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November 27th, 2007


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03:07 pm - More on research and sources of information
From the responses to my previous post, it clearly seems that school children are already (when allowed) abandoning using reference books in droves as on-line sources of information become easier to access and use. Clearly this trend will continue. I'm already considering acquiring one of the Nokia internet tablets, a pocket-sized device that allows internet access anywhere there is wifi. Having constant and immediate access to information is something that I think is going to increasingly become part of modern life. In a decade or so, I'm betting that when people are having a conversation about some factual issue and there is some disagreement over the facts, the expectation will be that one or both people will immediately (and easily) look up this information. In any case, here's a poll.

Poll #1096268 Utility of reference books vs. on-line information

Reference books will become notable less useful than on-line sources of information and will cease being generally used

Within the next 5 years
16(55.2%)
Within the next decade
8(27.6%)
Within the next 20 years
2(6.9%)
Longer than this or never
3(10.3%)

Current Mood: pleasedpleased

(10 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:talonstrike
Date:November 27th, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
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Don't like the options. In my life, the answer to this is "about 7 years ago". I don't remember the last time I used a dictionary or an encyclopedia or even a Thomas guide or the phone book. This is especially true as the respected brand names in reference books generally make their content available online (they often charge for it, but for free or for pay, it's online). I already regularly mock my friends who need dead trees to get their reference information. (Reading a book is a different situation and I think books will never become fully obsolete, as I consider reading a book to be an experience. The presence of a physical book adds something to that experience. Reference books are not an experience for me, they're merely a way to satisfy a need for information.)
[User Picture]
From:queerbychoice
Date:November 28th, 2007 12:31 am (UTC)
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I agree.
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From:slothman
Date:November 28th, 2007 12:33 am (UTC)
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Reference books will wind up being available online, and citations will become immediately useful hyperlinks. They’ll never cease being used; they’ll just be accessed differently.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:November 28th, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
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I agree. What I was refering to was more physical books than content.
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From:slothman
Date:November 28th, 2007 12:38 am (UTC)
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In that case, I give the industry 5–10 years to catch a clue and make references available online. I’m planning to pick up an ebook reader next year and start converting my book collection to digital media; I might even manage to make the number of physical books in my house peak before it hits 7000...
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From:heron61
Date:November 28th, 2007 01:00 am (UTC)
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*nods* I have no interest in a dedicated ebook reader, but I'm going to be retiring my Palm OS Sony Clie soon, and one qualification for any replacement is that it works well as an ebook reader (which means that a 3.5" screen is an absolute minimum, and 4-5" is preferred). It's amazing to consider that in a decade I may have (for the first time in my life) fewer and not more physical books, amazing...
[User Picture]
From:slothman
Date:November 28th, 2007 01:03 am (UTC)
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There will be a business opportunity for used booksellers to whom someone can bring a stack of books to receive ebooks in return— the value of the rare books subsidizing the purchase of the electronic versions of the common ones.
(Deleted comment)
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From:heron61
Date:November 28th, 2007 05:05 am (UTC)
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Every so often I find librarians concerned for the future of their profession, but the more I see how clueless people are in finding good information online, in databases or anywhere else, the more secure my job feels. In other words, the ignorance of others is my bliss. ;-)

I completely agree. I think the profession will change, but more people than ever are going to need help with research, so I think it will also expand.
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From:rjgrady
Date:November 29th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
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The issue at the heart of this, I think, is that reference books are expensive to update and maintain. Thus, online options look attractive. That raises the question, though, who will spend the resources to keep online options up to date?

Ultimately, I think online reference books created by nonprofits will serve an important role, along with subscription services to encyclopedias. However, someone will still want to be paid for making reference books. And I pretty much feel online stuff is never going to be able to control pirating. Thus, a niche market will always remain for reference books of high quality.

I think the children's encyclopedia of the future, though, is a freebie service that comes bundled with someone's Internet, or ad-driven services.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:November 30th, 2007 09:44 am (UTC)
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Ultimately, I think online reference books created by nonprofits will serve an important role, along with subscription services to encyclopedias. However, someone will still want to be paid for making reference books. And I pretty much feel online stuff is never going to be able to control pirating. Thus, a niche market will always remain for reference books of high quality.

On-line info access is too easy and convenient, and especially now (with Amazon's new effort with the Kindle) ebooks are going to start getting big. The issue with high-quality reference works is exactly the same as for any other sort of book that becomes an ebook, or can be scanned into an ebook and put on-line.

I don't know what the answer will be for getting creators paid, but with both music and books, the answer needs to include the fact that content is already widely available for free on-line, and nothing anyone is ever going to do (short of a civilization-ending event) is going to change this or even prevent this from becoming more common.

For music, much of the answer is likely to be give music away for free and make money from live performances. For many musicians, this is already (in practice at least) how their contracts work, and if some recording industry shills are impoverished in the change-over, few people will feel much sadness.

Books are more difficult, but I can see several options. The ransom model/street-performer protocol, where the author asks for X amount of money and releases the work for free when they have it has worked for a number of projects. Other options include a modified patronage system, where many fans donate X amount of money/month to an author, in return for which the author is obligated to produce X number of books/year. Alternately, you could simply release all books for a reasonable fee (reasonable being fairly low, since no printing and only minimal distribution costs are involved), $3.00-$5.00 seems reasonable to me, and trust that sufficient numbers of people will buy rather than pirate the work. This model already works for itunes, and currently music is even easier to pirate than books. From what I've seen, high costs encourage electronic piracy, while low costs actively discourage it.

I expect some combination of all of the above to work, and I expect it to work as well for fancy reference as for popular novels. Heck, universities could simply pay people to write reference books, which are then released for free. Or perhaps, once a new edition is released and sold, all old editions instantly become free.

I'm expecting us to be in the middle of this situation for the next 5-7 years, and headed for an answer within 10-12 years, since the issue is only going to get larger and more important, no matter how much idiotic DRM software Mircosoft attempts to stick on its computers.

Bean Books already does very well with giving away electronic copies of the first books in many series, I expect similar efforts will continue.

I think the children's encyclopedia of the future, though, is a freebie service that comes bundled with someone's Internet, or ad-driven services.

That sounds reasonable to me. I can see either having this be tax supported, or simply having ISPs directly channel a small amount of money to the people providing this, in return for both a tax write-off, and happier users.

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