Jan 4th, 2008
Hooray! Libraries, library staff and most importantly, library patrons are accessing content with tools like youtube. And Joost. And others. This is important. And libraries are in that loop. Woo hoo!
But…what about the oceans of content that just isn’t “free” and/or centrally located and is distributed more and more via electronic means? What about the content in the long tail that only for-profits are doing a successful job of distributing (aka selling in most instances). In libraries there is inter-library loan of course. And there is eBay and Amazon and a host of others that have cut into library business to some extent (not necessarily a bad thing at all, right?). But there is Netflix. Netflix (just for fun, why not check that link out and think about it in terms of what libraries do. Some startling concepts may stand out.), just keeps popping up on my radar over and over again. Brightly. Here’s the latest instance:
“US DVD rental firm Netflix is to release a set-top box which will let subscribers download movies and other programmes over the net.”
So what does this indicate for the future of content access in libraries?
Granted, there have been a small slew of set top boxes designed to specialize in content delivery in the last couple of years. But with Netflix participation, for me at least, the implications for libraries and content delivery futures grow in significance and immediacy. As these services exist now, and as they are shaping up, libraries are cut out of almost all of this business. Influencing or being included in this sort of content delivery model would take significant investment from larger (or combinations of larger) library related business or organizations (including non-profits and even government agencies potentially).
True, “Netflix has spent about $40m on the development of its streaming service during the past year.” and that of course surely does not include licensing and revenue related math for the studios, etc. True also that money talks, eh? Still, given the mission of the library (particularly Public Libraries) it seems worth noting that:
As an industry, within the larger library-centric institutions that could make important impacts:
-We are not researching this kind of content delivery in any truly significant way.
-We are not planning to, in the future, provide specific deliverables based around his kind of content delivery.
-We do not have organized, direct or significant relationships with the companies that own the largest collections of popular content and manage it’s distribution to approach them as a potential distribution channel.
-We do not have the legal and negotiation teams that would be required to get our patrons access to the content controlled by companies mentioned above.
While the above list is a bit intimidating, is it insurmountable? I keep thinking about the last interview I read with Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix. It concluded with the question “What is the future of Netflix?”. His answer, was “there is a reason we are named Netflix and not DVDflix”. Obviously and wisely they are eyeing content delivery. And so are libraries? Certainly there are hundreds of other companies doing so, many of which have an eye on (inadvertently I’m sure) further reducing our market share and value. This is all fine and well. But it makes one again wonder: are libraries at large doing the work necessary to be positioned in the content delivery market? What about libraries??? Will we care more when our DVD circulation drops? Or when Netflix becomes NetLibrary (serious point and little inside joke there too)? Interestingly, someone once said to me that “the most valuable asset NetLibrary really has is the name NetLibrary”! Wow. In light of what Reed Hastings said in the interview I keep recalling, it gives pause.
Netflix hasn’t changed their name. Yet. But their mission, and the missions of other content delivery centric companies seems clear. And it is threatening to libraries. And I am concerned that this threat is not being surfaced and dealt with sufficiently across our industry. If we were all watching the Netflix business model evolution closely we might talk about (and work on) this more. Perhaps when Netflix changes their name to NetContent or NetAV..or NetLibrary, more aggressive action will be taken in our industry?
I REALLY wonder what you think though.
And now for something completely different! Me being a dork with my new XO laptop. Woo hoo!