Wednesday, March 23, 2011

paywalls rising

In my previous post, I mention the emergence of the New York Times paywall and provide an example of an e book sold through Amazon Kindle Editions, whose content is really not source-able through library channels. Both of these examples really point to highly current content marketed directly to consumers.

Libraries, particularly academic libraries, were never really geared towards providing information for current consumption as opposed to research. In the print world, if you wanted the Times or the Chronicle of Higher Ed at your home or office, you really had to subscribe yourself. And even if you wanted to get your hands on a popular current book, there were some good odds that the library might not have enough copies.

Could it be that in this new world where publishers are trying to extract revenues from current content ("information flows"), the library's is left to offering access to backfiles ("information stocks"). We know from John Seely Brown et al that information flows are where the action is. But perhaps in an information landscape balkanized by paywalls, broad and deep access to information stocks will valuable.

I was reading through comments on an Inside Higher Ed blogpost regarding the NYTimes paywall and was struck by how many people voiced support for the Times' move. There is a sentiment that as a society we need to be ready to open our wallets for high quality journalism. I find it comforting that the Times is taking a leadership role here. I'm not sure if they have their price level at exactly the right place on the demand curve but I agree with the you-get-what-you-pay-for principle of the whole thing.

Just maybe there is a growing recognition that high quality information costs money, money that is not always optimally provided by advertisers. This recognition could be a good thing for the broader information industry, including libraries.

Monday, March 14, 2011

the great stagnation and library disintermediation

There's some buzz in the media about a recent book by Tyler Cowen called The Great Stagnation. It's thesis goes something like this: we've have reached this productivity plateau in our economy because we have exhausted all the " low hanging fruit" (cheap land, energy, uneducated minds, etc.) that can lead to big rises in economic performance in consecutive years. As I gather, he's skeptical about how much good the internet has done for us in regards to the economy.

This book strikes one among many that evoke a sort of early 21st century digital age malaise. The Shallows by Nick Carr worries about what Google is doing to our brains, the shift index referenced in the Power of Pull points to lower and lower returns on corporate assets, and Academically Adrift, a volume that has touched some nerves on our small campus, argues that our higher education system is rather ineffective.

One remarkable thing about The Great Stagnation is that is is only released as an Amazon Kindle Edition, which is an electronic only short form publication. The cost is about $4. There's no sign of it in WorldCat and I take that to mean that it's not available in libraries at all. This is pretty remarkable considering how influential this little book is. I mean, we're talking reviews in the NYT, Economist, Mother Jones, the National Review. And this guy is an academic at George Mason, not a popular pundit, so this book would have both a broader public appeal and an academic one. If a college professor wanted to assign this book for a class, what options would she have for access besides Amazon?

The Kindle Edition format is a cool concept: a nice midway point between book and article. One of our faculty here, Pauls Toutonghi, writes short fiction in the format. It's unfortunate that we can't provide this content through the library, however. This is truly an example of the library being disintermediated in the information economy.

This also makes me think of the NYT announcement about digital subscriptions. We've gotten inquiries about the library providing this access to the NYT in light of this announcement. I'm not seeing any sign that the Times has a program for institutional access to its content (at least through its website), however.