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Title: Born-digital  
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Subject: Digital humanities, Digital library, Exhibit (educational), Collections management (museum), Online public access catalog
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The term born-digital refers to materials that originate in a digital preservation and intellectual property. However, as technologies have advanced and spread, the concept of being born-digital has also been discussed in relation to personal consumer-based sectors, with the rise of e-books and evolving digital music. Other terms that might be encountered as synonymous include “natively digital,” “digital-first,” and “digital-exclusive.”[2][3]

Discrepancies in definition

There exists some inconsistency in defining born-digital materials. Some believe such materials must exist in digital form exclusively; in other words, if it can be transferred into a physical, analog form, it is not truly born-digital.[4] However, others maintain that while these materials will often not have a subsequent physical counterpart, having one does not bar them from being classified as 'born-digital.' [1] For instance, Mahesh and Mittal identify two types of born-digital content, “exclusive digital” and “digital for print,” allowing for a broader base of classification than the former definition provides.[5]

Furthermore, it has been pointed out that certain works may incorporate components that are both born-digital and digitized, further blurring the lines between what should and should not be considered 'born-digital.' For example, a digital video created may utilize historical film footage that has been converted.[6] It is important to be aware of these discrepancies when thinking about born-digital materials and the effects they have. However, some universals do exist across these definitions. All make clear the fact that born-digital media must originate digitally. Also, they agree that this media must be able to be utilized in a digital form (whether exclusively or otherwise), while they do not have to exist or be used as analog materials.

Concept as a Phenomenon and Trends

Promotional Trend

Easily seen within the area of e-books, publishing houses use the electronic format as “digital appetizers” within “prepublication digital giveaways.” Often they offer the digital formats at a reduced cost to the printed versions or else produce “digital-exclusive publications” for use on e-book readers, such as the Kindle. One example of this was with the simultaneous launch of Amazon’s Kindle 2 with the Stephen King novelette Ur.[7]


The following provides a list and examples of media that are considered to be common born-digital media:

Things that have always been ‘born-digital'

These are examples of media that originated in the networked world, therefore existing as born-digital since inception.

  • Websites, forums, communities, wikis. Anything that was or has been created in a digital environment.

The Borndigital website, established in 1994. The domain was sold in 2011.

Things that have migrated/are migrating toward ‘born-digital’

These forms have been created, shared and used independently of or prior to the use of computers, however they are increasingly using a digital format, resulting in separate born-digital creations.

  • E-books, which are any electronic files on digital displays.[8]
  • Newspapers online,
  • Photographs,
  • Webcomics are disseminated online, and are considered to be “born-digital.” Webcomics follow the tradition of user-generated content and may later be printed by the creator, but as they were originally chosen to be disseminated through the internet, they are considered to be “born-digital” media.
  • Internet disseminated TV shows (these are specifically shown exclusively on the internet, not reruns available online). Examples of these include full-length internet shows, such as The Guild, as well as shorts, which are either user-generated content or used as promotional material by industries. The Guild is mentioned specifically because it has a series based format much like shows that exist on television do.[9] One series that has been distributed online includes Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog which has gotten a lot of media attention for the internet-available decision. Recently, Dr. Horrible has gotten further attention through winning an Emmy for short-format live action entertainment.[10]
  • Electronic records are the products of the vast amount of information created by organizations and individuals on computers. Examples are e-mail, word-processed documents, and electronic spreadsheets. As records, they must exist in the context of other activities.[11] They have become increasingly important in the government setting, as more and more communication in the technological age done digitally and laws in various countries require that this information be preserved.[12] Electronic medical records are also seeing heavy adoption.
  • Digital sound recordings: the digital nature of sound recordings is not a new phenomenon; it has played a role since the 1970s with the acceptance of pulse-code modulation (PCM) in the recording process.[13] Since then it has become the fundamental way that sound is recorded and delivered. A number of means of storing and delivering digital audio have developed, including web streams, compact discs and mp3 audio files.[13] Increasingly, more and more digital audio has become available as ‘download only,’ lacking any kind of tangible counterpart. One example of this trend is the “notable” 2008 recording of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique by Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel.[14] Available through downloading only, it has presented problems for libraries which may want to carry this work but cannot due to licensing limitations.[14] Another example, this one more commercial, is Radiohead’s 2007 release In Rainbows, released initially as a digital download only; however it addressed this issue of access, as the recording was released physically later in the year.

Implications of born-digital content

There are many issues that accompany the rise in born-digital material over the years, speaking particularly to their format and quantity. All of these issues affect digital content in general, but are magnified for born-digital content as it often only exists digitally and it is constantly being created in this very unstable environment.

Digital preservation

Digital preservation involves the many activities necessary to enable continuous access to digital content. These activities include “collection, description, migration, and redundant storage.” [15] Born-digital materials present certain difficulties in this mission. As with other digital objects, preservation must be a continuous and regular undertaking, as these materials do not show the same kinds of advanced warning signs of degradation that print and certain other physical materials do. Invisible processes such as bit rot can lead to irreparable damage.[15] In other cases, such as on the Web, born-digital content is particularly ephemeral and changes, or even disappears, very quickly; lapses in preservation can cause these materials to escape forever.[16] Those preserving digital materials also have to worry about changing technologies and the risk of digital obsolescence.

Many questions arise regarding what should be archived and preserved and who should undertake the job. Vast amounts of born-digital content are created constantly and institutions are forced to decide what and how much should be saved. Because linking plays such a large role in the digital setting, on the Web, in wikis and blogs, in electronic journals, and beyond, whether a responsibility exists to maintain access to links (and therefore context) is debated, especially when considering the scope of such a task.[17] Additionally, since publishing is not as delineated in the digital realm and preliminary versions of work are increasingly made available, knowing when to archive presents further complications.[18]

Intellectual property

In developing collections and making born-digital content available, libraries have had to deal with complex intellectual property issues. Laws internationally dealing with the rights regarding works were created to deal with analog works; as such, provisions such as the first-sale doctrine of US copyright law, which enables libraries to lend materials to patrons, have not been applied to the digital realm [19][20] Therefore, certain copyrighted digital content that is licensed rather than owned, as is common with many digital materials, is often of limited use since it cannot be transmitted to patrons at various computers or lent through an interloan agreement. Also, works can easily be damaged due to viruses or system problems, while licenses and encryption often prevent the ability to copy, necessary to protect a purchase and prevent obstruction of access. Lack of ownership also leaves libraries with nothing when their license expires, despite the costs already paid.[21] These problems have generally gone unsolved, with people still working toward solutions. However with regards to the preservation functions of libraries and archives and the subsequent need to make copies of born-digital materials, the laws of many countries have been changing, allowing for agreements to be made between these institutions and the rights holders of born-digital content.[19]

However, consumers have also had to deal with intellectual property as it concerns their ownership of and ability to control the born-digital material that they buy. Piracy proves to be a bigger problem with digital objects, including those that are born-digital, because such materials can be copied and spread in perfect condition with speed and distance on a scale inconceivable for traditional print and physical materials.[22] Again, the first-sale doctrine, which, from a consumer standpoint, allows purchasers of materials to sell or give away items (such as books and CDs), is not yet applied effectively to digital objects. Three reasons for this have been identified by Victor Calaba: “...first, license agreements imposed by software manufacturers typically prohibit exercise of the first sale doctrine; second, traditional copyright law may not support application of the first sale doctrine to digital works; finally, the [ Digital Millennium Copyright Act ] functionally prevents users from making copies of digitized works and prohibits the necessary bypassing of access control mechanisms to facilitate a transfer.” [23]

Effects on industries

As more commercial items have moved toward becoming born-digital, the face of certain industries has begun to change and adapt. Some of the most affected are in relation to books, periodicals, and music. The e-book sector of the book industry has flourished in recent years, with increasing numbers of e-books and e-book readers being developed and sold, and rising numbers of books being born-digital. Giving in to this trend, some publishing houses, including major ones such as Harlequin, have formed imprints for digital-only books.[24] Publishers who adopt these digital imprints see opportunities to save costs on things such as printing. However, this e-publishing also gives authors more independence from their publishers, because the digital marketplace creates a more direct connection between authors, their works, and the audience.[25] Similarly, journal publishers have seen advantages to born-digital publications. Increasingly institutions are more interested in subscribing to digital versions of journals, something observed as some scholarly journals have unbundled their print and electronic editions and allowed for separate subscription; these trends have created questions about how economically sustainable production of print versions is. Already, some major journals such as that of the American Chemical Society have made significant changes to their print editions in order to cut costs, and many see a move toward exclusively digital journals as on the horizon.[26] These trends have spilled over into the magazine industry as well. PC Magazine went "100% digital" in early 2009, explaining "...that the ever-growing expense of print and delivery was turning the creation of a physical product into an untenable business proposition." [27]

The music industry has changed dramatically with the increase in digital music, specifically digital downloads. There has been a dramatic increase in download activity in the new millennium, signaling changes in buying habits. The digital format and consumers’ growing comfort with it has led to rising sales in single tracks. This growth is clearly still underway, with all of the ten best-selling singles since 2000 having been released since 2007.[28] This does not necessarily signal the demise of CDs, as they are still more popular than digital albums, but it does show that this changing born-digital content is having a significant influence on sales and the industry.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b NDIIPP, "Preserving Digital Culture," Library of Congress.
  2. ^ Susan S. Lazinger, "Issues of Policy and Practice in Digital Preservation," in Digital Libraries: Policy, Planning, and Practice, ed. Judith Andrews and Derek Law (Burlington: Ashgate, 2004), 100
  3. ^ Lance Eaton, "Books Born Digital," Library Journal, May 15, 2009, 26.
  4. ^ "Introduction - Definitions and Concepts," Digital Preservation Coalition.
  5. ^ G. Mahesh and Rekha Mittal, "Digital Content Creation and Copyright Issues," The Electronic Library 27, no 4 (2008), 678.
  6. ^ Amy Friedlander, "Summary of Findings" in Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving, Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress, 2.
  7. ^ Eaton, Lance. "Books born digital: The emerging phenomenon of books published first in digital format." Library Journal. 134. 9 (May 15, 2009)pg.26.
  8. ^ Romano, Frank. “E-Books and the Challenge of Preservation.” Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving. April 2002. Pg. 28
  9. ^ The Guild - a web series about gamers
  10. ^ Dr. Horrible wins first Emmy for Joss Whedon Blastr, September 13, 2009
  11. ^ Kenneth Thilbodeau, "Building the Archives of the Future," D-Lib Magazine 7, no. 2 (February 2001).
  12. ^ Kimberly Barata, "Archives in the Digital Age," Journal of the Society of Archivists25, no. 1 (2004), 63.
  13. ^ a b Samuel Brylawski, "Preservation of Digitally Recorded Sound" in Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving, Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress, 53.
  14. ^ a b D.J. Hoek, "The Download Dilemma," American Libraries (August/September 2009), 55.
  15. ^ a b NDIIPP et al., "International Study on the Impact of Copyright Law on Digital Preservation," 5.
  16. ^ Peter Lyman, "Archiving the World Wide Web" in Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving, Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress, 39.
  17. ^ Lyman, "World Wide Web," 41.
  18. ^ Richard A. Danner, "Issues in the Preservation of Born-digital Scholarly Communications in Law," Law Library Journal 96, no. 4 (2004), 601.
  19. ^ a b NDIIPP et al., "International," 154.
  20. ^ Lyman, "World Wide Web," 44.
  21. ^ Victor F. Calaba, "Quibbles 'n Bits: Making a Digital First Sale Doctrine Feasible," Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review 9, no. 1 (2002), 23-5
  22. ^ Calaba, "Quibbles," 8.
  23. ^ Calaba, "Quibbles," 9.
  24. ^ Sarah Weinman, "Harlequin launches digital-only imprint. Will other big houses feel the romance?" Daily Finance, (November 10, 2009).
  25. ^ Romano, "E-Books," 31.
  26. ^ John Timmer, "Print, beware! Publishers are "on the road" to pure digital," Ars Technica (August 13, 2009).
  27. ^ Lance Ulanoff, "PC Magazine Goes 100% Digital: An Open letter to PC Magazine (Print) Readers," PC Magazine (November 19, 2008).
  28. ^ a b "What Musical Artists are Winning in this Digital Decade?" USA Today (December 8, 2009).


  • Barata, Kimberly. "Archives in the Digital Age," Journal of the Society of Archivists 25, no. 1, 2004.
  • Brylawski, Samuel. "Preservation of Digitally Recorded Sound." In Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving. Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress (April 2002),
  • Calaba, Victor F. "Quibbles 'n Bits: Making a Digital First Sale Doctrine Feasible." Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review 9, no. 1 (2002),
  • Danner, Richard A. "Issues in the Preservation of Born-digital Scholarly Communications in Law." Law Library Journal 96, no. 4 (2004),
  • Eaton, Lance. "Books Born Digital." Library Journal, May 15, 2009.
  • Friedlander, Amy. "Summary of Findings." In Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving. Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress (April 2002),
  • Hoek, D.J. "The Download Dilemma." American Libraries, August/September 2009.
  • "Introduction – Definitions and Concepts." Digital Preservation Coalition, (accessed December 7, 2009).
  • Lazinger, Susan S. "Issues of Policy and Practice in Digital Preservation." In Digital Libraries: Policy, Planning, and Practice, edited by Judith Andrews and Derek Law, 99-112. Burlington: Ashgate, 2004.
  • The Library of Congress National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, the Joint Information Systems Committee, The Open Access to Knowledge (OAK) Law Project, and the SURFfoundation. "International Study on the Impact of Copyright Law on Digital Preservation."
  • Lyman, Peter. "Archiving the World Wide Web." In Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving. Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress (April 2002),
  • Mahesh, G. and Rekha Mittal. "Digital Content Creation and Copyright Issues." The Electronic Library 27, no 4 (2008),
  • NDIIPP. "Preserving Digital Culture." Library of Congress, (accessed December 7, 2009).
  • Romano, Frank. "E-Books and the Challenge of Preservation." In Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation: Issues in Digital Media Archiving, Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress (April 2002),
  • Ross, Seamus. Changing Trains at Wigan: Digital Preservation and the Future of Scholarship, National Preservation Office (London: British Library, 2000), Occasional Publication, ISBN 0-7123-4717-8
  • Ross, Seamus. ‘Approaching Digital Preservation Holistically’, in Information Management and Preservation, (Oxford: Chandos Press, 2006), 115-153.
  • Ross, Seamus. Digital Preservation, Archival Science and Methodological Foundations for Digital Libraries, Keynote Address at the 11th European Conference on Digital Libraries (ECDL), Budapest (17 September 2007),
  • Thilbodeau, Kenneth. "Building the Archives of the Future," D-Lib Magazine 7, no. 2 February 2001. (accessed December 7, 2009).
  • Timmer, John. "Print, beware! Publishers are "on the road" to pure digital," Ars Technica, August 13, 2009. (accessed December 7, 2009).
  • Ulanoff, Lance. “PC Magazine Goes 100% Digital: An Open letter to PC Magazine (Print) Readers,” PC Magazine, November 19, 2008.,2817,2335009,00.asp (accessed December 8, 2009).
  • Weinman, Sarah. "Harlequin launches digital-only imprint. Will other big houses feel the romance?" Daily Finance, November 10, 2009. (accessed December 7, 2009).
  • "What musical artists are winning in this digital decade?" USA Today, December 8, 2009. (accessed December 8, 2009).
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