bookshelves-at-the-libraryAs a recent, rather vexed, letter to the UK Guardian points out, publishers and booksellers facing an apparent decline in appetite for the printed word ought also to be looking to their libraries – and supporting them more. Because it’s a no-brainer to conclude that the more libraries are buying books, the more robust and healthy the book trade will be.

In the context of a recent article in The Bookseller on apparent declining sales for adult print fiction in the UK, the letter writer, a Ralph Gee of Nottingham, asks:

Has the editor of The Bookseller compared the fall of print sales of adult fiction since 2009 by more than £150m [$227 million] with the massively declined budgets of public libraries over the same five-year period. This is also conditioned by the number of closures of public library branches and the radical changes in book selection due to the serious loss of qualified librarians. The problem facing traditional publishing must have been exacerbated by such austerity in local government.

This should be such an obvious point that it’s a pity that more traditional publishers in the UK aren’t making it. Instead, as the letter writer points out, they and their sympathizers seem to be pointing the finger of blame elsewhere: “It’s time for real attention to be paid to Keynesian economics instead of finding blame everywhere but in the most obvious place. The villain is not always the internet. Should the austerity continue to such an extent that public libraries disappear, then publishers of fiction – and their authors – will go with them.”

Is that a message that the UK government, architect of these austerity policies, would like people to hear? Unlikely. Is it one that the UK Publishers Association would like to remind people of? Maybe not when they’re trying to stay onside with the government over issues like DRM, ebook lending policies, etc…


  1. The public library system came into being as a way of providing books to people who couldn’t afford to buy them. Since that time affluence has risen, and the price of books has dropped to the point where there are very few people in that situation. Studies show that most clients of public libraries are middle-class people who could well afford to buy the books they borrow; but why should they if they can read them at the expense of the poor bloody ratepayer?

    If public libraries shut down, those people who feel the books they want to read are worth the cost will buy them; those who don’t will find substitutes. Publishers may survive by lowering their costs, or they may not. Either way, it’s absurd and unfair to expect ratepayers to keep paying for an increasingly under-utilised service that provides largely middle-class welfare. It’s even more absurd to advocate that they prop up the publishing industry. There are much more cost-effective ways of getting books into the hands of people who genuinely can’t afford them.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail