The Bookseller reports that some serious discussion is going on in the UK between publishers and librarians over rules for e-book lending at libraries. Back in October we reported on the UK Publishers Association setting down restrictive ground rules to prevent library users from downloading e-books outside of library facilities—a move that would eliminate one of the biggest advantages e-books have. (It turned out that these restrictions had apparently been brought on by people from China “joining British libraries and plundering their virtual collections for free.”)
At the moment, some British publishers do permit library lending (via e-book lending distributor Overdrive), others do not, and HarperCollins is “not ruling out” the same sort of 26-loan limit that its US division has imposed. Some UK librarians have said they would really like to be able to offer the sort of Kindle-based lending that Amazon recently announced for US libraries.
The place e-books have in UK libraries is complicated by the fact that the Public Lending Right—the UK government-funded system that pays authors whenever a library lends one of their books—has not yet been extended to e-books. (In fact, the PLR was a target for elimination in the UK’s latest round of budgetary discussions. It survived, though not without cuts.) So if someone “checks out” an e-book, the author is not paid, whereas he would be if they checked out a printed book.
It remains to be seen just what place e-books will end up having in libraries as printed books diminish, but these talks could be important in determining how they go over the next few years.