Category Archives: Free to Read

Mirela Roncevic sheds light on the many ways in which ebooks and digital content in general can help transform access to the written word and create new opportunities for all in the book ecosystem, including publishers, librarians, authors, readers, educators, and others.

Cengage’s new e-textbook subscription service seems reasonable, but the question lingers: Who needs textbooks anymore?

As reported by Inside Higher Ed (IHE) on December 5, 2018, Cengage has just introduced a Netflix-like subscription service giving students access to e-textbooks (in Cengage’s digital portfolio) for one set price, regardless of how many materials they use.

According to IHE, the new service, called Cengage Unlimited, “will give students access to more than 20,000 Cengage products across 70 disciplines and 675 course areas for $119.99 a semester. For 12 months’ access the price is $179.99, and for two years the price is $239.99. For students taking three or four courses a semester with assigned course materials from Cengage, the subscription could offer hundreds of dollars of savings a year, versus buying or renting the products individually.” [Read the full article here.]

As stated on Cengage’s site, this is “the first-of-its-kind digital subscription that gives students total and on-demand access  to all the digital learning platforms, ebooks, online homework and study tools Cengage has to offer – in one place.”

For added context, over 2,000 institutions in the United States reportedly assign Cengage materials in more than 10 courses; some 1,400 institutions assign Cengage materials in more than 20 courses; and some 600 institutions assign Cengage materials in more than 50 courses.

Given these numbers and given the steep price of educational materials, a Netflix-like subscription for course materials sounds logical. But, as Nate Hoffelder points out in The Digital Reader, it really comes down to how many textbooks students need a year.

Speaking of ‘use,’ I’m using this opportunity to put the spotlight (back) on the utility of digital textbooks in an age of interactive learning and massive amounts of (quality, reliable) educational information available freely on any given subject all over the Internet. Questions arise (in my mind, at least): Continue reading Cengage’s new e-textbook subscription service seems reasonable, but the question lingers: Who needs textbooks anymore?

I [Still] Want My Wikipedia!

Over 11 years ago, I co-wrote and edited an article for Library Journal with three librarians (during my days as Senior Book Review Editor for the magazine), whom I asked to test Wikipedia as a bona fide research tool at a time most scholars were adamantly resisting it. This article was published some five years after Wikipedia first launched, which was in 2001. In the article, I Want My Wikipedia!, a younger version of me wondered, “But like any form of government, democracy faces a unique set of problems: once given the power (to edit), will people abuse it?”

To give the article more balance, I recruited three librarians and subject specialists whom I had worked with on other LJ-related endeavors—Barry X. Miller (pop culture), Karl Helicher (current affairs), and Teresa Berry (science)—and asked each to give their verdict on the source’s authenticity. After reading their lengthy reviews, I concluded that “while there are still reasons to proceed with caution when using a resource that takes pride in limited professional management, many encouraging signs suggest that (at least for now) Wikipedia may be granted the librarian’s seal of approval.” Continue reading I [Still] Want My Wikipedia!

NSR’s Free to Read column has set new standards for publishers and libraries. A year since launching it, we highlight the best posts.

Since launching the Free to Read column NSR has morphed into a portal that no longer merely keeps up with press releases, emerging ebook and econtent technologies and new products and services for readers, publishers, and libraries.

It is now a place where ideas are shared about the future of books, publishing, and libraries, and a place where those of us who work with books come together to inspire each other, learn from each other, and bring out the best in each other through action. Continue reading NSR’s Free to Read column has set new standards for publishers and libraries. A year since launching it, we highlight the best posts.

Defending the honor of ebooks (and innovation)

Is the ebook a dead format? How eBooks lost their shine. The Reason Actual Books Are So Much More Memorable Than Ebooks. US Ebook Sales Decline. These are some of the headlines I’ve seen recently perpetuating the (suddenly popular) notion that ebooks are not ‘in’ anymore. That they have somehow failed us. That nothing compares to the reading of actual physical objects in the world. That the challenges the publishing industry has seen with ebooks (i.e., declining sales) point in the direction of a ‘format’ on the verge of dying.

Such articles aren’t only written by informed bloggers and journalists but also by industry professionals with significant experience in the publishing and library and information science markets, particularly those catering to consumers and public libraries. They exhibit a great deal of knowledge and sensible arguments about the challenges the publishing community (trade, in particular) has had with ebooks, focusing largely on the shortfalls of various business models to deliver revenue as predictable as revenue from print, the technological issues associated with ‘formats’  that haven’t been able to deliver a fully satisfying reading experience, and, not to be overlooked, the fierce competitiveness within the market itself, which has often resulted in ‘the powerful’  thriving even if their offerings were inferior to those by various start-ups (most of which perished in recent years).

In short, technology has not been able to ‘disrupt’ book publishing the way it has disrupted other industries in the not-so-distant past (e.g., music, news), and here we are at a crossroads again, asking some existential questions. Continue reading Defending the honor of ebooks (and innovation)

Great to see major publishers embrace alternative ebook models in public libraries, but let’s give credit where credit is due

This month, libraries across North America that work with hoopla digital will be able to provide access to some 15,000 (backlist) titles by HarperCollins, one of the ‘big five’ publishers that have resisted working with non-traditional ebook business models and adhered to the one-copy-one-user approach, resulting in less-than-ideal user experience for public library patrons. The news came the day before the official launch of the American Library Association conference in late June (see original press release here) and has already received ample coverage, much of which has revolved around statements that with this move HarperCollins was changing the game, breaking new ground, and giving libraries something exciting to look forward to.

While HarperCollins deserves credit for being the first of the Big Five (others include Penguin Random, Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster) to go a step beyond the restrictive one copy-one user model (it was also the first to provide ebooks to libraries when others weren’t ready), HarperCollins isn’t the first publisher to embrace alternative models and certainly isn’t the one that is breaking new ground with this move. In fact, as many already know, hoopla has offered the cost-per-circulation model (which pays publishers per ‘loan’ instead of paying fixed fees to acquire titles) for a few years.

What’s more, other companies and other players in the ebook market have even gone beyond this model (e.g., Total Boox, Odilo) to provide instant, simultaneous access to ebooks in libraries and beyond. The fact that this move by HarperCollins is leading so many to call it game-changing is on some level a testament to how our industry (including publishers and libraries) views and values change and innovation. We often center our sentiments on what the most powerful do. Continue reading Great to see major publishers embrace alternative ebook models in public libraries, but let’s give credit where credit is due

When ebooks are ‘free’ through libraries for two weeks (like Harry Potter)

We learned last week that Pottermore will make J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ebook available to UK library users for two weeks in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its publication. The ebook will be available through library distribution apps OverDrive, BorrowBox from Bolinda and Askews & Holts from June 26 until July 7. During that time, the U.K. library system (which signed an agreement with Pottermore) will offer unlimited number of loans to the first book in the massively popular series.

We also learned that Pottermore is supplying participating libraries with posters, flyers, social media materials and competition ideas to help them publicize the free loans (as they are called) and, in essence, help publicize the book and the series in digital format.

Those of us who have worked with ebook vendors and engaged publishers (big and small) to consider alternative ebook business models (for consumers and especially for libraries) have long been aware of the resistance on the part of established, traditional publishing houses to expose their content digitally in ways other than through the one copy-one user model.

So when a publisher such as Pottermore decides to provide a Harry Potter title in ebook format through a library in ‘unlimited’ ways (which means no restrictions are placed on how many readers can read at the same time during the two-week period, and only during that period), the first reaction is certainly one filled with hope that a new trend may be on the horizon showing signs that publishers hesitant to embrace less restrictive ebook models in libraries are embracing innovation by making some bold digital moves. What’s more, some are touting this move as a great way to ‘support’ public libraries in the U.K., which have been struggling.

The second reaction, however, is one of hesitation. Continue reading When ebooks are ‘free’ through libraries for two weeks (like Harry Potter)

Not all libraries are created equal. What would the world be if they were?

According to an article I recently read in the New York Times, Merryl H. Tisch, the former chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, and her husband, James S. Tisch, the president and chief executive of Lowes Corporation (who sits on the New York Public Library’s board of directors) will give  20 million dollars to the New York Public Library (NYPL) to “expand and strengthen its education programming, from early literacy classes to technology training.”

The article goes on to explain that owing to this gift, a new position for a director of education will be created and Tisch added that she hoped the money would help the library create more job training courses and other programs to help expose students to the library’s rich collection of resources. Christopher Platt, the chief branch library officer, is also quoted saying that, to his knowledge, “this is the first educational gift to public libraries of this scale in the country.”

Giving money—especially large amounts of money that can make a lasting impact—to support any organization and institution on a mission to promote literacy, education, and access to knowledge is admirable on every level, yet this article (and story) has left me with unsettling thoughts that I wish to share here, in hopes they are not misunderstood or taken out of context. And these are pervasive thoughts, similar to those I have often expressed on NSR in my effort to draw attention to unequal access to knowledge and books permeating our society. Continue reading Not all libraries are created equal. What would the world be if they were?

Dear librarians, please don’t move away from enabling reading

Before I tell librarians what not to do, I begin with the basic (and necessary) background on the author of this article. I am not a librarian, but I have spent two decades of my career as an editor and writer working with librarians and serving their needs—as book review editor at Library Journal, as consultant to ebook vendors serving libraries, as editor of an ALA journal on econtent in libraries, as editor of a book series on information science, as instructor of ebooks courses for librarians via ALA, and as an ardent supporter of initiatives that have to do with books, reading, learning, and libraries, particularly those that free books for reading beyond the confines of physical institutions.

Next, I want to let you know, dear reader, who may be a librarian, that in this post I will not be naming names of organizations or individuals, embedding links, citing sources, pointing to speeches, or digging up case studies to prove my point. My goal is only this: to express a thought that’s been on my mind for a long time—a thought based on both experience and observation; a thought that, at its very core, celebrates you and your potential. Here goes that thought: Continue reading Dear librarians, please don’t move away from enabling reading

The flawed (and outdated) art of categorizing books and knowledge in digital formats

books-401896During my years as a Library Journal book review editor, I spent countless hours each week sorting through books (then physical objects only) to figure out what goes where. When I started my editorial career (in the late 1990s), book categories made a lot more sense than they did when I left the book review job in 2010. I can’t count the times I went back and forth with my Library Journal colleagues about whether a newly arrived print galley belonged in my or someone else’s “pile,” to be assigned for review.

Is it Military History or Politics? But couldn’t it also be Law & Crime? Is it Literature because it’s literary or Self-help because it’s about a writer’s spiritual journey? Is it Philosophy or Religion? And what if it’s always at least three categories combined? Questions like these were part of our daily dialog. In retrospect, my colleagues and I made educated guesses every day when assigning books for review and I have no doubt that we didn’t always make the right ones. The way we printed book reviews in the magazine corresponded to the way books were categorized in libraries. Since we were the ones instructing librarians what to buy (by category), we were essentially driving the way books would be made available to patrons in libraries. Quite a responsibility. Continue reading The flawed (and outdated) art of categorizing books and knowledge in digital formats

What readers want [and what we are not giving them]


For the past many months, I’ve had the privilege of stepping outside the confines of the publishing and library industries (as well as the borders of the United States) to engage in projects that bring books and knowledge to people. There comes a point in every person’s career when we crave to turn our professional jobs into missions, and it simply isn’t enough to earn a paycheck, even amidst the most challenging circumstances. We take a leap of faith and jump.

And jump I did, from New York all the way to Croatia, where I would (not immediately upon arrival but soon thereafter) embark on the project of my life and turn an entire country into an open virtual library (available to all its people without a card and access code and regardless of status, geography, background, citizenship, etc). In early December 2016, Croatia (the country of my birth) became the world’s first free reading country (i.e., an open virtual library) for one entire month. Continue reading What readers want [and what we are not giving them]

The cry of the stories to be free [from all who write, package, and sell them]

Stories not atoms

“Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry — the cry of the spirit to be free.” I discovered this quote by Anne Sullivan (1866-1936) while searching for quotes about the meaning of renaissance. I read at least 50 before I came across the one that came close to conveying what I was feeling when I visited Florence last year: the cry of the spirit from centuries ago to be free.

If Venice (which I visited a day before Florence) was “the depth where the spirit hides,” I wrote, Florence must be where it comes out. If Venice was about closing the soul, Florence was about opening it. If Venice was about concealing the unspoken, Florence was about expressing it.

The more I walked through the streets of Florence, the more I felt my own spirit coming alive. And I wondered: if renaissance means “cry of the spirit to be free,” could it be that the “spirit” must first be “locked up” in some place (or age) before it can even yearn to be free? What if the pain (or inconvenience) of confinement was the prerequisite for experiencing the Renaissance? What if all that I was seeing in Florence couldn’t have happened any other way?

What about the stories we have been locking up in books for centuries? What if the stories we write (and package/distribute/sell/curate in containers we call books) are asking to be free? What if they could give us much more if we would set them free ? What if they want ‘their’ renaissance? What if what we think of as “protection” is nothing more than a human need to guard not the stories but our own professional, culturally-induced identities and financial well-being? Continue reading The cry of the stories to be free [from all who write, package, and sell them]

Are you a ‘reader’ when listening to an audiobook? Yes, of course.

audiobooksThere is really no need to recite numerous reports that have come out recently correlating audiobooks with reading success of children and young adults. There is also no need to convince librarians and publishers that listening is learning and that listening is synonymous with literacy. Those who have been on the frontlines know the benefits of audiobooks and listening to the spoken word.

However, many people outside the library and publishing industry still believe that listening to audiobooks is a form of cheating and not really the same thing as reading.  This is puzzling. All one needs to do to dispel this belief is think back in time and consider how people passed on knowledge to each other for generations. Did they all have the privilege to access urban libraries for books? Or money to buy books on their own? Did they even have a bookstore or library anywhere in the vicinity of where they lived? How did they learn exactly? Continue reading Are you a ‘reader’ when listening to an audiobook? Yes, of course.