Borrowing from libraries doesn’t pose a threat to bookshops, despite what some cynics would have you believe
With growth in ebook sales slowing, we seem to be reaching a point where digital and printed books can live in harmony. Will the same ever be said for publishers, booksellers and librarians? Not if the response to the latest e-lending pilot is anything to go by.
Two years ago, publisher William Sieghart’s review into remote e-lending said that public libraries should be able to lend ebooks remotely. It also recommended that “frictions” (lending limits) be put in place to protect publishers and booksellers.
Following that, the Publishers Association and the Society of Chief Librarians jointly commissioned an e-lending pilot project, with frontlist titles made available to four library authorities. Its findings, published in June, were largely positive, if inconclusive. Ebook borrowing increased slightly (though only accounted for 5% of total loans) and attracted some new users, with librarians and borrowers welcoming “a great new development” that could have particular benefits for visually impaired and housebound users. The majority of borrowers surveyed said ebook lending would have no impact on their decision to buy books or visit a bookshop.
The report was, however, seized upon by e-lending sceptics. “Less than 1% of people used the ‘buy’ buttons next to titles to purchase the ebook after borrowing,” reported the Bookseller. While I sympathise with the book industry’s desire to protect its interests, it is depressing when two parties that want the same thing – a healthy literary ecosystem where people read more – resemble rival football fans arguing over a penalty.
Ebooks, we’ve realised, will not cannibalise print. Lending them to the 51% of the population with library cards will likely have a negligible effect on book sales, just as 165 years of public libraries haven’t put bookshops out of business.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010