BY STEVEN ESSIG*
Library Trends Volume 57, issue 1 focuses on “Digital Books and the Impact on Libraries”. Issue Editor Peter Brantley, Executive Director for the Digital Library Federation (DLF), introduces the discussion by summarizing several cataclysmic developments in the library and publishing worlds that are forever changing the production, delivery and acquisition of books and other print materials: namely, the increasing centrality of Google and the resulting uncertainties over the disruption of the traditional relationships between authors publishers and libraries and the disruptive effects of ubiquitous internet technology on people’s everyday lives. Brantley asks whether there are alternatives to Google-shaped agreements for librarians and publishers and what economies would be necessary to sustain these alternative agreements.
Among the articles that follow this introduction, particularly interesting discussions include that of Jason Epstein’s “The End of the Gutenberg Era” (pages 8-16). Epstein, formerly the editorial director of Random House and founder of Anchor Books, foresees a continued place for most current versions of the physical book (though purely reference materials such as encyclopedias will go totally online) but emphasizes a change in the manner of its distribution. Increased digitization will cut back elements of the previous supply chain reducing costs of the physical inventory, packaging etc. and replacing this costly and elaborate setup with a “practically limitless digital inventory”, making it possible to “email an entire book with all necessary metadata as easily as a letter” (15). Epstein then discusses his involvement with “On Demand Books”, a company marketing an “Espresso Book Machine” which prints books on demand from online digital files. He foresees this print-on-demand technology being setup as a sort of “ATM for books” where readers could order a title at their computers (much as they currently do at Amazon.com) and then collect the item at a nearby machine, perhaps located at a Kinko’s, Starbucks or local library or bookstore. For this setup to become widespread, there would need to be cooperation with publishers and other content providers; Epstein sees it as in the latter’s interest in cutting back on the current costly distribution infrastructure as well as in the chance to “exploit new technologies and markets” (16).