Prepared by Civic Agenda3
Libraries, e-Lending and the Future of Public Access toDigital Content
“The only really necessary
people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands
between those two has both risk and opportunity.”
Amazon Executive, Russell Grandinetti in an interview with the New York Times, November 2011
Owing to the maturity of the e-book market in Europe and North America, this paper necessarilydepends upon numerous examples which are drawn from those territories. In a document of thislength it was judged that a focus on the most topical and recent examples was more strategicallyviable than attempting to cover the full spectrum of all international activity. In addition, for thesame reasons, this paper concentrates on access to digital content within the context of tradepublishing as opposed to scholarly publishing where digital distribution through libraries is the norm.
A brief history of public access
For the majority of human history access to information, knowledge and the products of culture andlearning have been the unique preserve of a select few. This of course is partly explained by the factthat, until the expansion of public education programmes and the arrival of mass popular literacyover the last two centuries in Europe and America, only a small portion of society learned how toread and write. In addition, until the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the last half of the15
century, manuscripts and books were individually handwritten and bound which made themboth expensive and rare commodities
out of reach to all but the highest, wealthiest and mosteducated echelons of society.In the aftermath of moveable mechanised type printing book production in Europe increased to 20million copies by the end of the 15
century to nearly 1 billion copies at the close of the 18
In conjunction with the arrival of industrial steam powered printing and sharp increases inpublic literacy, these developments effectively ushered in a new era of mass communication anddissolved the monopoly of the literate elite in favour of a newly educated and empowered middleclass. This democratisation of knowledge and information also radically increased the profitability of authorship which eventually fostered the development of copyright regimes to protect thecommercial incentives of content creators.
Buringh, Eltjo; van Zanden, Jan Luiten (2009), "Ch
arting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed
Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries", The Journal of Economic History 69 (2): 409