Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Next-Generation Library Publishing: It's Here

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Next-Generation Library Publishing: It's Here

Article excerpt

This issue of CIL is focused on next-generation OPACs, discovery systems, and the new direction we are going with library systems. While my original plan for this column was to join in that assessment process, recent events have turned my attention to another area of library services--digital publishing. The trigger for this change in focus was a very interesting article I read recently in Publishers Weekly (PW). The article ("Check it Out With Michael Kelley: E-books for Arizona Libraries"; May 30, 2014), written by a journalist who covers the publishing industry, was about libraries as publishers. It focused on the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records' Reading Arizona ebook startup, with initial funding of $50,000. Reading Arizona will publish ebooks about the local culture and history of the state, and geolocation data will be used to grant readers access to the collection instead of a library card. Similar projects are underway in Massachusetts (MA eBook Project) and North Carolina (NC LIVE), so once again, we are witnessing an advance in the movement toward making the library a digital publisher.

The PW article is entertaining and insightful on its own merits, but what I enjoyed the most about it was reading an account of how publishers view the "library way" of doing things. I'll get to the entertaining part later, but before that, here is my own assessment of Reading Arizona and how the Arizona State Library has structured its digital publishing strategy. I believe that this project reflects what is best in our strategic thinking about discovery and user services, even as it reframes the library as a publisher in its own right.

The Potential of the 'Local'

Reading Arizona follows what is becoming a prevalent strategy in library-based publishing: emphasizing local culture and lore. We have seen this in public libraries with Provincetown Public Press (province townpublicpress.org) and with Amherst College Press (amherstcollegepress.org), which will publish very selectively in a handful of academic disciplines. Reading Arizona defines its subject focus more broadly, claiming the entire state, which has a rich and colorful history that continues to evolve.

This mission reframes the "local" to marvelous proportions: It not only includes a geographic region, but an entire narrative of American history. Essentially, there could be something for everyone, including science, travel, ecology and naturalism, and fiction. This project resonates personally too. My parents were longtime subscribers to the magazine Arizona Highways, which captured the lure of the American West in the heyday of automobile-intensive vacationing, so I always felt a personal connection with the Arizona landscape.

The romance of the West aside, the Arizona State Library has developed a sound business plan, as reported in PW. There are three strategies that guide the initiative, and they are compelling. First, the library is carving out its own thematic "turf' in which it can demonstrate excellence in publishing. By focusing on local culture, the library steps out of the highly competitive and well-understood best-seller sales cycle. This will save time and energy. As quoted in PW, publishers go to great lengths to 'ensure against the cannibalization of the consumer revenue stream....' In other words, they protect their proven methods, which include carefully timed "windowing" of new titles into the marketplace. This windowing process maximizes revenue, first from hardcover editions, then from trade and ebooks, then other spinoffs, and so on. Reading Arizona is most likely not going to follow that process, but if it happens to field a strong best-seller, it will arrive in new e-market that is not yet burdened with cutthroat competition. That's a win any publisher would hope to have.

Second, the library is developing an ebook platform that will make the experience of reading a pleasure for all. …

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