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E-Books and the Digital Divide

by on December 1, 2013

In an online article on Wired, Art Brodsky decries another issue concerning e-books; they contribute to the digital divide. He cites the disparity of e-book pricing for regular consumers and libraries as indicative of the problem.[1] This cost issue limits the ability of libraries to buy and lend e-books, and therefore hinders patron access. He asserts that because of the pricing differences, the only entities that see a profit are the “big e-tailers.”[2] This is certainly a complex issue that is still evolving. I am no expert, and enjoy e-book reading, but here is a perspective on the market that I have not considered before.

On the face of his argument, I agree that the e-book prices set for libraries sounds pretty unreasonable. As a layperson on this issue I fail to see how something that lives on an electronic device (and is almost indestructible) needs to be limited to only 10 uses, or “check-outs.” Certainly I understand companies’ desire for profit, but the current model just seems wasteful. If libraries cannot afford to keep re-purchasing e-books, that does create a lack of options for patrons. (One can get free e-books from Project Gutenberg as detailed in my previous post, but it requires a little tech know-how and computer access). Though not as sophisticated a point, I would say another glaring issue is the price of the e-readers themselves, which can contribute to the digital divide. Although there are lower cost options like the base, $69 Kindle, many devices are still over $100. Even to me, that’s a lot of money. As to e-reader technology, it is not inherently intuitive and not everyone can learn to use it easily. Brodsky also feels we should stop calling e-books “e-books,” as we don’t really own them but “lease” them, and cannot do with them what we can do with print books.[3] As to this point, I’m not sure. I feel as though I own my e-books, but I realize lending them to friends is more complicated. This just shows that while e-books are unique, fun, and convenient, print books still have a place in our world, despite what the experts say. For many folks, they remain the preferred, low to no cost reading option. Or, they are the only option.

[1] Art Brodsky, “The Abomination of Ebooks: They Price People out of Reading,” Wired, October 10, 13, http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/10/how-ebook-pricing-hurts-us-in-more-ways-than-you-think/ .

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


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