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SURVEY: Should Libraries Sell E-books?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

(image via GalleyCat)

Libraries are by-and-large a public service. And they are a complicated public interest issue. But a few things are clear:

  1. The move toward e-books has been embraced by libraries, who are looking for more and more ways to offer them to their customers.
  2. As cutbacks increase around the world they search for new revenue streams to keep their doors open.

My own hometown library system in Houston offers e-books, but good luck getting one. A recent search for popular titles such as Game of Thrones or Erik Larsson’s In the Garden of Beasts revealed that the library — one that caters to the fourth largest city in the United States — holds just a single digital copy of each. The waiting lists for these and several other titles ranged from 25 to 99 people (one assumes that is the maximum allowed). Naturally, I clicked over to a e-bookseller and within 60 seconds had what I wanted — for a price.

Having captured my interest, wouldn’t it have made sense for the library to have tried to sell me a copy of the book? They already have a record of my name, address, card number and other pertinent information. They have the database of books. How hard could it be? At a time when enabling consumers to act on impulse is a key to winning sales, it seems like a lost sales opportunity — one libraries would do well to capitalize on, especially considering the economy.

What’s more, with publishers implementing such a diverse array of e-book lending policies, it makes even more sense, especially considering how many titles might never end up available to library patrons.

Should Libraries Sell E-books?

  • Yes, it makes perfect sense (55%, 26 Votes)
  • No, libraries are a free public service (38%, 18 Votes)
  • Yes, with caveats (explain in the comments) (7%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 47

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3 Comments

  1. Posted May 29, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    I would say yes but if it was a copy that in some manner belongs to the library. That is if I buy the copy I expect to become the first in the waiting list, but at the end of the lending the ebook is available for lending thus cutting in half the waiting list. I don’t even know if that’s possible, but it would be nice.

  2. Posted May 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Crazy that libraries have digital copies of books and lend them out as if they were physical books – the whole point of digital, from a library’s point of view, I would have thought, would be to be able to lend multiple copies of the same book simultaneously. Why not? Because the big publishers don’t get digital – time to wake up!

  3. Duane Poncy
    Posted May 30, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I voted “no” on the above survey. What is the possible point of libraries selling ebooks? If I want to buy a popular title in ebook format, why would I go to the library for it? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    On the other hand, there are many small publishers out there like the one I work for which would love to have our ebooks in the library catalog. Librarians, forget those big publishers who refuse to play the game and promote some of the fine small press authors. You should be doing that, anyway!

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