E-book checkouts from libraries takes off

We lately mentioned the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle owner lending library rogram, but iPads and Kindles have another popular lending option that is also exploding. OverDrive reported that traffic to its “virtual branch” websites more than doubled last year, seeing a 130% increase. While much of that increase can be attributed to e-readers, OverDrive also saw a 22% rise in traffic from smartphones and tablets.

The increase in lending might be good news for libraries, but it is unclear whether publishers will find it so. If a lent e-book displaces a sale, as some publishers seem to believe, that means that many more people won’t actually buy their books or e-books. (This is undoubtedly why HarperCollins put a 26-checkout limit on its e-books and Penguin has ceased providing any to libraries at all.)

5 Comments on E-book checkouts from libraries takes off

  1. Isn’t that how it’s always been? People checking out books from the library instead of buying them? How are ebooks any different?

    My parents don’t spend money on books, they ONLY check them out from the library. I did get them a Kindle, but they still mostly read physical library books.

    For me, if I think the Amazon price is too high, I’ll check the Kindle version out from the library. If it’s not at the library, I just don’t read it. With all the free and low-priced books on Amazon (I’m up to something like 5,000!!) I don’t need one of the Big 6 publisher’s books at any price. Even then, there are only a couple of authors I like enough to bother. For me, most books are pretty interchangeable and I now have several indie favorites.

    I’ve only read 2 physical books in the 2+ years I’ve had my Kindle so if I don’t have a Kindle version available to me at a price I think is fair (and full price for a 10 or 20 year old book is NOT fair) then I won’t read the book at all.

  2. The main difference is that physical books (eventually) wear out and have to be re-purchased, but e-books (or at least, those that don’t have publisher-imposed lending limits) don’t.

  3. I can’t speak for other library patrons, but here is an example of my e-book library usage since Kindle books became available from Overdrive.

    To try out the service, I checked out one book that was available instantly for checkout. I also put a hold on a book that had about 100 people ahead of me.

    Boths books had been available as e-books for years and I had never bothered to purchase them, despite looking at them and considering it. The first book, I read and it was okay, but it really didn’t do much for me other than kill some time. The publisher could consider this a lost sale, but I would never have purchased the book anyway – so while I read it for free, the publisher did not lose any money and perhaps gained something from whatever they get having it available for library lending. If I had not been reading this book, I likely would have been reading something from my immense to be read pile that consists mostly of books I picked up because they were heavily discounted at the time or one of the public domain classics I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet.

    The second book was GRRM’s Game of Thrones. I never purchased this book because I am not a big fantasy reader (aside from Tolkein and a few others). However, because of all the talk about it since becoming an HBO series (I don’t get HBO), I was aware of it enough and interested enough to check it out on library loan.

    If the book had gone on sale with a good discount, I might have purchased it, but it likely would have gone into my huge to-be-read pile and ignored for a long time – maybe forever. Because it was on library loan and I only had it for two weeks, I started reading it as soon as I got it. It didn’t have a chance to get lost in the shuffle of books I’ll get to later. I fell in love with the book and couldn’t finish it in the two weeks – so rather than put another hold on it, I went ahead an purchased it at its regular price. After finishing it, I immediately purchased the second book and have started reading that right away as well. Unless the series starts to go way downhill, I will undoubtedly purchase the rest of the five books and any new books the author publishes. I know what I am getting, so I am willing to pay the full price. On top of that, I think my Dad might like this series, so I may purchase the paper book for him. If he likes it as well – it will undoubtedly lead to more paper book sales. And when the TV series comes to DVD in March, I will purchase that as well (I know the publisher doesn’t benefit from this sale, but the author likely does as well as the franchise).

    I don’t understand the publishers fear of lost sales from making books available at libraries. Why aren’t they afraid of the lost sales that would occur from not making them available? Yes, many books will be checked out and not purchased – but of those, how many would have been purchased by those borrowers anyway? If your books are good, readers are going to buy them – assuming they have the opportunity to discover them in the first place.

  4. @Chris – Ebooks might now ‘wear out’ but the formats do become obsolete. Libraries will have to repurchase them when the file format is replaced or buy multiple copies to meet demand.

  5. @Adri: Not necessarilly. Right now, libraries are buying ebook licenses, not files. Kindle library ebooks are actually delivered from the Amazon catalog. The equivalent epub or pdf file is deactivated and won’t be loaned out until the Kindle loan ends and the licensed is released/returned.

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