Posted by: Steven Harris | January 28, 2009

Content vs Platform Smackdown!

ALA ExhibitsYesterday I was Twittering about ebook vendors and ebooks devices. Daniel Messer, in Twitter conversation, was lamenting that Overdrive was not compatible with Kindle. I was certain that Amazon was as much to blame for that as Overdrive. I said:

“Amazon wanted Kindle to be like Apple iPod, i.e. stupid, non-standard format and force users to buy only from them. Failed business model.”


“We need ebook market to divorce hardware and format. Standards would let us buy, rent, check out any ebook file and use it on any device.”

Then, in the middle of all that, I said (in what to me was an unrelated topic):

“At #alamw09 [ALA Midwinter] so many vendors were selling platforms. What ever happened to content?”

David Lee King responded that the content was ON the platform, to which I said that sometimes the content is good but the platform isn’t! After a moment of reflection. I realized that the ebook discussion and the platform vs content question were coming from the same place. Most vendors are convinced that selling libraries and librarians on platform is paramount, that content isn’t especially important. Well, really, they are both important, but not in ways that tie one to the other (“form follows function” agruments aside).

Here’s the big thought that hit me: why can’t we divorce ALL library content from platform? Let us buy (or rent or lease or whatever the plan of the month is) content which can be used on any platform we desire. Maybe the platform is a separate lease fee. Maybe we develop open source platforms.

So now, I really dig the Project Muse journals, but I hate their platform, their interface. No problem. I just view on a different platform, a different interface. Same with Springer ebooks or Wiley journals. With a publishing standard like Epub that was applied to ejournals, ebooks, epamphlets, eeverything, everything could be interoperable. I could have my content and eat it however I like. This could be a library choice or it could be an individual user choice.

This kind of electronic publishing world would drive some vendors right from the field. They’re all about platform. Or maybe not. Maybe they corner the platform market, because the platform is good, not because they monopolize the content. This is the problem with a lot of the digital content market now. Suppliers like Amazon and Apple want to wrap us all up in their content/platform straightjacket. You have a Kindle and you can only buy content from Amazon. iPod? Gotta go through iTunes. This IS a bad business model and it is beginning to break down all around us.

If we adopted standards of interoperability to all library content, then the platform would become a separate decision, no longer tied together. Any kind of content could be used in any kind of platform. Platforms could exist for every type of device: desktop, laptop, palmtop. That would be nice. Mix and match world! Get it here, use it there. Information wants to be free, afterall!

Postscript (2-1-09): It occurs to me that, since many platforms are about searching the content, we also need standards for cross-platform searchability. I don’t think Z39.50 provides all the specs I’m interested in here, but I could be wrong.



  1. […] about Ebooks as of January 28, 2009 Content vs Platform Smackdown! – 01/29/2009 Yesterday I was Twittering about ebook vendors and […]

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