Waterstones director warns library e-book lending could threaten bookstores

The Bookseller has a brief report on a London roundtable in which some publishers and booksellers sounded a warning about library e-book lending. Waterstones m.d. James Daunt said that library e-lending could be disruptive to bricks-and-mortar booksellers. “If you can download a book for free and read it, why would you want to own it?”

Daunt further noted that booksellers have had things “extremely easy” for a long time, and have lost focus on “the basic discipline of retailing.” He suggested that there is an opportunity for booksellers to learn to improve their financial focus and learn to run themselves better. However, he said that the numbers of bookstores will inevitably decline.

Some of the commenters below the article scoff at Daunt’s pessimism over library e-lending, pointing out that it’s been possible to check out the physical book for years and that hasn’t seemed to hurt sales. I would also note that it’s more likely e-book lending will hurt e-book sales rather than physical book sales, since e-book lending shares with e-book buying the instant gratification factor of being able to buy the book without having to leave one’s home. If you were willing to leave your home, it’s more likely checking out the physical book would be the buying threat.

4 Comments on Waterstones director warns library e-book lending could threaten bookstores

  1. Common Sense // May 14, 2012 at 12:36 am //

    Nonsense. In fact, I’ve read about other studies that show using libraries is a discovery process and actually increases books sales, not cannibalizes them.

  2. Rolling Eyes // May 14, 2012 at 8:22 am //

    “If you can download a book for free and read it, why would you want to own it?”

    Dear Mr Daunt,

    Maybe you should consider offering fewer ill-considered opinions and more eBook reading devices, eh?

    (Chris, thanks for pointing out the very obvious flaws with his argument.)

  3. Daunt says: ““If you can download a book for free and read it, why would you want to own it?””

    That is the essence of the issue and one which no one hereabouts can really answer. Mind you the issue is a future one, not a current one. Looking ahead ten years, or fifteen years to a world where paper books are slim minority of titles.

    eReaders will become ubiquitous as they are already doing. They will become a commodity that virtually everyone can afford, like mobile phones and there will be no worthwhile role for libraries.

    In today’s model paper books are and have been expensive. That cost has motivated both middle class and working class readers to use libraries where they can read free, alongside buying a couple of books a year. The model involved physically visiting libraries and, by doing so, discovering new authors which balanced, in part, the loss of sales.

    In the future world of eBooks this model will die. The vast majority of readers will buy online from their PC or eReader. As the transition progresses we already see libraries offering online borrowing services where readers, again, have no need to visit a physical library.

    Thus the physical experiential difference between buying and borrowing will become invisible and non existent. When that difference disappears … there is absolutely no motivation for a reader to buy !!! None.

    When that day arrives it will become crystal clear to every writer and publisher that it will be insane to continue to allow borrowing. It will simply make no financial sense because every reader will borrow instead of buy. There will be no physical experience that causes the discovery of new writers. The whole experience will be an online one.

    This will have no negative affect on society whatsoever, except to put librarians’ noses out of joint.

    eBooks will be cheap. eReaders will be cheap. Only a small segment of the population will have difficulty accessing the world of reading and that segment can be facilitated through Welfare driven reading vouchers that enable people to buy an eReader and eBooks at cut prices or free. This will cost society a minute fraction of the cost of maintaining thousands of expensive buildings and staff.

    Libraries have no long term future.

  4. “I would also note that it’s more likely e-book lending will hurt e-book sales rather than physical book sales, since e-book lending shares with e-book buying the instant gratification factor of being able to buy the book without having to leave one’s home. If you were willing to leave your home, it’s more likely checking out the physical book would be the buying threat.”

    -From the original article:

    “Daunt said library e–lending would provide tough competition to booksellers over E-BOOK SALES.”

    What’s the point of reading something if your going to miss the entire gist of what it was saying?

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