Publishing News: Ownshelf tests ebook lending waters

A Dropbox-style ebook lending startup, the importance of libraries in publishing's fragile ecosystem, and 37Signals' responsive text editing.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Pushing the envelope in ebook lending innovation

Martin Bryant at The Next Web took a look at this week at Ownshelf, a startup looking to provide Dropbox-style book lending and sharing services to users. The startup, which launched in beta last month, allows users to browse friends’ bookshelves, lend and borrow DRM-free ebooks, and to access their libraries from any device, according to the website.


Bryant compares the service to similar lending services such as Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s limited lending services for DRM-protected ebooks and LendInk, a lending service that found itself in hot water with authors late last summer. The difference between Ownshelf and these other services, Bryant points out, is that Ownshelf stores ebooks on its own servers and that this file-storage issue might be a sticking point with publishers. Ownshelf founder Rick Marazzani explained to Bryant:

“We promote and provide books that are public domain or creative commons. Of course what users actually upload to their personal shelf is up to them … All the content on the server is encrypted, so we cannot see what’s in the user’s files. So we could not manage DRM or rights centrally.”

Publishers may take a different view, Bryant notes, but says if the startup “can sail clear of the man-eating whale that is publishing giants’ legal departments,” it’s in a good position to carve out a new niche in ereading.

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The future of publishing needs libraries

In the second piece in a two-part series looking at libraries and their role in the changing world of publishing and reading, Forbes’ David Vinjamuri took a look this week at opportunities and obstacles libraries now face. He argues that publishers underestimate the power of the library’s role in the future of the publishing business and continuing to foster an uneasy relationship is a mistake. Vinjamuri writes:

“Big six publishers limit public libraries’ access to eBooks at their own peril. They fail to see that public libraries are an integral part of the fragile ecosystem of reading in America. Without libraries to encourage new readers, foster book groups and promote communities of reading, publishers will find fewer readers for their biggest titles, and readers will have more difficulty discovering works not on the bestseller list.”

Vinjamuri’s in-depth look covers issues with the library’s continued 1950s acquisition strategy, technology obstacles and the opportunities in open source, how libraries can effectively discover and incorporate Indie books into their circulations (hint: cooperation), and why the Digital Public Library model “is critical to the future of libraries.” You can read his piece in its entirety at Forbes — it’s this week’s recommended read.

In related news, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff announced plans this week to open the country’s first bookless county library, BiblioTech. John W. Gonzalez reports at the San Antonio Express-News that the library will “be designed for, not adapted to, the digital age” and “won’t have a legacy of paper.” Judge Wolff will be asking for about $250,000 for the first 10,000 ebook titles for the first site, Gonzalez reports. Instead of lending books, the library initially will have 100 ereaders available to lend that are designed to go dead at the end of the two-week lending period. Gonzalez says there are plans to expand to a county-wide bookless library system, noting that “[o]fficials envision a system offering any county resident who registers in the system to have easy access to the county’s titles.”

Responsive text editing

On his SplatF blog this week, Dan Frommer highlights the unique use web design firm 37Signals is making of responsive design techniques on its Signal vs. Noise blog. He explains the basic idea behind responsive design is to tailor website code so that the same layout and design can be used across different sized screens, from PCs to smartphones, and notes 37Signals unique use:

“In addition to the usual stuff — scaling images and headlines, changing some alignment settings, rearranging elements — 37signals is using responsive design to edit a sentence of text. Specifically, its introductory text at the top of its site changes based on how wide your browser/display/device is.”

The text across the top of the blog at full width, Frommer explains, will read “Happy {Day}. You’re reading Signal vs. Noise, a publication about the web by 37signals since 1999.” As you decrease the width of the screen, the sentence gets edited down to “Happy {Day}. Signal vs. Noise, a publication about the web by 37signals” then to “Signal vs. Noise, a publication about the web by 37signals” and so forth until you reach smartphone screen size, which is edited to simply “Signal vs. Noise.”

Frommer goes into the techy details behind the clever editing — you can read his full post at SplatF.

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