Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Are library ebooks threatening ebook sales?



For poor graduate students like me, the OverDrive app has become an invaluable source of entertainment. If you’re reading a book a week like I am, paying $13.99 for an ebook isn’t exactly economical (if you’re wondering how it’s possible to read so often while working and going to school full time, try commuting 45 minutes each way to school via train).

The library ebooks I can borrow for free on OverDrive using my public library card allow me to satisfy my reading habit without breaking the bank. But if OverDrive did not exist, would that necessarily mean I would buy more ebooks?

Absolutely not. I would more likely start re-reading old favorites that line my living room bookshelves, do homework, or read more newspapers.

My personal experience defies what publishers have come to fear of the growing popularity of OverDrive and other library ebook platforms: that free library ebook downloads are negatively impacting ebook purchases. On Christmas Eve, I was flabbergasted by that presumption in the New York Times article, “Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War”:

In [publishers’] eyes, borrowing an e-book from a library has been too easy. Worried that people will click to borrow an e-book from a library rather than click to buy it, almost all major publishers in the United States now block libraries’ access to the e-book form of either all of their titles or their most recently published ones.

I don’t know if publishers have ever tried downloading a recently published or very popular book on OverDrive, but I encourage them to try. I wanted to read the Hunger Games Trilogy, but didn’t want to shell out the $17.85 Amazon was charging for their Kindle edition. The trilogy is available through the OverDrive app, but guess what number I am on the waiting list for the first book? Twenty-three. With up to a three-week lending period, I could be waiting for 69 weeks. In this case, I couldn’t wait to buy it (luckily, my thoughtful future sister-in-law gifted me the trilogy through for Christmas).

Let me give you another example of how library ebooks add rather than detract from ebook sales. I was browsing through the OverDrive titles a couple of weeks ago, and came across I Don’t Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson. I downloaded it, since it was free, available at the time, and I was embarking on yet another 45-minute train ride. And it was pretty good! It kept me entertained during my commute, at least. Published in 2002 by Knopf (and adapted into a underwhelming major motion picture in 2011), it probably wouldn’t have been a book I would stumble across in my local bookstore, let alone purchase. Now, however, I may seriously consider buying other books by Pearson—based on the impression I got from that free ebook.

Can anyone explain how this phenomena could possibly be a threat to a publisher’s ebook sales? I just can’t grasp their gripe, here. Someday I will not be a struggling graduate student; I will be a hugely successful publishing professional with loads of expendable income (please, don’t laugh). Is it not in the publisher’s best interest to get me hooked on their books now?

7 comments on “Are library ebooks threatening ebook sales?

  1. cermak_rd
    January 3, 2012

    I have the same experience with my library. I never would have discovered the mystery series by Charles Todd or Håkan Nesser, both of which I’ve now purchased additional entries in their series. Also I borrowed “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, and then bought all of “The Greatest Show on Earth”, “The Magic of Reality” and “The Selfish Gene” by the same author.

    And yes, if I want to read something neat, it does take a while to rise to the top of the queue.

    • Aleem
      January 22, 2013

      I was putting a list totehger yesterday. This is the second freaky coincidence. I worked out that I only had seven. Which feels way to short. I want people to download my short story collection (perhaps novel in the future). So. I was thinking. I’d put up one short story for free (entice, intrigue, spark interest in other work by me), then charge the lowest price: $0.99 for the short story collection. I am wondering how many short stories, and words, is considered acceptable. Thoughts?If I put myself in the position of a buyer, I wouldn’t hesitate downloading a free book, and spending $0.99 on a collection by an author that I like the previous short story of well, that would be a very small investment I’d buy.

  2. M.E. Anders
    January 4, 2012

    I’m with you, Keira. I don’t think Overdrive competes with ebook sales in any way. As a library junkie myself, I find it very difficult to even check out a book via Overdrive. If I want a book that badly, I’ll either get the print version at the library or borrow it from a friend. I have too many unread books on my shelves to condone an unnecessary purchase…I am a bit of a cheapskate, I guess. 🙂

  3. Keira Lyons
    January 4, 2012

    I’m glad others feel the same way! Maybe if more people complain about this issue publishers will get a clue and release their ebooks to Overdrive.

  4. Pingback: More on the publishers vs. libraries debate « appazoogle

  5. Pingback: One librarian’s take on ebooks and the future of publishing « appazoogle

  6. Pingback: The tumultuous business of library e-lending « appazoogle

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This entry was posted on January 3, 2012 by in Business, Opinion, Technology and tagged , , .

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