This is part of an article that appears in Martin Taylor’s eReport. Martin (pictured at the left) is writing from New Zealand. It raises some important issues about how ebooks and libraries can co-exist. This is only a small snippet of a lengthy analysis, the whole of which is recommended:
… This is partly due to tight budgets but also stems from concerns by publishers and authors about how—indeed whether—libraries should lend digital editions of their books.
It’s the latter that has prompted the UK government to legislate so that patrons in libraries can download digital editions to their ebook readers without libraries infringing copyright. At the same time, it will issue an order under legislation “preventing libraries from charging for ebooks lending of any sort, including remotely.”
On the face of it, this looks like a big win for the reading public. Most people I speak to about ebooks get excited by the idea that they’ll be able to borrow them free from their libraries. And most people have a visceral sense that borrowing from a public library should be free to all. But this excitement is not shared as acutely by publishers, authors and booksellers.
Macmillan US CEO John Sargent put the industry problem succinctly when he said recently, “In the past, getting a book from libraries has had a tremendous amount of friction. You have to go to the library, maybe the book has been checked out and you have to come back another time … With ebooks, you sit on your couch in your living room and go to the library website, see if the library has it … You get the book, read it, return it and get another, all without paying a thing … How is that a good model for us?”
I’ve always been (and continue to be) a huge fan of libraries, but I do share the publisher concerns. Our authors (and we) only get paid when books actually sell. For any given number of readers, libraries will need fewer eBooks (because eBooks need never be overdue, can be checked out anywhere in the system the instant they’re returned, and never have to go through shelving/processing, and because eBooks never wear out). Thus, eBooks mean fewer sales to libraries while allowing libraries to offer these fewer sales to more patrons.
I don’t know the answer, but affordable eBook pricing and a sale rather than lend model seem at least one approach.
” You get the book, read it, return it and get another, all without paying a thing … How is that a good model for us?”
How is that different than a physical copy? Just because it’s easier and more user-friendly? Most libraries only have a certain number of ebook “copies” that have to be returned in order for the next person to check it out, just like the physical books.
These publishers are as clueless as the music industry is. Do they want more readers, i.e. customers, or not?
Their real concern is that the Internet has made the middle-man irrelevant in many industries and publishers are the middle-men. Look at Amazon’s indie author programs for example. Anyone can publish a book and offer it for sale at a reasonable price that usually gives the author more money than the publisher was giving. What does that leave for a publisher to offer? Marketing? Amazon does plenty of virtual marketing without displays in stores, etc. Editing? There are plenty of independent editors out there for reasonable rates. Reviews? The indie market is full of individual reviews by people who have actually read the books as well as blogs. Where would publisher reviews be accessed anyway? The newspaper industry is quickly dying. I read a comment by one of my favorite authors when she was asked about writing a book around a favorite character in a previous book. She was all for it but her publisher wouldn’t let her write it, they wanted her to write something else instead. So the publisher is a roadblock between what an author wants to write and what a reader wants to read.
eBooks allow the author to reach his audience directly which can only be a good thing for both the author and his readers. Publishers will need to reinvent the services that they offer, just like people have done throughout millenium as new technologies are invented.
Indeed, you’re right that libraries don’t have to worry about ebooks being overdue–because what you “check out” is a token to read that ebook, and after a certain number of days that token expires. It’s sort of like the old DiVX plan, only even more so because there’s no longer the hardware-token plastic disk…