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Digital Book World: Where do libraries and ebooks meet?


Is there a place for ebooks in libraries? To start things off Wednesday at the Digital Book World panel "The eBook Ecosystem: Where Do Libraries Fit?," moderator Josh Hadro of Library Journal referenced an ebook feasibility study for public libraries. It included quotes from librarians and library administrators, including "I worry that we don't have a seat at the table," and "the boat left without us."

But this panel, like so many at the conference being held in New York City this week, wanted to stay positive. The panelists were Christopher Platt of the New York Public Library, Ruth Liebmann of Random House, George Coe from the book distributor Baker and Taylor and Steve Potash from Overdrive, a software company that provides ebooks to vendors and libraries, including the Los Angeles Public Library.

Libraries have adopted a model referred to in this session as one-book, one-lend. Under this model, a book is licensed by the library; a patron comes in and downloads that book for a set circulation period. When the period is over, the file is no longer accessible. Readers who want to read a popular book get into a queue and wait until the previous patron's checkout time has finished.

Platt noted that librarians are already immersed in reading communities, something publishers are trying to figure out how to build. And library patrons are rapidly adopting ebooks: The New York Public Library had a record-breaking 36,000 ebook checkouts in December, particularly in the week after Christmas.

Random House's Liebmann countered a misperception: "A library book does not compete with a sale," she said. "A library book is a sale."

"Public library sales total $850 million," said Coe of Baker and Taylor. Although libraries are often thought of as a place to find a book that's been around for a while, Coe explained, "98% of budgets are spent within 18 months of a book's publication." He thinks libraries will learn more about their patrons who check out ebooks, and may change their acquisition patterns.

The idea that libraries can provide both outreach and publicity for publishers came up more than once. "Public libraries are more important than some blogger," said Potash from Overdrive. "The library is the best way to elevate your sales. The data is starting to prove it."

Although most publishers have made ebooks available to libraries, some have not. Platt noted that two recent bestsellers -- Keith Richards' "Life" and Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" -- were not available, although the New York Public Library's patrons wanted them.

Potash said this won't last. The goal, he said, is for "the consumer to have too much road rash trying to get at the book."

And the panel ended on a positive note: Go to the next American Library Assn. meeting and share as much enthusiasm for ebooks as was shared here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Christopher Platt from the New York Public Library and the other panelists of "The Ebook Ecosystem: Where Do Libraries Fit?" panel at Digital Book World. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

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1 out of ten books I read I buy. Virtually every book I buy is a sequel or written by an author who I read through the library or through internet promotions.

Eventually publicly traded company shareholders are going to spank the board of directors for costing them money.

The big thing that needs to be changed about ebooks is the abandonment of licenses and allowing people to actually own the books they purchase. This includes libraries.

These publishing houses can either do this or a couple things are going to happen.

1. People will move toward books that have no DRM and which they actually own and can use in the manner they use paper books.

2. The poor and middle class will force a political solution through the government giving them full ownership rights to any product purchased including the removal of restrictive DRM.

One is more likely than two, but if one does not work and the issue becomes critical.......two will happen eventually.

I love Overdrive from the LA County Library System. This is why I chose to get a Nook over a Kindle. The Nook is the only one that supports ePub. There is definitely a place for public libraries in the electronic world.

Well what can one say? Everybody at this conference believe libraries are great for authors, publishers and retailers. No possibility of lost sales, no sirree bob.

But wait! Amazon - remember them, those guys dominant in this business - does not support library lending. They are missing a great opportunity! Or perhaps they have seen data to suggest libraries suppress sales...

Nah, that could never be, all of these big shot analysts are telling us differently. No bias here people.

@realist reader: Amazon is not in the same business as publishers, though they do a lot (!) of business with publishers. The fact that Amazon doesn't support library lending is like asking why grocery stores don't support library lending. If publishers want to diversify their revenue streams and get in front of millions of more potential customers, they'd be wise to get into library catalogs. Libraries are doing the marketing and discovery footwork for free!

Sounds viable

I don't deal with ebooks.
Until I can legally buy/resell/lend/borrow/trade an ebook in the same
manner as I can a real book, I won't deal with them at all.
I have no problems with DRM as long as there is the explicit understanding that
if I purchase a book I can do anything I want with my copy as I choose.
Reasonable restrictions to prevent multiple copies from existing while preserving my ability to protect my purchase from accident erasure or loss is
what is needed.
Right now I can buy a used copy of a book at a garage sale for under $1.
If I want to sell my ebook for whatever price I choose that should be my
business and my business alone. Perhaps a very small transfer fee might be
reasonable, say 25 cents or so, but that is about it.

Also, given that the books use no paper, have little in the way of storage costs,
don't have to be transported physically, etc. the prices of the ebooks should
be significantly less than the paperbacks.

@LA Library Lover: Sony Readers also support ePub ... which is why I bought one to read my Overdrive books on through Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. The Kindle owners I've talked to there are ticked off that they can only get Kindle books, though. They didn't realize that the cheap price is more than offset by the expensive books they're buying.

@more realistic: what *are* you talking about. obviously you are unaware that a. libraries are customers, and b. libraries are customers of amazon. yep, amazon's a library vendor. they will even invoice libraries. so amazon's 'differentness' is not the issue. i'd guess it's more the case that amazon does what it can when it can, and negotiation of international licensing with publishers is complex enough without trying to simultaneously negotiate with publishers over library licensing. but if amazon's smart (and amazon does appear to have a couple of synapses working for it), eventually library lending will happen. libraries don't just buy books. they do generate book sales. Because they don't have enough lendable copies of the popular stuff, in *any* format. That's how library lending of videos generate video rentals -- or at least they did early on. instant gratification is a huge consumer motivator.


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