Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Are library ebook patrons also ebook buyers?


A new poll sponsored by OverDrive, the ebook distribution service, along with the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), suggests that yes, people who loan ebooks from libraries are also buying ebooks—at a surprising rate of 3.2 ebooks per month, in fact.

This is great news for libraries, who have long held that ebook lending is not only a non-threat to publishers’ sales, but a benefactor. The poll, which garnered responses from over 75,000 library patrons, found that many ebook borrowers find that the library is a great place to discover new authors (whose titles they may then purchase). The poll also supports the complaints of libraries against publishers, a battle of wills that came to a head just last month.

Perhaps the findings will finally convince publishers to stop being so restrictive in their ebook sales practices with libraries. The premise behind the argument, that ebook lending will reduce the number of ebook sales, never held much weight with me. What makes ebooks any different than print books, as far as library borrowing goes? It’s just as easy, in this reader’s opinion, to scan or copy a print book as it is break the DRM on an ebook and make copies for all my friends. Can’t publishers understand that an easy, affordable way to discover new authors is to browse library listings and try a title out for free?

Other highlights from the poll results include:

  • Public library is primary source of book discovery (57%)
  • Purchase average of 3.2 books per month (including print and e-books)
  • Would consider purchasing books discovered on library website (53%)
  • Visit both the physical library and download ebooks (53%)
  • Digital book purchases have increased in past six months (44%)
  • Purchased book (print or ebook) after borrowing that title (35%)
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These results are promising for publishers, who are struggling to find ways to get potential customers to discover their new authors and titles in an age where the storefront is slowly becoming a relic and error-ridden “if you like that, you’ll also like this” algorithmic online suggestions fail to entice buyers. According to Carrie Russell, OITP program director, in a statement to OverDrive, “‘Library lending encourages people to experiment with new authors, topics and genres—which is good for the entire reading and publishing ecosystem.'”

Just last month I shared the exact experience that poll respondents indicate. I found a title in my library listings, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which had won the Mann Booker prize in 2009, so I decided to take it out on loan (albeit in print). When I was finished with it, I had to read the next installment in the planned trilogy, but with my usual impulsiveness, opted not to wait to get to a library or bookstore and instead purchased it instantly for my iPad. That purchase certainly wouldn’t have happened had I not first tried out the author through my library. I’m also more likely to buy the third installment as soon as it’s published, since I enjoyed the story so much and would love to add it to my physical shelves.

Thankfully this survey reinforces my own anecdotal evidence that ebook lending actually supports ebook growth and author discoverability. If only publishers would listen.


This entry was posted on November 20, 2012 by in Culture, Technology and tagged , , .

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