In the past year, libraries have seen a sharp growth in e-book borrowing. That trend is transforming the relationship between libraries and publishers. Libraries need to offer electronic books to remain relevant today. But some publishers worry lending e-books will lead to piracy and loss of sales. Two of the big six publishers license their e-books to libraries. Others are exploring pilot programs or have declined to participate. Many library patrons are frustrated with the limited availability of titles and long waiting lists. And some buy a copy of the e-book anyway. Guest host, Frank Sesno, and his guests discuss the challenges of e-booking lending at the library.
I haven’t listened to this (yet), but thought it might be of interest.
Earlier this week, Smashwords announced a groundbreaking agreement with Califa, the California public library consortium, in which they would agree to sell up to 10,000 books for lending by California libraries. The CEO of Mark Coker had gone direct to his authors and asked them if they wanted to make their books available for lending; the answer was clear. Of the surveyed authors, 82 percent believed that library access would help them sell more books; almost one quarter were willing to give their book to the library for free… .
For a lot of people, if they can’t get it cheap or free, they just won’t get it. For some people, it’s that they don’t have any money. The Discount Diva profiles the thinking of the cheap middle class, those who have some money, but don’t want to part with what they have. Just watch people haggle over library fines to see how cheap they are.
Libraries are helping both of them, and providing them with free stuff, but it’s free stuff that wouldn’t have been bought.
This sums up my public library usage very nicely. I do end up buying books (or asking for them for Christmas) when I really like something I’ve read from the library, but for the most part I don’t buy what I read. I don’t have the disposable income necessary to buy as many books as I read. ;-)
When you get a group of readers in a room, nearly every one of them will recount how their reading either started at a library or was fostered by a library. One of the slides from Bowker that I saw at BEA was that for individuals who have adopted a tablet, the number one thing that activities on the tablet have replaced is reading. Tablet adoption is on the rise and by 2015, tablet sales will exceed the number of PCs currently sold. Why is this troublesome for the book market? Because the biggest threat to publishing isn’t Amazon. It’s Angry Birds.
Publishing, whether it is traditional publishers, self publishers, digital first publishers, needs to invest in early reading for two reasons. First, early readers become paying adult readers. Second, early readers become adept adult writers. Both readers and writers are needed for a healthy publishing ecosystem and investment in fostering the love of reading and writing is vital. There is no better place to do this than by investing in libraries.
If you had any doubts that Amazon’s Lending Library was eventually going to compete with public libraries, here’s where your doubts get shattered. From Amazon’s homepage today, on the announcement of all 7 Harry Potter books entering the Kindle Lending Library program:
With traditional library lending, the library buys a certain number of e-book copies of a particular title. If all of those are checked out, you have to get on a waiting list….the wait can sometimes be months.
With the Kindle Owners Lending Library, there are no due dates, you can borrow as frequently as once a month, and there are no limits on how many people can borrow the same title…
Libraries are obsolete because they act as institutions of remediation. Libraries were either created to fill some deficit in existing institutions, or over the years have adopted the role of remedying some deficit in the community. While this deficit model of libraries made sense at one point, today many of these deficiencies either no longer exist, or libraries now divert precious resources we should use to solve the underlying problem and/or institutions.
What scared me (and still does) is that the predominant message libraries use to justify their budgets (and continued existence) is as a sort of societal band-aid ministering only to what ails our communities. As with any argument about libraries in the abstract, the argument lacks nuance and parts are easy to refute, but I ask you to look to the core of the argument. This deficit model thinking has big implications for library advocacy, and even the evolution of the institution.
Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers. Foremost, they are relatively avid readers of books in all formats: 88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books.2 Compared with other book readers, they read more books. They read more frequently for a host of reasons: for pleasure, for research, for current events, and for work or school. They are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in general, often starting their search online.
Most people who can afford ereaders can afford to buy books for them. Libraries are, in effect, providing those readers with a luxury, at least at the present moment. The whole ebook world is still evolving–we don’t know just where it will end. Maybe what we should be focusing on instead–right now–is providing the devices with content instead of the content alone.
However, libraries are ultimately about providing access. And the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of spending our ebook budget money on vendor subscriptions to “buy” disproportionately priced ebooks that we never own, maybe we should be spending more money on the devices. I know many libraries already do this, but maybe the focus should shift and more weight should be placed on the hardware–the means of delivery. Our customers may want to borrow ebooks for free, but if they can afford ereaders chances are they can afford to get the books they want. It is the group of people who can’t or don’t want to spend money on the devices that need our help, perhaps. As always, I am never sure of the answer. I simply like to point out alternatives.
Nonetheless, these two pieces of anecdata together suggest at least the possibility that the sales the big publishers are losing by withholding from the libraries is a larger number than just the ebooks they’re not selling for loan. They may also be losing other sales that come from discoverability and library-reader-generated word-of-mouth.
The big publishers I have spoken to seem most focused on keeping “friction” in the library ebook experience to approximate the inconvenience of print book borrowing, where you have to go to the library to pick up the book and then to bring it back. In fact, the imperfect interface from OverDrive already provides a good deal of that (except for Kindle loans, which bump over to Amazon and work seamlessly). The absence of any new titles from four of the Big Six may not provide “friction”, but it certainly would drive many readers to a retail channel. (In fact, without some huge change in the way publisher-library relationships operate, there will always be a much larger number of titles available from retailers than from any library.)
…as the growth in ebook demand continues to increase, access to legitimately free ebooks is decreasing. The reason is that the Big Six publishers are fucking stupid. If you want to borrow an ebook from one of the Big Six, your ability to get it from the library is down to almost zero.
Now, what happens when you take all the ereader and tablet and laptop users who have been behaving like good citizens by borrowing their ebooks from the library and you cut off their legal supply? They’re going to get their fixes from the Dark Side of the internet. Or from each other.
Since publishers are so concerned with the “perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability” of their ebooks, I have to wonder if libraries shouldn’t just help them out and hit the STOP button themselves?[…]
Surely every library has a service gap or three to fill that’s more valuable than overpaying for temporary licenses to files and platforms they don’t own, that may or may not work on their patrons’ devices of choice, and whose pricing can fluctuate more wildly than that of crude oil and Netflix stock.
The library eBook lending issue is possibly more complex than throwing a ring into a volcano in the middle of an evil land ruled by a giant eye.
In the library lending vs. ebook publisher controversy, one thing that we keep forgetting to add into the equation is that we libraries have always provided the value added service of free marketing & reputation building. As we move ever further into the world of digital media, reputation becomes a key asset. We’ve never charged publishers for our free marketing and reputation-building services. Maybe we should.