What will the future of ebooks be? I don’t know, but this seems at least plausible:
From ebooks: trading digital rights, not files (by Frédéric Filloux):
The true revolution will be a shift from a files transaction system to a rights transaction system.
Filloux envisions a future system where the reader pays for access rights to “contents [which] are transparently stored on a caching system”, rather than an actual file transfer from retailer to reader. For publishers, this might abate risk of piracy because it eliminates the actual file transfer that carries so much risk.
But more, it benefits consumers because their ebooks now have potential to become much more than the digital version of a printed book–Filloux envisions purchasing rights to content “intelligent enough to adapt to my reading conditions of the moment: type and capability of the device, processing speed, network configuration”, etc. Essentially, the ebook becomes a living, breathing format where content is continually updated and customized, and individual use-rights are purchased for a specified time period. It’s all in the article.
Does the technology exist? That’s a question for software developers.
If what Filloux describes is indeed possible, it could be applied to a library setting. The library purchases rights to certain content from a publisher or retailer, then temporarily transfers them to the library-goer. When the library-goers’ rights expire, they must renew. But it’s not equivalent to handing someone a file and saying “please don’t share”–it’s more like giving someone an admission ticket to a digital event. So the issue is IDing the proper user instead of protecting the file. Filloux proposes a solution:
“Dealing with rights means, first and foremost, being able to certify the ID of the person who paid for it. In this field, telcos are well-placed, especially mobile carriers. They own the customer relationship, the contract, the billing arrangements. In addition, carriers know how to track the digital subscriber in order to adjust connectivity to the device currently used and to the location of the moment. Put another way, a mobile carrier can assume the role of a trusted digital locker and thus become accountable for the management of piracy problems”
If that’s a scenario that plays out, we will probably see an important alliance arise between the ebook industry and the telecommunications industry, and libraries might be able to carve themselves out a niche in that relationship.
In either case, this idea presents a whole new experience for the user–which I think is key to boosting ebook sales. According to this post 41% of survey respondents (the modal respondant) were unwilling to adopt ebooks because they are unwilling to abandon the ‘paper experience’. So the solution is that the ebook has to be seen by consumers as something completely different from a print book. And the idea that the book can change according to user’s circumstance is just the way to differentiate them.
From a college student’s perspective, if the proper actors who see the profit take action, I for one will gladly step up and purchase rights to an etextbook that won’t be made completely obsolete in three months when they come out with a new edition. I am liking the idea already… And then I can re-sell those rights–they may even appreciate while I own them!