Note: Please also read a post that further develops this one. It is called Libraries Should Become Better with Use. Thanks!.
I held out from joining Netflix for quite some time because I live down the block from a really great movie rental store and a library that gets DVDs to me in a reasonable amount of time. I like supporting these places. When a friend showed me how much content was available on demand through Netflix’s “Watch Instantly,” however, I decided that supporting the local and joining Netflix wasn’t an either/or proposition. I now enjoy using all three of these services and still “Watch Instantly” at least once a week.
Netflix will soon offer “Watch Instantly” streaming only subscription plans. Smart. This is a way for them to not only increase revenue but also it is also a way for them to transition people though the death of physical formats. Netflix seems to have their stuff together. They’re friendly. Their website is easy to use. And with this move they’re trying to ensure that they can deliver content to consumers in the future.
Libraries are having trouble transitioning to this content anywhere/anytime future. You’ve heard the chestnut about publishers not allowing for the creation of libraries if they weren’t already in existence. This is exactly what is happening with purely 1s & 0s content. Libraries are getting squeezed out of the picture because of DRM legislation coming from the content industry. Libraries are left with only some good and popular digital content and we’re left to provide it in less convenient ways.
Meanwhile, other content providers are making their stuff easier to get at. Netflix has partnered with the New York Times and Rotten Tomatoes to include Netflix widgets on movie review pages. Without leaving the NYT website it’s possible to add a movie to your queue or even start watching. This is nothing revolutionary but it does add another level of convenience.
Netflix isn’t the only company making content delivery and purchasing easier. Other data-these-days-is-sure-portable news is the release of the Amazon Kindle application for the iPhone, enabling people to buy and read any Kindle book on Apple’s device. The app is free and books transfers back and forth just like on a Kindle.
Have you taken the time recently to think about your access to content? Holy smokes, the situation is absolutely incredible. The iTunes Music Store is the world’s largest music retailer, newspapers are shuttering and magazines are going web only. I can download 80% of music and movies I want for free? Are you kidding? No? Awesome! I can download Elsevier’s complete Referex Engineering Collection? Don’t mind if I do.
IT IS GOING TO BE OKAY
All of this isn’t to say I’m pessimistic about the future of libraries. It really doesn’t matter if we stop providing content in the same way. It might be the best thing to happen to public libraries. Yes, there will be some access equality issues that need sorting, but if we don’t have to concern ourselves with making sure people have access to content we’ll have more time to create excellent programs and experiences based around content and conversation.
For this reason I’m really pleased with the direction that integrating games into libraries has taken. Some libraries are circulating games and that’s great, but the real emphasis has been on providing shared experiences by gathering people together at hosted events. Connecting people in this way has more of a positive impact than sinmply sending someone home with a disc. It adds value to th content too. So while I’m pleased that public libraries are enjoying increased use because of the current economic situation I hope that we use the attention wisely by talking about more than book and movie circ stats or even computer use.
If anything, we should consider books, movies, music and computers loss leaders and show people what we can really do for them once we’re lucky enough to have them in our buildings.