Publishing Perspectives is carrying a story about the Open eBooks initiative, which we last mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Open eBooks is a program and e-reader application intended to make thousands of best-selling e-books available at no charge to low-income children.
An impressive number of well-known organizations and companies are involved in the program:
The Open eBooks program is made possible by a coalition of literacy, library, publishing, and technology partners. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), First Book, and The New York Public Library (NYPL)—with content support from digital books distributor Baker & Taylor—created the app, curated the ebook collection, and developed a system for distribution and use. Financial support has been provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) with content contributions from major publishers, thanks to the contributions of the ebook platform delivery service, AXIS 360 from Baker & Taylor.
It also includes age-appropriate content from a number of major publishers, including Bloomsbury, National Geographic, and all five of the Big Five. This will definitely provide some good publicity for the participating publishers—and after the agency pricing antitrust debacle, the Big Five could use all of that they can get. The catalog of e-books available through the program is valued at more than $250 million, though the Open eBooks site does not explain how that figure was derived.
Educators, librarians, and program leaders who work with low-income children can sign up for the Open eBooks program and request access for the children they serve. Then students can download the app to their mobile devices and log in with an access code to download and read e-books. Children will be able to check out any title whenever they want, regardless of how many other children might have it checked out at the same time.
This sounds like a great program from the standpoint of giving kids in need access to all the e-books they can read. When you consider how cheap hardware has gotten, it could be very helpful in education.
Speaking of cheap hardware, the Open eBooks app will absolutely install and run on both my $10 LG Sunrise Tracfone (no longer available for $10, unfortunately, though the Straight Talk variant of it is currently $20 on Walmart.com) and the $40 RCA Voyager II tablet. The Open eBooks app isn’t available on the Amazon Fire store, but I just checked my $50 Fire that I’d patched to include the Google Play store and it didn’t object to installing the app either. Of course, I can’t get any use out of the app without an access code, but it’s gratifying to know it would run on one of these cheap devices for kids who had one.
In our post about the program in February, David Rothman was not thrilled that the program used the term “Open” in its name, given that the e-books are almost certainly laden with DRM. I tend to agree, and would also add there’s also the possibility of confusion with the Open eBook Publication Structure, the predecessor to the EPUB format. Of course, OEBPS isn’t actually in use anymore, but even so, people would remember the name.
Still, in talking about how the program is available to low-income kids at no charge, there aren’t a whole lot of other words that are quite as descriptive. And if someone else did have to use the name “Open eBooks,” at least it was a program having to do with childhood education. While it will remain to be seen how well the program will work, having it available is definitely a good idea.