The Economist has an article which summarizes the current state of affairs around e-book library lending. Publishers have an awkward relationship with libraries when it comes to allowing books to be lent, since someone who borrows a book may not have any need to buy it after reading it, which could account (at least in the publishers’ minds) for lost revenue.

Publishers were also upset when Overdrive began partnering with Amazon for Kindle library lending, including an offer to “buy this book” after the checkout expired. It also mentions Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library for Prime subscribers.

Library boosters argue that book borrowers are also book buyers, and that libraries are vital spaces for readers to discover new work. Many were cheered by a recent Pew survey, which found that more than half of Americans with library cards say they prefer to buy their e-books. But the report also noted that few people know that e-books are available at most libraries, and that popular titles often involve long waiting lists, which may be what inspires people to buy.

All in all, it’s really a tricky question. After all, printed books wear out, but e-books don’t—and checking out an e-book (if permitted remotely) can be every bit as convenient as buying it, meaning people who might otherwise have bought it would be satisfied with reading from the library instead. But if libraries are going to stay relevant as people’s taste for printed books declines, they have to have some way to harness the e-revolution as well.

Presumably, all this will get straightened out and settle down within a few years.

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


  1. Frank – I suggest to you that there are a range of easy to implement systems that could be employed to enable those who cannot afford books to access eBooks. Government vouchers for online eBook purchasing is just one of them. There is no need, in this digital age, for the Gov to be involved any more on the distribution side.

  2. Howard, vouchers would reduce choice to what is commercially offered and on-line only access would further diminish opportunity. I still like the idea of a national public library with local libraries facilitating access to it by providing guidance and Internet access. Governments have to be involved because there isn’t a short run business case for helping the poor escape poverty. Stockholders simply won’t support that. Only society, through their governments, can make those long run investments.

  3. Frank, anyone who can afford an eBook reader can afford access to the Internet, where they can find a hundred times more free material than Carnegie had in all his libraries combined.

    A shortage of reading matter is not the problem. Massive oversupply is the problem.

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