How to give away an ebook after you’ve read it

I have a suggestion for libraries — ask your patrons to buy ebooks in the library’s name.

My local libraryPublishers are expecting libraries to treat ebook lending like physical items: buy one, lend one.

Software publishers started out with the same “X users requires X licensed-copies,” but that evolved into a policy cognizant of the customer’s need to make maximal use of its resources and so X concurrent-users became the norm.

I suppose the technical requirements of a similar ebook-lending policy would be too daunting to effect.

But still, that buy-one/lend-one practice is galling. It just forces libraries to spend money on books that aren’t being lent efficiently, stifling the adoption of ebooks where they’re needed the most.

So I have a suggestion for libraries — ask your patrons to buy ebooks in the library’s name.

If I buy an ebook of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, then it’s glued to me. Love it or hate it, I can’t give it to the library for others to read.

So why doesn’t the library set up a program for donors: “Buy it in our name and we’ll lend it to you first.”

Hey, I’m going to spend the money on the ebook already; I still get to read it when I buy it; and this way I’m able to donate it to the library (which I am otherwise prevented from doing). The library gets sorely needed ebooks for lending, and more readers are exposed to the book earlier. (Surely that can’t be bad for authors or publishers.)

A sensible business model won’t penalize either party in such situations, but let’s face it, we’re still very far from discovering what works for writers, illustrators, publishers, bookstores, libraries and readers (the human kind). So this is nothing more than a (in my opinion, much-needed) stop-gap for libraries. But I think we should settle for some breathing space until the new paradigm begins to take shape.

11 Comments on How to give away an ebook after you’ve read it

  1. The problem is that ebooks for libraries are more expensive than the ones for individuals.

    If I remember correctly Netlibrary charges its libraries hard cover price of the book + 9% per year.

    It’s not a one-time payment.

  2. Rafal, you’re right about different prices, but perhaps the donors could adjust for this. Some coordination might be required with the e-book suppliers. What do you do if an originally unpopular book takes off? But I do love Roger’s basic idea. It’s just a matter of implementing it to everyone’s satisfaction.

    Thanks,
    David

  3. Given the relationship/contractual terms between the libraries and their distributors (Overdrive / Netlibrary), it is not clear to me that “buying” the book in the name of the library would actually work:
    – There is no way I know of to buy directly from the distributors.
    – This isn’t “buying” but contract modification, with you as third party.
    – Not all contracts are the direct analogs you describe.

    Instead it seems to me that this should be up to the libraries who would have to create programs to allow you to donate to the library the amount the library needs to put the book into their distribution list, assuming that it is available in the first place.

  4. Gads, you mean no library has any ebook available except what’s offered by Netlibrary or Overdrive? Methinx there must be something rotten in the state of Denmark.

  5. So… what happens when a thousand people buy an e-book in the library’s name… and the library doesn’t want a thousand copies of that e-book?

    Yes, the problem is there. But I think it would be better solved by the libraries’ working out a new purchase and distribution system that is more amenable to the realities of e-books. Roger, your idea sounds like 20th century “one physical book” thinking, when we need more 21st century “multiple-instance e-document” thinking.

  6. Fictionwise’s library software, libwise, lets patrons buy ebooks for the library. I never have done it so I don’t know how the costs compare or even if they let you read it first (which they undoubtedly should).

    I think it’s a great idea. I hate buying a book, reading it, hating it, and feeling like I’ve wasted my money. Another reason I go for free ebooks. I’d be more inclined to buy if I thought others might also enjoy it. I’d feel my money was better spent.

  7. The way it’s set up, if you search the library for a book and they don’t have it, there is an option to buy it for the library. So there won’t be 1000 copies of any one book purchased. If they already have it, you can just borrow it, no option to buy.

  8. Steve Jordan wrote:
    Yes, the problem is there. But I think it would be better solved by the libraries’ working out a new purchase and distribution system that is more amenable to the realities of e-books. Roger, your idea sounds like 20th century “one physical book” thinking, when we need more 21st century “multiple-instance e-document” thinking.

    Since I agree we need more such thinking, I see that I have been careless in adopting a pose of reasonableness.

    While publishers and authors insist that one book purchase means only-one-person-reading-at-a-time, then I would like to let other readers benefit from my outlay for some books.

    Since there are no ways to lend titles from one individual to another, nor any means to transfer ebook-title ownership temporarily or permanently, I can’t lend my ebooks or give them away at all.

    At present.

    How libraries lend ebooks with such inane restrictions placed upon them, I don’t know. But if they’ll appeal to my Age of Reality altruism (“happy to help, so long as it doesn’t cost me anything”), then maybe the gift-book technique can be adapted to deal with the situation temporarily.

    Because right now there’s absolutely no way for me to buy a book and read it and also pass it along to a library.

    Sure, I could give cash, but the reason I’m willing to buy the book in the first place is I’m ready to read it now. I’m just suggesting a way to align the library’s interests and my own, without first having to beat the publishers into submission.

    Roger S

  9. Logan Kennelly // May 18, 2009 at 12:59 am //

    Roger Sperberg: “How libraries lend ebooks with such inane restrictions placed upon them, I don’t know.”

    How about this crazy idea? The library can “lend” a DRM-free copy every 3 weeks (or whatever the lending period is). (Perhaps mark the book in some way to indicate that it came from the library on such-and-such a date.) The incentive to purchase more books comes from the need to lend more frequently. There is no expensive infrastructure required, the system is more useful to the readers, and it is really easy to purchase books for the library (or contribute your own).

    Of course there are flaws. One could argue that this system wouldn’t work well for reference books, but it should work well for novels. It’s also going to be nearly impossible to convince publishers that this system is in their best interests.

  10. It’s an intriguing proposition. I continue to wrestle with the problem of how one creates a secondary/second-hand e-book market. The secondary market is very important primary market driver but so far I can’t figure out how this might work in practice, what with DRM, licencinsing and the fact that if I give you my e-book, don’t I still have a copy (somewhere/somehow)?

    Perhaps it could work this – think Wedding Gift register. Your library publishes a list of ebook titles it wishes to acquire and individuals sign-up to indicate which one they have or are willing to buy on behalf of the library. The purchaser has first dibs on the book but since it was purchased on behlf of the library it he can hand it over (avoiding the licensing issue). In recognition of this act, and recognising that Altruism works best when given a dose of Realism, for each subsequent lending of the e-book to another patron the original purchaser recieves a small royalty type payment (upto say, 1.2 times the original cost of the e-book) – Library’s get the content they and own the licence, the reader has his book (and the costs covered plus some) and the costs are covered by wide patronage meaning no-one takes a big hit but all get to feel good about it.

  11. Realism, for each subsequent lending of the e-book to another patron the original purchaser recieves a small royalty type payment (upto say, 1.2 times the original cost of the e-book) – Library’s get the content they and own the licence, the reader has his book (and the costs covered plus some)

    Paul- how is this altruism? You are suggesting an investment strategy. It sounds like an American model- ‘we’re giving stuff away, but we expect something back.’ Why does that seems self-serving and completely anti-thetical to a spirit of charity?

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