Why the Publishers Association are wrong….

The end of ebooks in libraries?

Well, I guess at times like this libraries know who their friends are, and the Publishers Association is apparently not one of them.  Despite the obvious success that ebooks have been in public libraries, and the potential they have for providing access to a whole range of people who are otherwise excluded from the service, the Publishers Association has effectively sounded the death knell for ebooks in libraries, if not libraries themselves.  Today they announced that:

Under the new scheme, library users would have to come onto the library’s physical premises to download an e-book at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, rather than downloading the book remotely. The scheme would also see the fee paid by a library to buy a book covering the right to loan one copy to one individual at any given time, and would require “robust and secure geographical-based membership” in place at the library service doing the lending.

That’s right, they would have to visit the library to take advantage of ebooks.  Madness does not even begin to cover it.

Let me explain why I feel this is bad for not only users but the library service as a whole.  The requirement to download an ebook from a device in a library would mean that library services across the country would need to spend money on equipment to be placed in a sizeable proportion (if not all) of their branch libraries.  Considering that councils are facing a 30% cut in funding and that libraries are in line for the bulk of the cuts, can anyone really see libraries paying out for equipment to be placed in libraries?  Of course not. It could cost thousands of pounds to provide such a service.  And, with these cuts in the offing, it will be no surprise at all if libraries decide they aren’t going to offer ebooks at all.  Why should they when the costs for providing such a service have been driven up by this decision?

But why is it so bad to cut the delivery of ebooks?  Because it is cost effective and provides a service to many people who do not currently use the service.  Cost effective because it essentially allows 24/7 hour opening without the need to pay staffing or building costs.  Something that is absolutely essential in the 21st century, and even more so given that the impending cuts are likely to affect library opening hours.  Furthermore the service itself makes library books more obtainable for those who are housebound, visually impaired (ebooks have the advantage of choosing a font size) or even just simply living in remote areas of the country, far away from their local library.  Previous studies have already demonstrated how well received ebooks have been by the elderly, meeting their needs in a way in which the current service does not.  Not only does this service potentially improve library access for the most vulnerable, it also reconnects with users who view the library service as outdated and out of touch with their needs.

Essentially, here is a service that has increased library use and has the potential to deliver a library service fit for the twentieth century.  Instead of building on it, we are going to see it killed off.  An avenue for library’s to grow and develop has essentially been roadblocked by the publishers.  But there is something else I fear from this development.

One wonders how much of an influence booksellers have had on this decision.  I would not be surprised at all if some leading booksellers were contemplating offering their own subscription service for ebooks.  If they were to do so, it would call into question the need for libraries to do the same, especially if they can only do so by making people visit the library.  Furthermore, with cost-cutting on the agenda, and retailers offering a service that could and should be provided by libraries, who would be surprised if the private sector were asked to take over public libraries?  After all, if they are going to offer the lending of ebooks, what’s to stop them using the library service as a supplement to this service?  It would certainly address some of the council’s budgetary cuts and reduce a service that they wrongly believe is ‘failing’ (despite all the evidence to the contrary).

I hope this does not prove to be the thin end of the wedge, but I have real worries for the library service when they are effectively prevented from providing a service that is proving popular with users and bringing people back to the library service.  If the Publishers Association really do care about libraries, I strongly suggest they reconsider their decision and work with libraries to ensure this service can continue.  There are other alternatives than simply putting libraries in a position where they have to pull the plug.

At present, it looks like ebooks in libraries have been a short, yet highly successful, experiment.  That is something that should cause concern for every single library user and campaigner not only in the UK, but across the world.

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9 thoughts on “Why the Publishers Association are wrong….

  1. I really hope that this doesn’t mean the end of eBooks in libraries – I know it will put many off who are thinking of investing in them. One of the reasons eBooks appeal to me is because of their convenience – I work full time and if I didn’t work in a library I probably wouldn’t borrow as many books as I do. People who work full time always say how they’re too busy to visit the library, don’t want to pay fines, forget when things are due back, etc. But eBooks can appeal to these potential borrowers because they could do it from home and they are deleted automatically at the end, no worrying about when they’re due back. Who wants to have to take their eReader into the library just to download a book on to it? And with many libraries reducing their opening hours too, less people would be able to take advantage of it.

    The convenience and remote access to ebooks is their unique selling point.

    I really wonder what research & reasoning the PA have for this move, except for profit.

    This may have catastrophic results for my dissertation too or it could end up even more interesting than it already was! The eBooks saga continues…

  2. Sorry to be negative on this one, ( please note I am not a librarian or business woman) but Publishing is a business, so profits are going to come before anyone or anything. E books are changing the face of it, so the publishers are going to be reacting in fear until the whole thing settles down, and then they might respond and be a bit more magnanimous. It will be much easier to pirate an e-book than a paper one after all. I do not agree with their decision, as anything that encourages reading and spreading books to as many people as possible has to be encouraged, but as they are a business I can see where they are coming from. Can you ( Librarians as a whole) not put your heads together and find an alternative solution to this? Or am I being unbelievably naive?

  3. “robust and secure geographical-based membership”

    Kind of undermines the Universal Membership thing where anyone can be a member of any library – this would be where that would be avantageous.

  4. Where does this leave existing contracts? Why would anyone sign a contract under these terms? You would hope that libraries could adopt a collective position of no purchases in any format till a more reasonable offer is available?

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  7. This does seem reminiscent of the furore which surrounded loans of music CDs in public libraries 20-odd years ago when the BPI instituted the 3 month holdback on new releases after libraries had been happily lending them when they were newly released. The BPI’s decision was shortsighted, as is this current one by the PA.

    It seems idiotic that people would have to visit a public library to download an e-book, surely one of the points of e-books is that they can be provided remotely to people who may not be able to access our library buildings for whatever reason (especially those who are housebound or disabled). So much for equality of access!

    I do hope the Publisher’s Association reconsider their decision, as in the library service I work for the recent introduction of ebooks has proved popular and generated many positive comments from our users.

    What next, one wonders? Electronic resources only provided via library pcs and blocked to our users from their personal computers? I despair.

  8. I know publishers are in business to make money, but this decision is an own goal business- wise. I shan’t be buying any more books if ebooks are pulled from public libraries, I shall just borrow more printed ones. What’s next? Only allowing the person with the printed book issued on their own library ticket to read it? If my husband reads a book issued on my ticket is he then ‘pirating it’?! Hasn’t the government anything to say? Thought it was the latest big idea – a universal library membership, regardless of geography.
    A 21st century library has to be convenient, user friendly, user focused, and very efficient in terms of costs…..er, that neatly sums up ebooks, doesn’t it?!

  9. I really cannot believe that the PA have been so short-sighted over this. It will surely kill off ebooks on libraries, a growing service that is much needed by public libraries. Killing this off alongside the impending cuts could be fatal. I hope library lovers up and down the country fight against this outrageous decision.

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