Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
By KEIRA LYONS
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 Amazon.com 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?