By Darin L. Hammond
Article first published as Ebook Library: Reader Coalition Dissolves on Technorati.
Disillusioned by Petition
At 1:00 AM this morning, I linked to the petition fromlibraries and readers, pleading with publishers to lift limits on ebook lending. I saw immediately that they had surpassed the goal of 10,000 by 250 signatures.
Since they had exceeded expectations, I hoped to add a crushing blow, 10,251. Probably wanting to ship immediately, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library shut the tool down halfway through my signing. I reloaded the page, but only the hollow shell remained. I hope they intend to rally again, but at least for now, ebook readers and libraries are quiet.
Success Creates Conflict
Libraries, readers, and publishers anticipated a conflict as ebook sales and lending both soared late in 2011. Popularity of the Kindle and Nook fired an expanding population of readers. The benefits of this growth in reading worldwide seem so obvious that one might find it hard to pin down the cons. However, the end of lending loomed when the American Association of Publishers (AAP) released on May 18, 2012 that ebook sales shot above hardcover print for the first time.
Publishers panicked, fearing decreased sales. The big publishing players Harper Collins and Random House restricted lending, and some won’t sell to libraries period: Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and recently Penguin.
A decrease in ebook sales may seem likely because of increased library lending, but reality contradicts this intuition. Lending libraries have historically increased sales, as readers are able to explore new books, authors, and publishers without risk. Patrons migrate naturally towards purchases. Since 1731, lending libraries have been an American fixture, allowing free access to literacy. Ben Franklin founded the first from his personal library, inviting colonists into his home to borrow books.
Reflections on Ebook Lending and Publishing
All publishers need do is look at 2011 statistics to see the explosive sales, along with increased lending. Libraries promote ebooks to a massive, passionate audience, and publishers will lose by taking them on.
Or, so I thought until the petition door crushed my fingers while signing. The only movement now seems to be that Penguin will allow New York City limited lending, as reported June 20 on the New York Times site.
Perhaps market forces in our free economy will resolve the conflict. Recently, Amazon offered books at .99 cents in addition to the many free downloadable books. This price reduction may just be Amazon’s response to a significant faction of authors self-publishing and giving away free books online.
The irony lies in the close relationships between social groups. Powered by the web, authors, readers, and libraries can read without Amazon or Macmillan. Publishers and distributors, however, cannot live without us, the writing-reading community that sustains the industries.
If the free internet is the means of distribution, and authors, empowered by computers to write and upload, are the publishers, who in the reading chain is unnecessary?
Update to the Story
The Topeka library has responded, and their new website is up, polished and refined. They assure me that they will continue to battle. You can now comment again, follow a blog, and subscribe to their page.