More Backlash: Consumers Start to Take Notice of E-Book Library Lending Problem

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

As e-book demand skyrockets, availability of big six e-books to library patrons has become increasingly scarce. And local media outlets are taking note.

“The popularity of e-readers is soaring, but good luck finding that hot new title at your local library,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist James Temple this weekend (E-readers grow; libraries can’t get many titles).

“Publishers and libraries are at odds over how to satisfy the public’s craving for electronic books. How they resolve this thorny issue will have a tremendous impact on readers,” according to a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial on Sunday (Libraries need e-books, too).

Many e-books are simply unavailable to library patrons despite recent negotiations and subsequent appeals from the American Library Association (see Jeremy Greenfield’s recent coverage). Points of contention remain pricing, which has been further complicated by recent actions taken by the Department of Justice, and post-sale restrictions intended to mimic “friction” (barriers to borrowing as many e-books as a user can, as often as they want to), which publishers argue mimics physical book lending and is necessary for them to participate in e-book lending.

Librarians worry that if publishers refuse to sell them e-books at reasonable prices, they will fail to provide their communities with services they need. So they are doing their best to work around limitations imposed on them, Temple says.

At Texas A&M University and the Sacramento Public Library, for example, libraries are lending hardware loaded with limited content. Others are calling for legal intervention to defend the rights of libraries to own and distribute e-books as preservers of culture and providers of community services.

“The solution has to balance the health of the publishing industry with the public’s thirst for knowledge — and a library’s ability to cultivate that thirst,” suggests the Inquirer [emphasis mine]. Indeed, publishers must commit to experimenting with library lending, according to Mike Shatzkin (see DBW coverage here).

Or perhaps libraries should simply divest themselves of the e-book problem and stop lending e-books altogether, according to a suggestion made by “Librarian by Day” blogger Bobbi Newman earlier this month. She cites the dearth of e-book availability enumerated in “A Guide to Publishers in the Library Ebook Market,” published last month in Library Journal’s Digital Shift blog, and inaccessible prices, suggesting libraries take their budgets–and their readers–elsewhere.

UPDATE: See also Digital Book Wire coverage of ebrary’s March 21 announcement regarding a new three-part strategic approach to e-book acquisition: “ebrary helps customers acquire e-books strategically through a three step approach: Transition, Diversify and Streamline™. The company believes that by challenging the e-book status quo, organizations can effectively serve the diverse and growing needs of researchers and maximize their budgets.”

Digital Library image via Shutterstock

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Expert Publishing Blog
Barbara Galletly

About Barbara Galletly

Barbara Galletly is pursuing a master’s degree in information studies at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information. She is studying archives, libraries, and other forms of collections. Previously, she was an associate agent and associate director of foreign rights at New York literary agency Georges Borchardt, Inc., until she left New York to explore the wider world of books. She also writes, usually about books, for This Recording. Follow her at her website and on Twitter.

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