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Beth Cox Report: May 2014

Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,

Ebooks may be the way of the future, but there's more than one shape that future can take. I'd like to share with you a cautionary article about one of the darker possibilities:

A publisher that sells textbooks (an extremely lucrative market to a "captive audience"), sought a way around the "first sale doctrine", which allows consumers to resell used books, and legally protects libraries from allegations of copyright infringement.

First sale doctrine is stretched thin in the digital realm; in many cases - including purchases of digital movies, music, video games, and ebooks - the consumer is technically just "renting" the item. Ebook readers can and have gone defunct, such as the Sony Reader Device and Sony's associated Reader Store, both of which were shut down earlier this year:

According to the article, Sony's Reader Store is transferring its customers to Toronto-based e-reader company Kobo, and Sony Readers should be able to interact with a Kobo store. But if Kobo hadn't come to the rescue, anyone who spent money on the Sony Reader or its ebooks might have been up a digital creek.

Such are the hazards of ebooks. But this textbook publisher tried to implement a policy in which students who purchased a $200 PHYSICAL textbook would be required to return it at the end of the semester! Students couldn't recoup any of that $200 back by selling a used physical book. Instead, students would supposedly receive "lifetime" access to a digital companion to the casebook. But if modern history is any indication, the "lifetime" of a DRM (digital rights management) platform can be brief indeed.

A tremendous, critical outcry prompted the publisher to change their plans. They wrote an open letter detailing their new approach

in which students are given a choice between either buying and keeping a physical casebook, or participating in their "Connected Casebook" ("you have to return the physical book to us; you get access to this ebook and other digital products instead") program.

Will other "end runs" around the First Sale Doctrine become more widespread? Students are an especially vulnerable market because they must have textbooks to learn from the college classes they pay exorbitant tuition for, but they're not the only captive audience of the publishing world. I can't say what the future holds, but I will name the website that informed me about this story, Electronic Frontier Foundation, May's Link of the month:

Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit organization created to protect civil liberties in the digital world. I'm adding them to the Ebooks links page on our website, because of their judicious reporting.

On a final note, May's Review of the month also deals with changing trends in the digital era:

The Role of the Postal and Delivery Sector in a Digital Age
Michael A. Crew & Timothy J. Brennan, editors
Edward Elgar Publishing
9 Dewey Court, Northampton, MA 01060-3815
9781782546337, $145.00,

Few sectors of the U.S. economy has been so dramatically affected by the impact of the Computer Age as the U. S. Postal Service. Knowledgeably compiled by the editorial team of Michael A. Crew (CRRI Professor of Regulatory Economics, Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University) and Timothy J. Brennan (Professor of Public Policy and Economics, University of Maryland), "The Role of the Postal and Delivery Sector in a Digital Age" is a 360 page compendium comprised of twenty-five descriptively analytical papers by experts on the decline of traditional postal mail due directly and indirectly from the electronic competition (which can be succinctly summed up by the terms "snail-mail" vs. "email") and offering practical strategies by which traditional mail services can survive in a dominate and dominating digital age. A seminal body of impressive scholarship, "The Role of the Postal and Delivery Sector in a Digital Age" is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful, and thought-provoking, making it very highly recommended reading for governmental policy makers, and a critically important addition to academic library reference collections.

Email and social media have revolutionized human communication, but the U.S. post office still plays a vital role, not only in small package delivery, but also because it offers universal service to all Americans, no matter how remote - even those who live far from the nearest UPS dropoff point, and even those who cannot use/afford a computer or smartphone. For the sake of individuals as well as American commerce as a whole, our post office needs to adapt to changing (mostly contracting) demand to survive.

That's all for the May 2014 Beth Cox Report. May both you and your digital media collections enjoy long life!

Bethany Cox
Managing Editor
The Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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