Eli Nieburger likes to shock his audiences with a quip that the going price in the Apple App store is zero. While this may be factually inaccurate, according to recent analytics, his point is still true. The average price for iPad, iPhone, and Android apps are respectively: $.50, $.19, and $.06. This is because consumers still download more free apps than anything pushing down the "average price".
There are of course simple financial reasons for this, but I would argue that it also proves my point that human beings do not value bits and bytes the same way they value vinyl, plastic, and of course, paper. The simple example I use is this: Book lovers can get sentimental thinking about passing down their treasured tomes to children and grandchildren, especially when they see those children develop a love for books- I became the recipient of numerous books from older friends and family, because I was the bookish one in the family. But no book lover gets sentimental thinking about giving their children a harddrive or kindle full of ebooks. The idea is absurd on its face.
The question is why? It is not simply the legal problem that we do not really own those books and that they cannot be willed the same way physical property can be. It is because human beings are physical beings who need physicality to develop attachments. Recent movies aside, human beings are fundamentally physical and need a physical object to create and develop long term affection, attachment, and Value. Take away that physicality and we see a shift towards utility. In essence, the item becomes a commodity.
There are far more analogues between market commodities such as wheat and tin and econtent than just this sociological aspect. Commodities and other market items are valued based on their scarcity. In economic terms scarcity is defined as more than simply a lack of any particular item, but rather as the amount of that item available in reference to its desirability. Here is the crux of my commodification argument. There is no scarcity for econtent because its availability is scalable at any given moment, destroying any sense of scarcity, resulting in a real market-based commodification effect.
Why does this matter to libraries? Because consumers have been conditioned by the developing ecosystem and their inherent sense of scarcity to expect econtent to be available at low cost whenever they want it. This is the exact opposite of one book, one patron. When I first conceived of the system that became the Douglas County Model, I was still thinking in this one book, one patron model. I now see that even if we win this battle, we may still lose, as our patrons may think of econtent as a commodity that should always be available regardless of the number of patrons accessing it at any given moment. After all, there is no scarcity involved, so why shouldn't it be immediately available to everyone or no one?
This is what is interesting about new ventures like Total Boox. They are dealing with market reality, and giving access to every book at all time to all patrons and charging per page. Amazon Prime and other subscription models are inherently cognizant of this same economic reality too. They all reflect the same dropping price point as well. The only model that does not is the library model. We don't have the budgets or population base to distribute costs across millions of users the way Amazon can. Neither can we raise venture capital to take a risk like Total Boox. We are stuck in a fairly antiquated access model that does not reflect the developing commodity market.