NPR ran an interesting segment yesterday about libraries and e-lending—a good reminder that (to borrow a phrase from another NPR story) “change is the only constant in today’s publishing industry.” According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 75% of Americans read a book (in any platform) during the past year, and of those, 30% read an e-book. Sales of e-books for the same period grew modestly, up 34% over 2011, and e-book prices have somewhat stabilized at or near the $10 mark. With the growing popularity of e-readers and tablet pcs, however, the demand for e-content is forcing publishers to reexamine traditional sales and lending models.
Ok, you might say, that’s fine, but what about those of us who find the cost of purchasing our own content prohibitive (or restrictive at very least)? And once I buy an e-book, do I really “own” it anyway? Can I pass it along to my parents or my kids or a friend to read? Will there ever be such a thing as a digital “used” bookstore? (Probably not.)
Public libraries (including KPL) continue to expand e-book services, although selection remains frustratingly limited. According to the Pew study, only about 5% of library users borrowed an e-book in the past year, and only 31% were even aware that they could. Why is that? Don’t libraries know that users want more e-content? Of course they do, but the fact remains that many of the major publishers simply don’t want to play nice with libraries. They tend to view library lending as a threat to sales rather than the enormous promotional opportunity that it is. Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library in New York, says “public libraries, I mean, we're out there really pushing the product of these publishers, and I can't imagine another industry in this country that has that type of a relationship.” And as for those publishers that do make library content available, prohibitive pricing models and the resulting tangle of software designed to protect publishers’ digital rights only serves to compound the issue. So what do we do?
The answer is like Michigan weather… stick around, it’s bound to change. Currently, KPL licenses and distributes its e-content through a consortium of Michigan libraries in order to offer the broadest possible selection in a cost-effective manner. And we’re constantly researching new and different models for e-books, digital audiobooks, music, and other e-content. To help alleviate the waiting time, KPL purchases additional copies of many popular titles (called Advantage titles), which are available through the consortium but only to KPL resident borrowers. For first-time users, we’ve posted newly revised instructions to help make the library e-book experience as smooth as possible. And for hands-on help, the library is hosting a series of e-book information sessions where users can get help with technical questions and learn about new developments in KPL digital collections.
So go ahead, explore KPL’s digital collections and rest assured that as new developments come about, your library will be right there with you.