Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent attended the “Publishing Point” Meetup on Wednesday in NYC and spoke a little about the future of e-book lending, and the potential for publishers to create a new revenue stream from libraries. Eric Hellman attended the session and summarized Sargent’s argument on his blog:

“[E-book distribution by libraries] is a very thorny problem”, said Sargent. 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. If it’s a popular book, maybe it gets lent ten times, there’s a lot of wear and tear, and the library will then put in a reorder. With e-books, you sit on your couch in your living room and go to the library website, see if the library has it, maybe you check libraries in three other states. You get the book, read it, return it and get another, all without paying a thing. “It’s like Netflix, but you don’t pay for it. How is that a good model for us?”

“If there’s a model where the publisher gets a piece of the action every time the book is borrowed, that’s an interesting model.”

Hellman and a few of his commenters note that Sargent’s views don’t align fully with the reality of library lending in the U.S. Most libraries don’t allow three-states-away lending, and most don’t have the budget flexibility to enter into royalty payment agreements with publishers. On a related note, the just-released 2009 Librarian eBook Survey reports that 38 percent of librarians say a pay-per-use model is unacceptable because it doesn’t work within planned budgets.

Additionally, I wonder if libraries provide a built-in protection against content piracy; if you want access to a book but can’t afford it, there’s a system in place where you can borrow and read it without resorting to physical theft or pirated downloads.

(Thanks to The Bookseller)