Heat and Friction…Are libraries in the frying pan?

Move away libraries, we have bigger fish to fry.

This is what every library, no matter how big or small, dreads to hear.  Over the past few years, library associations worldwide have been negotiating with publishers for better loan agreements for e-books.  But the consequences go beyond the library.  If publishers don’t release more loans onto ebook libraries, publishers will be left in the dust as a whole new generation stampedes into a brave new world…

This time last year, HarperCollins announced drastic changes to its ebook permissions restrictions for library loans. It announced a 26 loan circulation limit. Effectively, libraries would be required to purchase the ebook again in order to allow patrons to borrow them.  Whilst it is true that digital copies will never suffer ‘wear and tear’ and thus negate the need to purchase new items, as would be the case for paperbacks, it is arguable as to whether a 26 loan limit is the right way to go.

For a typical three week loan, the twenty six loan limit will take popular items to a shelf life of 1.5 years. But I guarantee you that most of the books you see on library shelves are probably at least two years old. And they look quite new too.

Whilst it is understandable that publishers may be concerned about the spread of e-books to library users worldwide, given that ebook libraries are available online, recent evidence suggests that publishers may have been too protective, limiting the spread of the new technology.

Recently, the American Library Association held separate talks with the main publishing houses. The most notable concern continues to be how little publishers know about how libraries work.  It became apparent that publishers believed that electronic e-book libraries would be accessible to anyone, worldwide.

“For example, some publishers had the impression that libraries lend to whomever visited their respective websites, thus making collections available virtually worldwide without restriction.” –Molly Raphael, American Libraries Association President

Publishers have argued that this could lead to a significant loss of revenue.  This model used by publishing houses as their defence for releasing fewer ebooks onto library platforms, such as Overdrive, is flawed for three main reasons:-

1)      Libraries are funded by taxpayers, and you need to join and have a library membership in order to access these items.  Hence ebook libraries online are not available to anyone who strolls onto the library website.  They need to be a member, and almost all of the time, to be a member, this requires physical presence at a library branch.

2)      Digital Rights Management (DRM) is now sufficiently advanced to prevent the circulation of epub protected loans. “EPUB” is the standard file type for ebooks, and locks ebooks from use after the loan expires, and prevents the transfer of ebooks to other people.  Hence if a reader really likes a particular book, they would need to purchase a copy.  No lost revenue for publishers here.

3)      By hindering the release of eBooks onto library platforms, publishers have limited the ways users can discover new material.  Libraries are places where readers go for reading advice.  By limiting the availability of books in ebook libraries, publishers are doing themselves, and the entire book industry, a disservice. I, myself, have purchased books simply because I fell in love with them whilst reading them on a loan from my local library.  If you don’t have your material visible, then you won’t have your material sold.

iTunes has changed the way we enjoy music.  eBooks should change the way we enjoy reading.  But unlike Sony Music, EMI, Warner Music, and other big players, book publishers are being too protective. Over 5 million patrons are using the Kobo ebook store (www.kobobooks.com). Should publishers lift their game and release more new releases onto eBook libraries, this number could easily double as readers do the following:-

1)      Realise there are new releases through their library ebook catalogue

2)      Read the new release whilst on a loan

3)      Purchase it because they love the book too much, and want to read it again later, or add it to their personal collection

Publishers be warned. If you don’t let the industry propagate now, and libraries are the soil for this to happen, you won’t get another chance.


American Library Association http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/e-content/ebook-talks-details

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Filed under E-Readers, Love2Read, National Year of Reading 2012, NYR, Promotions

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