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The Dot-Com Boom. “Content is King”. Actually comes from the cable TV business, although attributed to Esther Dyson who believed the opposite.

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content is king
“Content is King”

Actually comes from the cable TV business, although attributed to Esther Dyson who believed the opposite.

The meaning was that what mattered about a website, or an online service, was the available content; this matched a claim that success in cable television depended on control of channels.

esther dyson
Esther Dyson

Publisher of Release 1.0 and now Release 4.0; general guru and futurist; was first head of ICANN (the group in charge of Internet addresses).

Argued that commentary would matter; content would be free and advice about it would be paid for.

tim berners lee
Tim Berners-Lee

Inventor of the Web; physicist at CERN; created http protocol to make it easier to find ftp sites. Now head of W3C and pushing the semantic web.

The Web demonstrates the “epidemic effect” or the idea of “network externalities” (the value of something goes up the more that other people have it, e.g. being the only person in town with a tennis racket isn’t worth much.

Never got rich.

marc andreesen
Marc Andreesen

Wrote the first decent web browser, Mosaic, at NCSA in early 1990s.

Cashed in at Netscape, sold to AOL before Microsoft completely stomped them.

Note that neither Berners-Lee nor Andreesen was funded to do what they did.

jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos

Founder of Amazon; believer that you could sell real books via the Net, implementing the Japanese strategy of market share before profitability.

For years Amazon sold below cost; but the strategy worked, and they are now the dominant player.

Incredibly wealthy.

how to get rich online
How to get rich online

Sell physical things? Amazon yes, no.

Sell advertising? Google yes, everyone else no.

Sell content? Wall Street Journal, perhaps; otherwise no.

Sell advice? Sort of (Travelocity, Pricewatch,

Sell connectivity? Not right now; everyone going broke.

My guess was connectivity, but that hasn’t worked out.

the digital library companies
The digital library companies

Specifically DL companies: Questia, Netlibrary, e-brary.

e-book companies: atRandom, iPublish, MightyWords

The e-book companies wanted to sell books to individuals to read on handheld devices, e.g. the “Rocket ebook”. This market has collapsed.

To my surprise, the gadget is still $100 on ebay.


48,000 books; 390,000 newspaper articles.

$24.95/month, $130/year.

Targeted at individual students and scholars.

Raised $135M in startup funds.


34,000 books; Rutgers has only 4,000.

Sold to libraries; intended for university/college use. Libraries buy the rights to each book, and then must pay an annual fee as well (or 50% of purchase price for indefinite use). Only one person can use each copy at one time.

Company, having raised $115M, was sold to OCLC for $10M


35,000 books

Intended for institutions, will sell to individuals for as low as $5. Originally planned free viewing and charging only for printing/downloading (25 cents/page). Library fee now $2,000 minimum ($1.50/faculty member).

and there s more
And there’s more

We also had a rash, in 2000-2001, of hand-held book readers. The best known was the “Rocket e-book”.

There were a variety of companies, such as iPublish (Simon & Schuster) and atRandom (Random House) putting out books tailored for this device. Other people did ebooks for PalmPilots and the like.

handheld readers went quickly
Handheld readers went quickly.

In about a year, people gave up on these. I’m only surprised that they still seem to be $100 or so on e-Bay.

Why did they fail?

  • Limited content?
  • Small screen size?
  • Poor battery life, tolerance for ambient lighting, …?

The manufacturers are trying again.

the sony librie
The Sony Librie

Bigger, better lighting and typography, …

But it’s still a restricted set of books … and

It’s more expensive ($479).

Nevertheless, perhaps this will catch on.

the dot com results
The dot-com results.

In Silicon Valley, the goal is not to sell the product; it’s to sell the company.

An incredible amount of money was spent; some $200M on the various dot-com startups in the digital library area (compared with some $24M the US government spent on DLI1 and $50M on DLI2).

Not clear we got anything for the $200M.

who does fund digital libraries
Who does fund digital libraries?

The largest single source is the purchase budgets of libraries, most of which goes to buy things digitized by commercial groups, and a little goes to buy things digitized by cooperative projects.

For research, the DLI-1 and DLI-2 initiatives were about $75M, with the largest share coming from NSF, and lesser amounts from DARPA, NASA, NLM and NEH.

The NSDL initiative has about $60M from NSF.

The Library of Congress spent about $60M on American Memory and is expecting to have $175M for follow on digital library work.

Mellon and other foundations provide substantial funding.

last one standing
Last one standing

One view of the situation which is promising for libraries.

Students spend more than $10B on college textbooks each year (USA Today, 8/27/2002, by Janet Kornblum)

In the 1990s all sorts of other groups wanted to have the role of delivering information to students: bookstores, book wholesalers, publishers, telephone companies, university telecom departments, new startups, ...

All of them are now gone from the field, and the libraries are still there. Inertia has its advantages at times.

what s likely to happen next
What’s likely to happen next?

Unfortunately, I expect government support for digital library research to decline, and private support at companies like IBM or AT&T has already declined. For example, Citeseer has gone from NEC to Penn State (and the LANL archive has gone to Cornell).

Venture capital is pretty much dried up; the publishers are feeling pretty burned by the e-book fiasco.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon are more product oriented.

The intelligence community has strong interests, but it is not clear how these will be handled (eg in secret or open).

On the other hand, libraries will continue to buy more and more information online; this will become routine.