Click to Borrow, or Click to Buy: Your Choice is Making Publishers Nervous
Many libraries have already opened the next chapter in book lending…e-book lending,
that is. According to Library Journal, e-book circulation experienced a net gain of 102 percent in 2011. Even though e-books still make up only a fraction of libraries’ collections, their availability in public libraries is clearly on the rise.
Meanwhile, the publishing industry seems to be doing all it can to severely limit that
availability. Publishers fear copyright infringement, but mostly they fear lost
sales on their fastest-growing business segment, digital distribution.
As reading becomes a digital pursuit, how can libraries and publishers come to terms?
Why give it away for free?
I can see the publishing industry’s point of view. While traditional library lending
involves making a trip to the library, and then returning again once materials
have been used, checking out an e-book can be as simple as visiting the library’s homepage. Some readers would rather order the book from Amazon than do the library shuffle, but e-book borrowing is just as convenient as e-book buying.
And the shelf life, if you will, of e-books is a long one. Paper books have to be replaced from time to time, as well-loved titles become worn with use. But once you purchase a digital title, it’s pretty much a keeper. Since libraries only have to purchase the e-book once, publishers lose potential money on replacement purchases.
Then, there is the allure of paper books as objects. Publishers do not feel as threatened
by the wide availability of print books for free at libraries because they know customers buy more than just access to a title when they shell out for it in a bookstore. Customers are also buying a collectible object to fill their bookshelves or lend out to friends, so they don’t mind paying for something that they could have gotten for free at the library.
However, clicking to borrow an e-book from your local library can be just as quick and
simple as clicking to buy it on Amazon. In either case, the reader is only purchasing access to the book, not a physical object. And, this scenario is making publishers nervous.
Acting on this nervousness, Random House recently tripled the price it charges libraries on many of its titles. This significant increase constitutes a 300 percent hike on some of the company’s most popular genres.
But Random House is library-friendly compared to several other large publishers. Harper
Collins doesn’t mind selling its titles to libraries, but they “expire” after only 26 uses and must be purchased again. Hachette and Macmillan offer only part of their lists to libraries for purchase, and Penguin and Simon & Schuster don’t allow libraries to purchase their e-books at all.
Publishers will have to figure something out. They have books in need of readers, and many of these readers frequent public libraries to be introduced to new authors and
titles. Even without a revenue stream attached to it, the library is an important distribution channel for books.
Access to All
I worked in a public library for two years, so I can’t help but to be sympathetic to their side of the issue. That side involves striving to introduce the community to a wide selection of materials for learning and enjoyment. Without access to so many e-books, how can they fulfill their mission?
What do you think? Are publishers being greedy by raising e-book prices for libraries and
limiting the availability of popular titles? Or, is this simply a brave new world for books, and libraries will just have to adjust? Share your thoughts on the publishers vs. libraries issue in the comments section below, on Twitter, or on Facebook.