Statement on the ebook lending review

Ebooks in public libraries will not hurt the publishing industry. (Image c/o goXunuReviews on Flickr.

Voices for the Library cautiously welcomes the news that Ed Vaizey has announced a review of ebooks in public libraries.  Both users and professionals believe that ebooks should play a central role in the delivery of library services.  Providing access to information, no matter what format, has always been central to the ethos of the public library.

Whilst we are pleased to learn that a review has been launched, we continue to be disappointed by the attitude of the Publishers Association.  Richard Mollet, chair of the Association, recently told Channel 4:

“When it is as easy to buy a book as to click a button and borrow one, a lot more people are going to take the borrowing option, and that has serious implications for authors and their royalties, for booksellers and as well for publishers.”

At Voices for the Library, we do not believe that loaning ebooks will damage the publishing industry any more than the lending of print books has done. It may be as easy to click a button and borrow a book as it is to buy one, but it is equally as easy to click a button and buy a book.  Furthermore, whilst it may be easy to click and borrow an ebook, the user is only borrowing it for a limited time.  After three weeks, that ebook disappears from the user’s device.  As such, for the vast majority of readers, we can only see the limited borrowing of an ebook as encouraging user to buy more ebooks, not fewer.

The Publishers Association also fails to take into account that the reverse is true – that for many it has always been as easy to buy a book (in printed form) as to borrow one, and yet this has not harmed book sales.  For those living in rural communities a trip to the library is far more convenient than a trip to the town centre to buy a book.  And yet, despite the supposed advantage the Publishers Association suggests, public libraries have not forced the closure of bookshops up and down the country.

We assume that the Publishers Association’s response to ebooks in libraries is drawn from their fear that digital books will do for their industry as it has done for the music industry. There is no evidence that the free provision of ebooks in public libraries will have the impact they fear.

The review is an opportunity to put the case for public libraries offering ebooks to their users free of charge.  We must ensure that the Publishers Association’s scare-mongering doesn’t drown out reason and common sense.  Now is the time for a grown-up, reasoned discussion about where ebooks fit in the public library service.  We hope that the Publishers Association will engage constructively and sensibly in the debate.  Both their industry and public libraries will be relying on it.

4 thoughts on “Statement on the ebook lending review

  1. Pingback: Latest on the e book debate | Alan Gibbons’ Blog

  2. Barbara Scott

    You don’t mention where you stand on the issue with regards to the proposal that users should only be able to loan eBooks if they come to a library building to do so. This seems from what I have read very much a serious consideration and one I think is ludicrous.

    I think building closures and eBooks are separate issues and should be kept separate. The ebooks review seems to be linking them together.

    The whole concept of eBooks is virtual and I don’t think a modern library service can be taken seriously if we go backwards down the road that is being proposed.

    I am not sure how viable such a service would be anyway looking at it from all sorts of angles including technical and staffing issues.

    Who would want it? Not serious eBooks users. Not anyone who owned a Tablet, Mobile or Smart Device. Not those poor soles who cannot get to a static branch because unlike the virtual branch these are not open 24/7. What ebooks have done is open up the library service to these users. Are we now going to exclude these users, again. eBooks if anything have increased our membership base and will continue to do so if developed properly.

    Inevitably there may come a point when in the future eBook loans may impact on visits to library buildings and be a major reason why footfall is falling. The majority of library members at the moment borrow both eBooks and printed books. eBooks loans at the moment are only a very small percentage of loans and are not the main reason why footfall is falling.

    Perhaps its the online catalogue, or online enquiries or any other of the online services we offer. Shall go back to the days when users could only access these services within a static building? I think we would all agree, no. eBooks are a virtual service and just like all the other virtual services should not be restricted by a visit to a static branch.

    Yes some people buy eBooks and don’t borrow from libraries but I hardly think introducing a system whereby they have to visit a static branch is going to entice them to do so.

    Footfall is not how you can judge the Virtual Library Service. New metrics need to be how we judge our library services now. The modern world is whether we like it or not a virtual one and so to be a part of it you need a successful virtual service offer. The users of the future will be looking for these services.

    Virtual Services will mean less footfall and inevitably less buildings will be needed. Ways to engage with the Public in community spaces such as libraries are important but I don’t think we should offer poor virtual services just to increase footfall. The library service is not about buildings but about delivering a service to the Public. The best possible service for them that we can. One that is modern and innovative. The Virtual Branch needs protecting and developing too.

    Yes we do need to protect authors and they should be able to reap the rewards of their work but this is more about devising something similar to, or extending, the Public Lending Right model to eBooks. We should not be contemplating ways to destroy the service before its had time to flourish.

    Yes unfortuantely top Publishers’ won’t allow libraries to stock certain titles but this says more about them than the library service. We do need to find a solution but it has to be one that enables libraries to continue to improve their eBooks services and not one that is going to have an adverse impact.

    I am very concerned about the review and don’t believe the real issues will be addressed.

    After seeing the make up of the group I am even more concerned and desparately trying to find out how we can have an impact.

    Lets hope sense prevails. This review seems to be based on misguided perceptions and hidden agendas.

  3. Ken Chad

    Clearly one of the key issues is clearly articulating the positive *value* of public libraries to publishers and providing convincing and robust evidence to support that. This is especially important for ebooks as they are not the same kind of ‘goods’ as printed books and, as we have seen, publishers can deny libraries ebooks.I was talking to a book industry consultant the other week and he felt ebook lending would become the normal way of consuming ‘trade’ ebooks…but it would NOT be lending from public libraries! It would be commercial services like Amazon (so kind of back to the old model of commercial circulating libraries?.

    So imagine one (a librarian) is facing a publisher across the negotiating table. The publisher doesn’t have to license their ebooks to libraries. They will almost certainly be thinking about their own commercial opportunities for ebook lending. Complete the following sentence: –‘ebook lending from public libraries will be good for you because…….’

    Of course you don’t HAVE to have an argument that benefits the *publisher*. You could argue on other grounds (moral, public good etc) but at present the publisher holds most of the cards….

    Looking at the US (and is there any cooperation going on -eg CILIP and ALA?)I saw this today– from Peter Balis Wiley’s director of digital business development:

    “When will the ALA start proposing to us some best practices on what models you think will work from your digital solutions working group? You put a lot on us and it’s created a lot of chaos and clearly it’s [e-book library lending] broken. We have twelve different models,” he said. “You have to come back to us with more than just ‘equitable access at a fair price.’”


    What is the [CILIP/SCL etc] response to this?

    On a positive note I thought Christopher Platt from New York Public Library made a helpful contribution to this is his recent (Panlibus Summer 2012) article ‘The value of public libraries in the e-reading eco-system and that article deserve wider dissemination.

Comments are closed.