ditching physical media

information resources, librarianship, ramblings

A couple of weeks ago, I started utilizing two unrelated online resources that have since mingled with one another in my brain to profoundly changed the way I operate. The first is a blog called The Minimalists. It’s run by a couple of guys who try not to be driven by desire for material possessions, find solace in themselves and their experiences instead of in stuff, and try to pare down their shit to the bare bones. Reading their posts is easy, as they are short and quick to the point.

At first, I was put off by The Minimalists’ inspirational tone. But as the days have passed, it’s all starting to sink in. These guys are not productivity gurus. They’re not life coaches. They’ve stumbled across this thing that’s made them happier and they’re sharing it. I can get behind that.

hack designThe second resource is a website called Hack Design. Hack Design is a free, informal online course that attempts to teach software programmers the elements of good design. Now, I’m no software developer, but I do my share of dabbling in tech-related projects. I signed up for it, fully expecting to ditch it after the first lesson.

But I didn’t. And you’ll probably be hearing more about it from me in the future.

The first lesson of Hack Design attempts to give a basic overview of why design is important. It cites many examples that I won’t go into here (just sign up yourself, why don’t you). But most importantly, it stresses that design is a layered concept. Something that is well-designed should be attractive, easy to use, and should make you feel good about using it.

Since the lesson gets a bit philosophical, I started considering the things I use with regularity that are well-designed (my bike, my running shoes, the tie bar I lost several months ago) and the things that aren’t so well designed (my work area, my computer operating systems, the glass I most often drink out of). I started critiquing all of my things.

The day after completing that lesson, I was using something very poorly-designed (my smartphone) to read The Minimalists. The post I read, which I cannot locate right now due to design flaws in their blog format, talked about ditching physical media in order to get away from the expense and clutter of accumulating CDs, DVDs, and books.minimalists

My book situation is pretty good. I stopped buying them quite a while ago, because I’m a librarian. It’s difficult to take a chance on buying a book when I can just as easily check it out for free from the library. At home, I have two lovely hand-built bookcases. They are not full. I do not miss the piles of books and ugly shelving solutions of my past. I’m almost there with my CDs, too. I stopped buying physical CDs quite some time ago. I took my existing collection and digitized it, then uploaded it all to Google Play Music, where I can access it online wherever I have an Internet connection and either stream or download all of my tracks at will. The service is free for up to 20,000 songs, with no size constraints (though I’m sure it does sacrifice some quality when it streams). But I rarely ever access my own music library, because I’ve also got Spotify just about everywhere I go, which is way better than my music library. And if I really need an mp3 download of a song I don’t have, my library offers Freegal, which gives access to Sony’s entire music catalog. For free. For keeps.

Books, like I said, are easy. I just get them from the library. I also have a Kindle, which I fill with ebooks from Overdrive. Because I also have an iPad, I can get ebooks from Freading. Recently, we got a new service called Zinio, which gives full access to magazines on the iPad or online (like The New York Review of Books, Mental Floss, and VegNews). These are things that my library provides to its customers for free. I’d be very surprised if yours doesn’t offer some similar services.

The only thing that was left for me to really improve upon was the DVD situation. I haven’t bought any in some time, on account of Netflix and the public library. Between those two sources, it’s not very often that I can’t find a movie I want to see. And when the library gets a video streaming service, which I’m sure will happen in the near future, I’ll drop Netflix in a second.

But what about those DVDs I already had? Well, the simple answer was to get rid of them. I went through and threw away anything that was recorded on a DVD-R. Then I sorted through and pulled out anything I had no desire to watch again. Then I went through and pulled out anything I hadn’t watched more than once. And, voila, I was left a fifth of what I’d started with. I digitized that small amount and put the physical discs in storage, and I just sold the rest. A nice clean break.

For me, physical media is a design flaw. I like to have complete access to everything I need on a single device (in the case of movies, our Wii). DVDs are expensive and they take up space. The only thing they did for me was to encourage my drive to collect. But collecting any kind of physical media is a losing battle. Anyone have a cassette tape collection? How about a massive VHS library? Your stuff is always going to be outdated, which means you’re always going to be buying more.

But not me. I’m out of the game. And I think I’m better for it.

Why Penguin Group is Not Really Evil

librarianship

In recent days, the backlash against Penguin’s perceived move against public libraries has snowballed to monstrous proportions. If you’re not familiar with the issue, have a look at this and this. Lots of librarians and library users are up in arms over the recent action, ready to tar and feather the already feathered (do penguins have feathers?) publisher. But should they be?

Probably not. Contrary to popular belief, this action is not anti-library. The rumors we are hearing today are the same ones we heard back in November, that unspecified “security concerns” are the reason for the yanking of Penguin titles. When we hear security nowadays, we think of piracy.

But, regardless of what the publisher is saying about it, that just doesn’t make any sense. Penguin’s move is specifically against e-books made available for Kindle, Amazon’s proprietary e-reader. For the time being, they are not allowing libraries to purchase new books and are requiring that remaining collections be delivered to devices via USB. My friend Dan over at Not All Bits explains why this makes no sense from a security standpoint. Instead of making the books more secure, it is actually taking a step out of the DRM removal process, leaving the books even more vulnerable to piracy. The mistake so many are making, in my opinion, is thinking that Penguin isn’t aware of that.

Truth: Penguin did not terminate its contract with Overdrive because of media piracy.

So why did it happen? Well, it can be broken down into an ugly love triangle consisting of three morbidly obese entities: Penguin, Overdrive, and Amazon. See Overdrive and Penguin had an arrangement that allowed the former company to distribute the latter’s books to libraries. All was well and fine until Amazon took over the e-book market like a yeti or a radioactive killer cactus or something. Amazon approached Overdrive and made them a deal they couldn’t refuse- one that coupled beautifully with Amazon’s freshly launched Prime Lending service. By teaming up, Overdrive could meet the demands of Kindle users in a way that was super convenient and Amazon could entice their customers with free library content (See, the Kindle isn’t just proprietary! Honest!).

So Amazon and Overdrive slipped into bed with one another and started messing around. What Overdrive forgot about, though, was its girlfriend! Remember Penguin? Yeah, Penguin never agreed to the distribution terms of the Amazon Prime model. It agreed to let Overdrive use its e-books, not Amazon. But Amazon, being the corporate monster that it is, used its cunning and strength to leverage a deal with Overdrive without also striking a deal with the publishers Overdrive had previous arrangements with. Kind of sketchy, no?

The specs of this whole business are still kind of vague. The official word from everyone involved is mostly inconclusive talk is still of security, which is misleading (have a look at this article and this article for a more well-rounded take on the situation than you’re going to get from folks reacting to bad news). But make no mistake- this is yet another issue with Amazon at its center. Penguin is concerned about something they see on the horizon, and they probably should be. Amazon is no longer just a book seller- it is Penguin’s competition. Would you want your competition to be the primary means of distributing your product?

Penguin is currently talking with other library e-book distributors. You don’t hear much about this because Overdrive is the dominant presence in this arena. The competition is small and, by comparison, recent. The biggest competitor, 3M (another corporate monster), is the closest thing libraries have to an alternative, but, really, it can only offer a lesser version of what Overdrive is providing already. In the near future, I am confident we will see electronic Penguin materials back in libraries. We just have to wait for 3M to put on its big boy pants.