E-book popularity has publishers and libraries at odds

Nathan Pensky · December 26, 2011 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/22f8

As e-books undermine inherent inconvenience in library system publishers revisit long-standing model

As a rule, new technology tends to make things easier and faster. But that isn't always necessarily a good thing. Even a cursory look at the way the digitization of the music  industry is treating independent artists shows that.

But as print media likewise makes the enexorable transition from print to digital media, another loser is emerging: public libraries.

Book publishers have traditionally sold copies of their titles to public libraries under the understanding that certain inconveniences inherent to the library system actually benefit the publishers themselves. Patrons typically go to a library, find a book they like, check out a physical copy of said book, and then have to return it or renew it before they can finish reading it. This is a pretty good scenario to set up demand to which physical bookisellers have traditionally supplied.

So the physicality of the printed book, as well as the centralized library location to which the book must be physically returned, actually benefits booksellers, in that they offer a one-stop alternative for readers. Book buyers, as opposed to book borrowers, need only draw from the well once, and pay money for the convenience.

But since e-books have no physicality requiring a return trip to return or renew books, and because this inherent inconvenience of the library system process thus cannot encourage readers to purchase their favorite titles rather than borrow them, one report says book publishers have been left wondering how to alter their long-standing relationships with libraries, in response to a rapidly growing digital book industry.

When e-books were less pervasive, and the above described conflict of interest did not yet exist for book publishers, the inconvenience for library patrons regarding ebooks could be found in the fact that only one patron can check a given e-book out at a time, and that not that many books yet had been converted to digital media.

But nowadays, the e-book industry is rapidly growing. The new Kindle Fires are flying off the shelves, putting up real resistance to the iPad's supremacy in the tablet market, and the media to fill these tablets has been converted from print format accordingly.

As of yet, HarperCollins is the only major book publishers to make a definitive statement concerning publishers' shifting relations with libraries. Last March, the company released a statement, saying that it would allow libraries to loan their titles out only 26 times, after which the library would have the option to purchase a given title again for a reduced price.

And while other publishing houses have not followed suit, most agree that it is only a matter of time before other sorts of conditions are made. The other major publishing houses are basically waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for a consensus to be reached as to viable terms, and viable modes of inherent inconvenience in the library model, for new media book titles.

My opinion on the matter: Let book publishers' impose their rules concerning e-books, because who needs e-books, anyway?

As a longtime fan of public libraries, but not necessarily one of e-books, I find the digitization of libraries rather disconcerting. These days, patrons head straight for the DVD section rather than the stacks, so maybe a scaling back of digital media in public libraries is just the return to traditional form public libraries need.

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