Dog-Eared and Dispatched: January 26, 2014In this week’s recap of the wild world of book culture, it’s all about the rapidly changing digital landscape. First, we investigate Amazon’s plan to ship products to your doorstep before you’ve even ordered them (yes, you read that right). Next, we report on the Omnibus Appropriations Act and the tension this bill is creating between open access advocates and a number of publishers. It seems Getty Publications isn’t fretting over such matters, however, with the organization launching its own open access virtual library this week. Finally, OverDrive adds to the conversation by announcing its switch to an MP3-only audiobook system, potentially unleashing a sizable number of DRM-free files into the world.
Just when we thought they’d reached the limit of their plans for world domination (okay, we’ve totally stopped believing there’s a sane end to this company’s bid for global power), Amazon has done it again by applying for an anticipatory shipping patent. If granted to them, this patent will allow the online retailer to ship packages before customers have even ordered them, with Amazon stating that current delays between ordering and receiving packages “may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants.” According to GalleyCat reporter Diana Dilsworth, Amazon would essentially “pack up and even ship items that it anticipates that a customer will buy based on their previous orders.” The Wall Street Journal‘s Greg Bensinger noted that “the technique could . . . discourage consumers from visiting physical stores,” a consequence that fits right into Amazon’s leviathan business practices. As Shelf Awareness points out, this latest scheme by Amazon “strangely echoes” a 2012 video spoof titled Amazon Yesterday Shipping. [United States Patent and Trademark Office, GalleyCat, The Wall Street Journal, Shelf Awareness]
As reported by Publishers Weekly, Congress has recently passed the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act, a bill mandating that “federal agencies with annual research budgets of $100 million or more under the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Departments offer online public access to articles resulting from federally funded research no later than 12 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” MobyLives! writer Sal Robinson stated that this act is “a significant legal advance, since previously only the National Institutes of Health faced similar requirements, and it marks a major step away from flimsier memoranda and recommendations.” Now it looks like the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) want to take things a step further and create “a central repository and the ability to fully mine and reuse data.” Unsurprisingly, all of this talk (and action) regarding public access is causing some alarm among publishers—approximately 90 of them, in fact—who, while not opposed to the Omnibus bill, are opposed to SPARC’s protocol for public access (outlined within their Fair Access to Science and Technology Research bill). In response, these publishers have come together to draft their own bill, known as the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), and define their coalition as a “not-for-profit public-private partnership to provide public access to the peer-reviewed publications that report on federally funded research.” Despite this tagline, Robinson noted that “though on first glance, [CHORUS] looks relatively laudable and innocuous, its FAQs exhibit some prickly defensiveness . . . Someone, I think, is getting ready for a fight.” [Publishers Weekly, MobyLives!, chorusaccess.org]
In an expansion of their Open Content program, Getty Publications launched their virtual library this week, granting patrons free access to more than 250 backlist titles online or as downloadable PDFs. In the company’s press release, Getty president and CEO James Cuno said, “Last year we made freely available thousands of images of works in our collections that were in the public domain or to which we held all the rights. As a next step in our increasing digital engagement, we are now making hundreds of publications—many of which are out of print—freely available to scholars and the interested public around the world.” Titles available date back to 1966 and include works published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Research Institute, with the Research Institute adding to its available resources on a regular basis. Getty’s search engine will provide preliminary information on each of the compositions, including a description, table of contents, author bio, and even links to print copies available at nearby libraries and bookstores. “Creating the Virtual Library comes out of the Getty’s conviction that an appreciation of the arts is crucial to a vital and civil society,” Cuno stated. “We are committed to sharing our educational resources as part of our mission to promote knowledge and understanding of the visual arts in all their dimensions, and we are delighted to give these important works of research and scholarship a presence in the digital sphere.” [Publishers Weekly, The Getty Trust, MediaBistro]
Just last week, Overdrive reported a 46 percent increase in eBook checkouts in 2013, with the total number of eBook borrowings listed at 102 million. GalleyCat’s Diana Dilsworth helped put this in perspective by noting that “it took 10 years to reach the first 100 million digital checkouts from 2003-2012, and the next 100 million took place within a year.” Now, Overdrive—the largest audiobook distributor in the United States and partnered with libraries and schools across the nation—has announced it will discontinue selling audiobooks to libraries in WMA format in favor of exclusively offering MP3 files. According to the OverDrive blog, this change is “in response to user preferences, widespread compatibility of MP3 across all listening devices, and the fact that the vast majority of our extensive audiobook collection is already in MP3 format.” This transition will include “the audiobook collections from Hachette, Penguin Group, Random House (Books on Tape and Listening Library), HarperCollins, AudioGo, Blackstone, Tantor Media and dozens of others,” with OverDrive’s Heather Tunstall stating, “Our publisher relations team is working closely with the very few remaining publishers who require WMA to seek permission to sell their titles in MP3 for library and school lending.” What this could translate to is a large number of DRM-free audiobooks available at libraries. Shorthand for Digital Rights Management, DRM is a common technology used to block file sharing, and DRM-protected content has historically required libraries to repurchase digital files after a limited number of uses; thus, DRM-free audiobooks would ostensibly mean that libraries could lend out these MP3s without ever needing to repurchase the files. An update to the blog did clarify that “MP3 audiobooks are still being borrowed, and users are prompted to delete when the lending period is over. Titles still expire in the OverDrive app at the end of the lending period.” How effective this measure will be at limiting peer-to-peer file sharing remains to be seen, however. [GalleyCat, OverDrive]