SURVEY: Should Libraries Sell E-books?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

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.

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About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.