Sunday, February 22, 2009

Media Week 7: OCLC, Slate, EBook Pricing

For those with a bibliographic bent, ARL has published a short document on the proposed changes OCLC wanted to make to their data use. (Link)

A sample:
“Band’s explanation indicates that both are intended as contracts, and describes the various forms and gradations that can characterize a contract as “bilateral” or “unilateral.” The new Policy is clearly intended as a unilateral contract, unilaterally imposed on any entity using records from the WorldCat database, including member libraries. While the 1987 guidelines have also served as a unilateral contract—and have much substance in common with the new Policy—the OCLC-member community has not perceived them as such. The guidelines are both less “unilateral,” in that they grew from a known and more open process of debate, and less “legalistic” in language. With the enormous environmental and technological changes that have occurred in the 22 years (a generation) since the guidelines were introduced, the major differences in tone and language between the guidelines and the new Policy, and a number of significant differences in substance between the two documents, the new Policy cannot be viewed as a mere update describing already accepted practices. The member community has seen the introduction of the new Policy as a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between OCLC and its member libraries. In the eyes of the community, the guidelines expressed a mutual social contract, and the new Policy represents an authoritarian, unilaterally imposed legal restriction.”
The writers of the report also indicate that the manner and method of OCLC’s policy making needs a revision in thinking. (See when you screw up sometimes the consequences are even bigger than you might anticipate).
The task force applauds OCLC’s recent announcement of delayed policy implementation and the creation of a Review Board on Principles of Shared Data creation and Stewardship. We hope that the Review Board will consider its timeline and process, as well as its recommendations on policy issues, in light of the analyses and findings of this report. We believe that, using as a base the work done to date on the proposed policy and the issues it raises, a fresh start to policy determination and articulation is desirable.
Peter Brantley has a more expansive reaction to the report and its implications. (Link)
And it is there that I feel more caution must be exercised. The research library community, particularly, has now smitten OCLC forcefully upon its head with the flat of Library's sword and advised that it must go back to the schoolhouse. There is a danger of over-reaction in this. It is one thing to tell OCLC that the community believes its licensing policy was a mistake, its tone too “unilateral” and not conversational, and its process (essentially) pig-headed. It is another to envelop OCLC’s management in restrictive committee-based decision-making over matters that are vital to its survival; the times demand effective leadership and far-sighted vision; libraries have too long emphasized diplomacy.
Read Slate's article Not all Information Wants to be Free (Link). It raises and interesting question in my mind: Is Apple iTunes platform a precursor to the Kindle platform?

That iTunes is a free-standing application and not contained inside a browser, as is the Amazon music store, is not accidental, and I reckon that its "outside the browser" design has played some role in its success. Consumers have been conditioned to think that content delivered by a browser is supposed to be free. They get annoyed when they encounter a pay wall on a browser but are more psychologically open to the nonbrowser Web interface.

By thinking outside the browser, Apple answers to nobody but itself when it wants to add features, such as movies and TV show sales and rentals—or when subtracting them. If the browser window is the commons, the iTunes application is Apple's castle, where you're expected to do as you're told.

Some interesting data points in the discussions between Youtube and Music publishers over revenue sharing: (Guardian)
To understand the implications of these terms for closing deals, consider the penny per-stream component. It amounts to $10 per 1,000 streams, or a $10 clicks per-thousand. This means that before the digital company makes any money on advertising it would have to pay the first $10 of the ultimate CPM to the labels, then split what's left 50/50. So, if YouTube were to sell a $20 CPM pre-roll on a music video, it would give the first $10 to the label then keep $5 of the remaining money. That's $15 to the label and $5 to YouTube, or an effective CPM of $5 on a pre-roll ad. That's not going to leave YouTube rolling in revenue, never mind profits. Throw in the fact that it has to pay millions of dollars upfront, and you can see why these talks are so strained.
A very interesting discussion at HarperStudio over eBook pricing. It is the comments that are most interesting. (26thStory) Here is Shatzkin:

Decisions about price aren’t about fairness or equity, they’re about the market. I want to read books on my device. I choose a) from what’s available, b) what I like, and c) considering the price. I remember when I first got this ebook habit nearly 10 years ago, I paid $28 for an ebook bio of Grover Cleveland because (a) was very limited, so (b) got down near zero, and I was wanted to read something so I yielded on (c).

The ebook world is going to change enormously over the next several years. We’re still in a great period of proliferation: of formats, titles, concepts for the books, retailers, retailing “styles”, readers and devices. The Kindle and iPhone have a kind of dominance in the tiny market we have now; they may or may not be number one in what will be a much larger market three or five years from now.

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