« Discussion

Is E-book Lending Bad News for Authors and Publishers?

By Edward Nawotka

The past two days we’ve looked at e-book lending options for libraries. In today’s installment, author Author Marcus Sakey, notes, “As an author, I make my living when people buy my books. For that reason, it’s hard for me to come out gung-ho for lending. I don’t mind it as a way to sample my work, but ultimately I hope you choose to buy. Here’s the upside, though: e-books are cheap, and getting cheaper, which I love. My preference would be to do away with digital lending, and instead continue to lower the price point of e-books.” The implication is that if e-book lending becomes more easy and commonplace, that authors and, by extension, publishers will risk suffering fewer sales.

Do you agree with Sakey? Is his self interest getting in the way of the public good? Or does he have a valid and important point?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  1. Barbara Fister
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I am both a librarian and a writer, and I worry that treating books entirely as consumable goods will … uh, shrink our installed customer base. Sharing is what makes readers avid readers, and they will buy books and will buy enough of them that we aren’t stuck with ten blockbusters to choose among.

    A future in which every book experience other than a teaser chapter is tollgated (except for 19th century public domain texts) means a shrinking reading public. Reading is a more social activity than we realize, and the number one way people decide what to read next is by hearing about books from friends. Avid readers are created when people develop a reading identity through discovering reading material that speaks to them. When I talk to college students about how they obtain books to read for pleasure (when they have time to read) it’s mostly from friends and family, books passed along with love.

    I definitely want Marcus to earn enough to keep writing, but libraries remain a huge way for people to become readers and to sustain a hunger for books when they don’t have enough money to buy them in a world where they can no longer pick them up at garage sales for a quarter because there is no such thing as a used book.

  2. Posted January 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    E-book lending with Libraries would be fine if they kept it to those out-dated reference books which we never could get our hands on. The State Library has so many with so much information which are kept under lock and key. If this information could be available either as an e-book or a lending e-book it makes a great deal of sense. You see, a writer – author – works hard to see their work in print, but not only printed, but to hold in their hands. I also get enjoyment from hardcver books that are mine, because of note taking. I know e-books can do all this now, but to find notes, scanning, etc. just doesn’t do it for me. Yes, give me some books for a trip, vacation, and I will read instead of lugging on a plane, but I still need to be surrounded either in a library or office, with books. So lending, yes, but only those stated above.
    Thanks, Nancy

  3. Posted January 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    If there is a possibility a reader will buy from my backlist after having been loaned one of my books, I’m all for it. I’ve done the same with loaned books in the past.

  4. Posted January 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. Libraries can maintain much larger collections than individuals. The collections are paid for – in private libraries by private funds, in public libraries by taxes and fees and donations. There may be some ways to make it so that the e-book wears out, like a printed book, but that seems silly to me. Knowledge is valuable. Space is valuable. More ebooks can be stored in less space and so more knowledge made available. What’s more important to me in an ebook that is for libraries is that bookmarks and notations be automatically removed when the book is returned to collection.

    When I’ve paid for a book personally, I’d like to be able to share that book if I enjoyed it. Personally that’s rarely more than five readers, and they wouldn’t have purchased the book. The tale would instead go unread. Electronic audio books don’t permit lending either, and it is frustrating, since they cost about as much as the cd-format. I’d at least like the possibility of donating the electronic format to a public library, charitable institution, hospital, or prison (where books are in high demand, but collections are limited due to funds).

    Ebooks grant me access to a much wider world. They permit greater scholarship and they encourage more cultural exploration, by reducing barriers and resources required. I don’t mind paying a paperback or hardcover price for an ebook – I do it regularly – but as someone who reads over 500 books a year, I am and have to be selective in which ones I own, and which ones I keep.

    Otherwise, we’re talking about leasing the right to read once. That’s one thing, but as a person who delivers sermons on a leased basis, I can tell authors who think that sounds like a good idea that the going rate is very, very low.

  5. Amber Troska
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how e-book lending will affect book sales more than physical book lending. People will still buy what they want to own.

  6. Lein Shory
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Wait, so Sakey wants to put an end to libraries, our great repositories of information, and also end the ability for anyone to pass along a book? Good God, what a terrible human being.

  7. Posted January 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink


    Marcus isn’t saying put an end to libraries at all… I’m going with you adding humor for that part. The overall feel from Marcus isn’t that lending is bad, but that digital and print are two different beasts. As such, they need to be treated differently, because trade/novels are different then research books for a library. Reference material serves a different need then trade/fiction material. When a library buys a reference set, they usually buy 1, it doesn’t circulate and rarely does its use equal out to the cost. In eBook form you can recoup those costs on usage and actually track what you have used, lending really doesn’t exist for academic material, the model is completely different.

    For trade books, libraries buy 5-10 copies of a novel sometimes for a branch. So for Marcus if a library buys one digital vs and it is lent out, that’s 9 more possible copies not bought. I think Marcus is a great in saying this, I’ve met him, he’s pretty straightforward and I think you’ll find a lot of authors feel this way, he just happened to say it to me. What we need to do is find a model that works with trade and applies fairness; both for authors, pubs and libraries patrons themselves. Until that is resolved, it’ll be a topsy turvey world for fiction eBooks, besides, wouldn’t you want to be paid for something you did and not just have it out there with no compensation? I don’t know many people that would.

  8. Barbara Fister
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Libraries pay for the e-books exactly as they do for print – one copy per reader, and when it’s “checked out” it’s not available to anyone else. So if they want to have 10 copies available at any one time, they pay for 10 copies. But Amazon won’t let libraries loan e-books to Kindle owners, so sometimes people who know their library has e-books buys a Kindle and is disappointed.

    I don’t think people have thought through the implications of never owning a book, only having a license to it, and no way to lend a book to someone else unless the publisher allows it. A world with no used books available from any source. A world where libraries can’t loan out books that people want to read for fun. I don’t see this as being good for writers in the long run.

    By the way, people who use libraries tend to buy books; people who buy books tend to use libraries. They don’t cancel each other out.

    I remember a writer, so upset that she didn’t make money on used book sales, saying she wished books would self-destruct after three readings, because then more people would have to buy her books new. To me, a book culture with sharing disabled is on self-destruct.

  9. illmunkeys
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Getting rid of all lending would create fewer opportunities for authors to earn money. Think of how many copies libraries across the world buy? Let’s not be ridiculous.

  10. Posted January 8, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    As a publisher, I want my authors to be read by the widest possible audience. Yes there is a profit motive but it can’t all be about the bottom line.

    If lending ebooks and sharing between friends mean that authors gain access to others who might otherwise pass them by, then why not?

    Why do you think so many publishers are looking into the Search Inside option on places like Amazon?

    Two authors I loves are Joseph O Connor and Terry Pratchett. I read and have all their books but it was only by their being lent to me and my reading them that I got into them.

    This is a long term thing and the digital publishing model may change like music has had to. You may be able to share your ebook and have an advert appear each time it is opened or for a short time.

    We’re at the start of a wonderful new era for books and should embrace it.


    Steve Walsh
    CEO Pyjama Press

  11. Sandra
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I think e-lending makes the switch to e-books easier. I can lend my paper books to my friends, so why not an e-book too?

  12. Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it’s time for the U.S. to consider instituting the public lending right that exists in EC countries so that authors benefit from library lending?

  13. Catherine
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I think lending is ultimately going to be good for publishers, by driving word of mouth. How often have you read one book by an author and then you have had to read their others too? And frequently, despite the best intentions, life gets in the way and 14 days is not long enough to read the loaned book. We founded a big community on Facebook, Kindle Lending Club (2,500+ likes) and it’s very active, so much so that we’ve outgrown the Discussion board format there and we’re launching a searchable, browsable instant-match platform for our community at http://www.KindleLendingClub.com (beta invites now available). People are very excited about Kindle lending!

  14. Tamara
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I have tried e-book lending through my public library recently and can honestly tell you that it drove me to buy the book – a book I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise. I enjoyed reading them, but missed the tactile feel of a book and ended up buying 3 hardcover books that I hadn’t even thought of buying previously.

  15. Jeff
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Q: What’s the difference between Napster and a Library.

    A: Scale.

    If an Author or publisher is okay with consumers sharing their work, that is one thing, but it is up to them. No one else.

  16. Barbara Fister
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    So an author or publisher should say “no library may purchase this book, and if an individual purchases the book he or she must not allow anyone else to read it”? I assume you are talking about licensed electronic texts, because copyright law has a “first sale” doctrine which, like it or not, says once you have bought a book, it’s yours and you can do anything you like with it other than copy it (or bludgeon someone to death with it or use it to break a window to commit theft, or something else illegal).

  17. Barbara Fister
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    @ Sandy – a public lending right that provides money to authors based on books checked out might help some authors out – but if libraries had that additional budget burden, it would decrease the library’s ability to buy books, so I’m not sure the net result would be terribly helpful.

  18. Posted January 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with eBook lending. People lend paper backs all the time. I, myself, borrow “dead tree” books from friends and, if I like the book, I buy it. i think the same will hold true for the ebooks, especially with the 14 day limit on borrowing. After all, there’s no way to limit how long someone loans out your paper back book, and I think if you start trying to do so, it would make an author look greedy. Just my two cents.

  19. Deb
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    My love for books started off with the public library that was close to my school. Its a love, that runs through the family now, me and my brother read most of the classics, popular fiction at the library. Ofcourse that was then, now we do not ahve much time to go to a library to seek out books to read, instead we scour book shops and buy books. But, I wonder if we would have ended up as avid readers without that neighbourhood library.

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