Internet Archive this week made an announcement that took the publishing world by storm and put virtually all information marketers and distributors on notice that the world as they know it is about to change – radically.
Who is Internet Archive (IA)? It’s a non-profit organization set up to serve as an Internet library. Founded in 1996 and based in San Francisco, it offers researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public free access to historical collections that exist in digital format. Their archives include texts, audio, moving images, software and archived web pages. http://www.archive.org/
On Monday (Oct 19) IA founder, Brewster Kahle told CNET News that his organization has launched BookServer, an open platform that will allow publishers, booksellers, libraries, and even authors to make their books available directly to readers through their laptops, phones, netbooks, or dedicated reading devices http://www.news.cnet.com/. It’s based on the RSS Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS) standard in order to allow search engines to index books that are available from a wide variety of sources.
As Khale pointed out to CNET News, only a good indexing system is standing in the way of making all books digitally and easily available to consumers, whether they’re using a laptop computer, an iPhone, or a Kindle.
He noted that libraries, publishers and other booksellers normally contract outsiders to build them an online distribution system. Each of those systems stands alone and is un-indexable. According to Kahle, if everything goes as planned, consumers everywhere using BookServer will be able to buy or borrow any text they want while leaving control over pricing and terms of such distribution in the hands of the content owners. Essentially, BookServer will facilitate pay transactions, the borrowing of books from libraries, and the downloading of free, publicly accessible books.
IA is unequivocal about who is going to benefit from BookServer.
Authors will find wider distribution for their work.
Publishers, both big and small, can distribute books directly to readers.
Book sellers will find new and larger audiences for their products.
Device makers can offer access to millions of books instantly.
Libraries can continue to loan books in the way that patrons expect.
Readers get universal access to all knowledge.
Kahle says Internet Archive has 20 scanning centers in 5 different countries and they currently host over 1.6 million titles. About half of them are Google scans of public domain texts that internet users have since uploaded to the IA network.
IA is also working to provide specialized services relating to the training, education and adaptive reading or information-access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities.
Google, meanwhile, has announced that in the first half of 2010 they’ll be partnering with publishers who they already have digital-rights deals with to launch Google Editions, a new service that will deliver e-books to anyone with a Web browser. Initially they plan to offer about a half-million books. Readers will be able to purchase them directly from Google or from online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
You can’t help wondering if the convergence of so many new distributive innovations – all enabled by the Internet and all directly related to the transfer of knowledge and information – is pure coincidence or are there hidden forces at work.
What does all this mean for small-island states like the Caribbean? At first glance the new developments look promising. The socioeconomic advantages of universal, unlimited and affordable access to information are obvious. On the other hand, are we at risk of being inundated by a storm-surge of foreign media that could further erode the Caribbean’s indigenous cultures? Either way, the Digital Wind is bearing down on us, and we can’t resist its power any more than we can a hurricane.
Even if the Caribbean would like to, is it technologically enabled and ready to capitalize on this democratization of data? What is the state of the digital divide in the region?
According to usage and population statistics compiled by Internet World Stats http://www.internetworldstats.com/ the English-speaking Caribbean currently has approximately 2.7 million internet users. Jamaica has the highest number of users throughout the Caribbean basin (54.5% of the population) followed by Guyana and Barbados (see stats below). Proportionately, St Lucia has the highest number of Internet users in the Windward and Leeward islands (68.6% of the population) and the highest user growth rate, followed by Antigua & Barbuda (75.9% of the population). The Dominican Republic has 3,000,000 users, the highest in the region.
Population Internet Usage User Growth 2000–09
St Lucia 160,267 110,000 3,566.7%
Antigua & Barbuda 85,632 65,000 1,200.0%
Jamaica 2,825,928 1,540,000 2,466.7%
Barbados 284,589 188,000 3,033.3%
Guyana 752,940 190,000 6,233.3%
Trinidad & Tobago 1,229,953 212,800 112.8%
Meanwhile, the Kindle 2 has come to the Caribbean. It is now available to 23 islands, with 290,000 titles (the highest number allotted to individual islands) available to readers in Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Guyana, Aruba, Dominican Republic, the Netherlands Antilles, Martinique and Guadeloupe, http://www.blogkindle.com/