E-Content 2012: Dichotomous Scenario Planning

Posted Monday, January 9, 2012 - 07:42

In 2011, the consumer market drove digital content. The Nook Tablet, Kindle Fire, and too many other Android tablets to mention all sought to replicate the astounding success of the Apple iPad line. E Ink-based readers finally dropped below the $100 price point, and two strong holiday seasons greatly increased the percentage of households reading electronically. At the same time, a number of publishers (and newly minted publishers like Amazon) developed new sites to replicate a library model of borrowing ebooks. So what does 2012 hold for e-content? And what place will libraries have in this consumer-focused digital content world?

To answer these questions, I will present a pair of dichotomous scenarios. These intentionally single-minded visions will attempt to view the future of e-content in black and white; your job is to consider the many shades of gray that fall between.

Libraries Go Down in Flames as Kindle Fire Burns Brightly

In 2012, libraries will slowly sputter and die. Local communities, facing increased fiscal pressures as states pass along a greater share of Medicare and other costs, are deciding to close libraries to save money. “It isn’t that we hate books,” Council member John Doe said, “it’s just that more and more of our community are reading electronically and the library can’t get ebooks.” The refusal of publishers to provide a viable solution for library ebook lending seems to be the root cause behind the nationwide shutdown of library systems. “We just can’t compete,” said library director Jane Smith. “The publishers refuse to provide us with ebooks, but consumers are able to access them on their own so they don’t see the need for libraries any more.” Library advocates continue to speak about the community good that libraries provide—open access to information, computers for those who need them, and a community gathering space—but fewer people are listening. “I have offers on the table from a number of restaurants, publishers, and a venture capital firm who want to set up a space with ebooks, Wi-Fi, and a nice cafe,” Councilor Doe stated. “Why would I continue to fund a library when we could make money with a commercial contract?”

Libraries Burn Brighter than Kindles Fire

In 2012, libraries are the place to go for e-content. After working out deals with major publishers, America’s libraries are ready and able to provide ebooks and other digital content for the rising number of digital devices in homes. “It just makes sense,” said library director Jane Smith. “Libraries have always been the place to go to borrow books . . . it’s just that now it happens electronically.” Publishers are happy with the arrangement as well, given research showing that content consumers are more likely to be content purchasers. “We looked at profiles of so-called music pirates and found that they were buying a heck of a lot of songs on iTunes,” stated publisher Jack Jones. Recognizing the potential, publishers have made their full catalogs available to libraries for lending. “The benefit for us,” Jones explained, “is that readers want more; we have special edition ebooks with extra content and art-house printed versions to meet the consumers’ desire to go beyond the story.” In the end, libraries and publishers are both big winners.

Doom and gloom? Cheery sunshine? I don’t know what 2012 will hold for libraries, but I do think that the ongoing discussions about e-content are at the core of the issue.