Last month I wrote about e-readers and buying vs. checking out eBooks. While doing some related research, I gained a new appreciation for the vast amount of information available on eBooks and libraries. So this month I’m sharing some of what I discovered about eBooks, along with a few useful articles and blogs that might help to keep you “in the know” when it comes to eBooks in the library world.
Okay, I’m really only going discuss one eBook blog, because it’s the best. No Shelf Required is, in my opinion, the place to go when you want to learn about what’s happening with eBooks. It’s well written, it looks professional, it’s full of great ideas/opinions/information, and it’s just all-around cool! So check it out if you haven’t.
The Current Predicament
You may recall that just a few years ago, most of the big publishers refused to make their eBook content available to libraries. And publishers that did offer their eBooks each had a different licensing policy, further complicating a complex situation; for example, Harper Collins eBooks would expire after 26 lends. However, things are looking up in 2015—the “big five” publishers are now licensing content to libraries and eBook checkouts are on the rise. According to a 2012 ALA.org report on eBooks in public libraries (the most recent data available), 76 percent of public libraries in the U.S. report offering free access to eBooks to their library patrons; this is more than a 20% increase since 2009. And according to Overdrive, eBook checkouts are up 33 percent, as reported earlier this year in Library Journal.
So it seems safe to say that the eBook is here to stay. More book lovers are embracing the idea of the eBook and ardent readers regularly turn to their public library when they want to “check out” the latest bestseller. But libraries are still experiencing snags in their attempts to acquire books in electronic format for their patrons. Cost and licensing issues are at the core of this dilemma that finds publishers and libraries often at odds. Libraries are facing significantly higher costs for eBook titles—and the prices aren’t just higher than print titles, they are higher (an average of 5.7 times higher) than what consumers pay for the same eBook.
Publishers’ concerns over eBooks is an extension of what Brian Napack, president of publishing giant MacMillan, expressed in 2011—the panic that someone who gets a library card will “never have to buy a book again.” So it follows that publishers are fearful that if libraries are “lending” eBooks, who is going to want to “purchase” an eBook or subscribe to a subscription service.
Yes, subscription services are just another component emerging in the already complex world of eBooks and libraries. Amazon believes that subscription-based eBook use is a matter of when, not if, so they are continuing to grow their Kindle Unlimited service. Citing comparisons to other media formats—music, magazines, and newspapers—executives at Amazon believe that eBooks will soon find the subscription model at the core of their success. A Library Journal article from January of this year explains that publishers and amazon are both looking at subscriptions services as a discovery platform and believe that subscription-based eBook consumption will be a win-win for all involved. As proof, the publishing executives point out that in 2012, 72 percent of library eBook borrowers reported that they had purchased by authors of works they had borrowed from the library. We shall see what happens.