Monday, May 16, 2011

Open Access eBooks, Part 5. Changing the World

The final (short) section of my book chapter on Open Access eBooks tries to make clear why I think think it's important to work on them.  I'll release an EPUB version of the full chapter around when the book gets published.

Here's the outline for the full set of posts:
  1. Introduction
  2. What Does Open Access mean for E-Books?
  3. Business Models for Creation
  4. Libraries and Open Access E-Books.
  5. Changing the World
Again, thank you for all of your comments.

Changing the World

As applied to the scholarly journal, the goals of the Open Access movement have been diverse. The success of the movement must be judged against those goals. There’s no doubt that Open Access has been successful at its core goal of increasing access to many types of information. But some other hopes pinned on the movement have been unrealized. Serials budgets at libraries have continued a seemingly inexorable rise.

It’s been estimated that 4 billion books are printed each year. That seems like a big number until you remember that the world’s population is almost 7 billion. A large fraction of the world’s population has minimal access to books. Yet the number of cell phones in the world has been estimated at 4.6 billion. As more and more cell phones become capable of delivering e-books, the fraction of the world’s population with access to e-books may soon exceed the fraction of the world’s population with access to physical libraries.

The majority of the people in the world will not be able to pay $9.99 for an e-book. Even in wealthy countries, the cost of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medical care limit many people's ability to buy content licenses. Yet the thirst for literature, learning and culture is not confined to the wealthy of the world. Open Access e-books can help to slake this thirst and help to create a global community of understanding and knowledge. Through shared access to culture and ideas, Open Access e-books can erase some of what separates the nations of the world, rich and poor.

For Open Access e-books to have this sort of impact, their production and distribution must be effective. Production can occur through a variety of business models, including models that reward authors and creators for their efforts. New distribution channels must be created and supported. Libraries have a clear and vital role in this process, and must work cooperatively to meet the needs of their diverse communities. Venues for such cooperation already exist (OCLC, OpenLibrary, Hathitrust, Europeana and various national libraries) or are being planned (the Digital Public Library of America), but new ones will also be needed.

Together, we must strive to make sure that the best and most thoughtful of the world’s e-books are not lost in a deluge of free dross, free come-ons and free polemics. If people are to govern themselves in peace, they should have easy access to good ideas and honest information.

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  1. Eric, did this get passed over when No Shelf Required got published, or did it land somewhere else? (Sorry if I missed it.) Did you get around to posting it at as complete EPUB file?

    1. Never mind, I think I found it... in the Purchasing Guide Edition. Jumped the gun in my searching! (I'm an MLS grad student researching at OA ebooks for a Licensing& ERM course final project.)