I haven’t seen this written elsewhere, but the latest Pew ebook study seems to me to confirm that the publishers are doing the right thing for sales by constricting the availability of many of the most attractive books from library shelves.
That conjecture on my part comes from a data point that some may interpret a different way.
The data point that interested me is that 41% of respondents who at some time borrowed an ebook from a library bought the most recent ebook they read.
To some, this could suggest that publishers’ fears that library patrons will be weaned away from buying ebooks are overblown. Indeed, it is certainly possible that “discovery” at the library of a desirable ebook could lead to the purchase of a title for which the wait would be too long.
It could mean that.
What it seems to me more likely to mean is that the lack of library access to the most commercial titles forces those readers who care more about what they read than what they pay to purchase titles which the library doesn’t have (and which they probably “discovered” somewhere else.)
According to Jeremy Greenfield’s report on the Digital Book World site (wth apologies to them for changing their “e-book” styling to our unhyphenated standard):
“eBook borrowers being buyers is a phenomenon that’s true in the print world as well,” said Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association. “We know this anecdotally and this data that shows it is an important finding for us.”
Raphael said that ebook borrowers will discover a book they want to borrow and then see that they have to wait for it to become available and will get impatient and buy it. eBook borrowers also sometimes sample ebooks by borrowing them and then buy them.
What Raphael says is true. But it could also well be that the number purchasing books would drop sharply if all the commercial publishers made their most popular titles available, particularly if they did it without windowing.
There’s lot of other interesting data in the study. What really caught my eye is that 58% of Americans have a library card. I find that number considerably higher than my intuition would have suggested.
A couple of other data points from the study feel like they support my view that publishers are doing the right thing for their commercial interests. Pew found that 55% of the e-book readers who also had library cards said they preferred to buy their ebooks and 36% said they preferred to borrow them from any source—friends or libraries. But among the ebook borrowers, only 33% say they generally prefer to buy ebooks and 57% say they generally prefer to borrow them. Combined with the point that has gotten a lot of early attention, that most patrons don’t even know that libraries offer ebooks, I see a very strong suggestion that library availability of ebooks will reduce sales more than stimulate them.
None of this is conclusive but I thought my instinctive conjecture was out of step with the spin the study was getting and therefore worth this brief Friday post.