Webkit rendering engine, same as firefox and safari) to do things you might not want an ebook to do.

Melissa Powell said...

Books that kill. I think there was a Star Trek episode about that. Or maybe it was The Avengers. *sigh*

Jamie said...

Certainly, the potential for good is also great. But the story of email is instructive. At first, so cheap, so immediate. Then, spam and viruses. There's no putting the genie back in the bottle, of course. So we need to get ready to deal with the downside.

Books that kill. Love it. And books that MUST DIE.

Jamie said...

And here's another idea: hero books. You report a book as a criminal, then download a hero. It tries to recover your money, then goes after the other book to bring it to justice.

Jeff said...

Books that kill: "The Name of the Rose," of course. I applaud you for looking forward. I'm stuck on the first asterisk: crap. I have six self-published books on my desk that authors want us to buy or otherwise put in the library. The best one still doesn't rise to the next asterisk on your list. Millions of such books every year, the equivalent of the yard in the middle of nowhere covered in spinning yard ornaments made of painted 2x4s--all For Sale. Sigh.

Jamie said...

Jeff, the next layer of our response should be not just to help people publish, but to write better books. A combination of partnerships (with writers groups, community colleges, and freelance editors) might be one place to start.