Teleread and an employee of Readmill have begun a bookmarkable conversation about an important feature of books that must translate into the digital world: shareable annotations.
To share annotations in a print book, you have to lend the book or photocopy the relevant pages. Currently, our e-incunabula thrash about in the barbwire of a three-way no-man’s land: between publishers and librarians, between anti-DRMists and pro-DRMists and between the ebook as a licensed good and the ebook as a sold good to which the “first sale” doctrine applies. We haven’t brought sustainable peace to any one of those fronts yet, although there are fleeting signs of olive branches on the battlefield.
Penguin experiments with the New York Public Libraries, Bilbary has pulled together a collection of over 400,000 works (including Random House ebooks) to make available to US and UK public libraries, the Douglas County Library in Colorado continues its purchase-only effort.
Small and large publishers have been and are going DRM-free or nearly so. In 2009, Liza Daly of Threepress Consulting started a list of DRM-free publishers and stores. Today, she can add among others Springer, Tor/Forge and Pottermore (with effects addressed in interesting detail by Mike Shatzkin).
As Matthew Bostock argues,
“Translating the act of annotating physical books to the digital experience is all good and well, but isn’t there more we could do? Isn’t there more we could dream about? We’re talking about e-readers here—small devices that are connected to something that has the potential to truly evolve the entire concept of digital reading. I’m referring, of course, to the web. … If we share what we highlight with other people, and bring a discussion right into the margin of a book, what do we have, and what have we done? We have added value to the digital reading experience. And looking at annotation in this way, there’s a clear reason why we should give it a little more thought.”
See Matthew’s mini-manifesto on annotations on Teleread:
No doubt known to Matthew, but there are forces at work to nudge us toward his vision. The standards world has not been sitting on its hands: the W3C and NISO both have initiatives underway to address the minimum required technical specifications for a standard on shareable annotations.