Digital Book World has just shared an interview with Dan Cohen, the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America (DLPA), about the Open eBooks initiative, already covered in TeleRead. There, Cohen gives some (alas very anecdotal) evidence about responses to the initiative so far, and some more insight into its founding motivations and goals.
[Update: In a Twitter message, Cohen cites a number from an announcement last week, one not included in the DBW interview. He says that “over a million access codes were distributed in just the 1st week,” so the evidence is “not just anecdotal.” – D.R.]
Unfortunately, Cohen doesn’t share many statistics or solid data on takeup of the Open eBooks initiative. He does say that: “We’ve gotten so many great emails and social media responses thanking President Obama for supporting us and publishers and partners for bringing together resources to make this happen. There are entire schools that have gained access to books.” As for publisher buy-in to the program, Cohen remarks that, “along with the wonderful feedback from students and teachers, we’ve also got incredible feedback from publishers. More publishers want to be involved and have their books in the app as well.” That said, at this point at least there’s no further names or details attached to that statement.
One really heartening item from the interview is what Cohen describes as “issues that ended up not being issues. We researched the availability of devices in low-income households and we discovered that that problem is thankfully starting to disappear.” Although, the problem is “not gone totally,” he adds, “we found in recent surveys that 85 percent of households within the poverty line own a device that’s able to host the app. This is a population where ebooks have started to take off as a supplement rather than replacements for physical books.”
My own very slightly – and very personal, dose of skepticism about the Open eBooks program (and this is nothing like a TeleRead house view), is that the linkage to the White House’s K-12 ConnectED initiative opens it to other influences besides the Obama administration’s very laudable support for early learning and literacy. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is just one instance of the very many inroads and lobbying efforts that Big Media has made into the Obama administration, and U.S. government in general. I would be really glad to learn that the Open eBooks initiative has consistently put poor households’ needs above the interests of media owners, and that Big Five publishers have bent over backwards to do the same. I’d welcome reassurance on that. For now, though, my enthusiasm for the Open eBooks initiative remains qualified.