A publisher’s perspective: Why should libraries lend ebooks?

Sara O'Connor, Hot Key Books

Libraries have always provided choice to their patrons: paperbacks, hardcovers, large print, audio, reference sets, magazines, DVDs and games. Now, ebooks are an essential part of the reading and information landscape, so it is essential that libraries are able to lend ebooks.

85% of ebooks are not available in the library market

I'm so disappointed by the statistic that CILIP are sharing: 85% of ebooks are not available in the library market, and that only three of the big publishers are making some of their content available to libraries. It is a short term view that will impact those publishers’ and all publishers’ future bottom lines, as the UK loses out on creating readers.

In the US, all the major publishers are participating in library lending. There are various price structures, but they are all participating.

Libraries create readers, readers buy books

At Hot Key Books, our thinking is quite simple. Libraries create readers. Readers are book buyers, book advocates, book lovers. We need people to find our books, to read our books and to talk about them, to other people that love books. We desperately need people to love books, everywhere in the country, from all walks of life, and so whatever form they want to borrow a book in, let them. Otherwise, we’re all out of a job.

With the one copy, one reader model, it really is no different to the way publishers have worked with libraries on print. The notion that publishers are entitled to repeat purchases when a print book falls apart is ridiculous - that's just admitting that the product isn't fit for purpose.

Libraries are customers too

Libraries are customers. They aren’t asking for free content; they are paying for it - and while they want to purchase the big bestsellers and lend them out a lot, they also purchase books that won’t see a lot of lends, and there are no “returns” on those ebooks. Not licensing ebooks to libraries is undermining a big customer, and that will mean lost revenue on the print side. Libraries are also a place of discovery, and librarians can advocate for a book to a huge audience. It's not a good idea for a publisher to make librarians grumpy with them.

Perhaps CILIP should encourage libraries to spend their print budgets on publishers that do lend ebooks, as preferred customers? I happen to know a great children’s and young adult publisher with quality content that has their whole catalogue available to libraries.

Publishers must support libraries by licensing ebook rights

Libraries are the perfect communities for publishers to tap into to understand readers better - and I would encourage libraries to get a bit aggressive with the assets they have, and share data in aggregate with publishers that participate in fair and thorough ebook lending.

Publishers must support libraries by licensing ebook rights, enabling the ability of these institutions to provide access to books for all. And if publishers won’t support libraries, I wholeheartedly support legislation that protects libraries’ right to lend ebooks, just as it protects their right to lend printed books.

What do you think about the relationship between publishers and libraries?

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