Do library eborrowers also buy ebooks?
Well, stop the presses. OverDrive, the leading aggregator providing libaries with ebooks, and Library Journal* have done research that proves that they do. (*My error hereby corrected: American Library Association, not Library Journal.)
The survey results are interpreted as evidence that the big publishers are making a terrible mistake being cautious about making ebooks available for library lending. And it is being reported that way. By one outlet after another, although one made the point that the publishers aren’t listening.
Perhaps the publishers aren’t changing their policies because they actually are listening. In fact, the survey proves that caution makes sense. Here are the followup questions.
“What makes you decide to buy an ebook rather than borrow one? Might it be that you’re buying the ebooks that are not available to you through the library?”
I’d offer two points to ponder.
One: what if the survey had said “we have found no overlap at all! The people who borrow ebooks from libraries never buy an ebook. They only borrow.”
If that were the case, would there be any reason at all not to sell ebooks to libraries? No! There would be no potential for sales cannibalization among that audience if borrowers and buyers did not overlap.
Two: I started reading ebooks on a Palm Pilot in 1999. Between 1999 and 2007, if you’d asked me, I would have had to say I still read print books as well as digital. Why? Because a lot of what I wanted to read wasn’t available in digital. So if I wanted to read it, I had to read the print.
Then in 2007, the Kindle came along and, with some helpful pressure from Amazon, publishers routinely made their most commercial titles available as ebooks. So I wasn’t compelled to read print anymore. And, in fact, I have read only one or two printed books since then. (I remember one clearly but I think there’s another one too.)
What if the book purchasers among the library ebook borrowers have precisely the same motivation? What if they’re buying some ebooks because those aren’t available in the library?
So I’d say “thanks for the information” and for evidence from an unbiased source that publishers are entirely correct to be wary and careful about making ebooks available for library lending.
The New York Times says this morning that Penguin has announced a second set of “experiments” with ebook lending policies. The first one was with distributor 3M; this one is with Baker & Taylor. They have chosen time-limited (1 year) licenses as their gambit. As I told the Charleston audience last week, our client Recorded Books is about to debut an ebooks-for-libraries program that will give publishers the flexibility to control four aspects of the license: in or out of catalog; price; number of loans limit (if any); length of license (if limited). Obviously, the Penguin experiment could be conducted with the RB capability, with the advantage to them that they could vary the terms by title and change them over time (always honoring deals already made, of course.)
Doing this requires a tool set for libraries to manage their ebook collections, which Recorded Books will provide. Over time, the RB capability should enable enough experimentation to bring far more titles into the library marketplace while allowing publishers to learn what works and adjust to what almost certainly will be a changing environment.