18 September 2011

Free e-books - we are competing not only with Google Books

When a couple of weeks ago bookboon.com, a source of few dozens of free e-books, was featured on TV, I received several emails from the college colleagues alerting me about the site, and few others stopped me on the corridor to share the same news. I was perplexed: what is so amazing about free e-books?! Our library has been offering few thousands of them for last two years. And Google Books has millions.

Just in case, I have added the link to the list of e-book providers on the library website our learners may find useful. I have mixed feeling, however: travel guides are definitely a big No (I checked Paris and Barcelona) - they can't compete with any guides produced by major publishers. Being free doesn't help - there are plenty of much more interesting free blogs, e.g. Europe a la carte.  Information is thin and dry, nothing to suggest that proper field research had been done. The business section, especially personal development guides, seems more promising: bite-size titles have been produced by a consultancy company. I haven't looked at textbooks yet.

It seems to me that the only Bookboon's selling point is its being free. Contemporary retail practice has taught us not to trust full prices, expect discounts and freebies all the time. Widespread music and film piracy, perhaps, makes people to expect - by implication - that books must be free too. As with everything free, Bookboon's stuff has limitations: books contain advertisements and quite a lot of them. Google Books has limitations too - their under copyright titles cannot be printed out or copied and pasted. Arguably, fewer limitations are with library e-book titles - only authentication is required. The simpler it is, the more likely is that we'll be competitive with full-price and ad-supported services. Downloading to users' devices is also the must - that's what people expect when they ask me for e-books.

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