The hidden conflict behind ebook library lending.

How do you update a library? You drag it kicking and screaming into the digital age by giving it virtual bookshelves. For the past few years libraries have been striving to update their systems with ebooks instead of paperbacks in the hope of boosting its memberships. Whilst attendance at libraries have become more popular as a place to study than check out crinkled tea stained books, they have persevered for as long as you and I can remember and have surprisingly kept up with the times. Introducing computers was an easy and welcome adjustment to the library which has led to popular computer courses so it is no surprise that they are joining the growing ebook culture. And though many are welcoming the idea of free ebook loans some publishers are finding it difficult to back and aren’t making the transition very easy.

The idea itself

Digital downloading from home. Source: Shutterstock.com

Digital downloading from home. Source: Shutterstock.com

The idea itself is a simple but brilliant one. You just need your library membership to access your local online website and download your ebook. The best bit about this is you don’t actually have to visit that lonely, cold library building; it can all be done from the comfort of your own home. Yes this adds fuel to the apparently lazy generation but let’s face it, it’s far more likely that you will pop along to your local library if you don’t actually have to pop along to it. The draw is pretty large, free popular ebooks with almost instant access, far better than the somewhat meagre collection of free ebooks amazon has to offer which consists of out of copyright classics and unknown and doubtfully well written self published pieces.

Then you easily download your chosen book onto either your Mac or PC which you can transfer onto certain reading devices. Naturally there is a catch, and this is where the publishers come in, you can choose whichever book you want to download but, just like their printed cousins, if the ebook is already out on loan you have to wait till the previous one is expired before you can acquire it yourself. Not too much of a bother except that these books can’t be returned early. The library has a system in place that means the ebook will only automatically expire on a certain chosen date, roughly around 21 days as proposed by the Leicestershire library so there may be some substantial added wait time for your book.

‘Publishers have now threatened to prevent libraries from accessing ebooks.’

Behind the scenes
All of this is due to the fight going on behind the scenes between publishers, authors, libraries and the government. Publishers claim that libraries aren’t careful enough with their ebook downloads and are allowing people to freely abuse the system. The Guardian states that ‘with China-based readers attempting to circumnavigate copyright laws by joining British libraries and plundering their virtual collections for free – publishers have now threatened to prevent libraries from accessing ebooks.’ Resulting in a stern clampdown on the e-lending book laws.

The current few years for publishers have been trying ones as the ebook culture has been steadily growing forcing the printed book industry to its knees and making it consider where its future is going. Many have been forced to come to terms with having to create ebooks along with their printed counterparts and adding free ebook loaning into the mix seems to have rocked the boat further.

Publishers worry that books will become a thing of the past. Source: Mysteryfanfare.blogspot

Publishers worry that books will become a thing of the past. Source: Mysteryfanfare.blogspot

One of the growing fears for publishers is that it is becoming far too easy and simple for people to use ebooks over printed books and that this could lead people to feel that they never need to buy a printed book again. The Independent Review of e-lending in public libraries in England has acknowledged that this applies also with ebook lending through just the use of downloading the books at home. They portray their understanding in the review that ‘where there is no need to visit the library, means that the publishers and booksellers fear that it would be too easy to borrow a book for free. So easy in fact, that the borrower might never need to buy another book.’

Protecting the Publisher
All of the publishers’ worries have resulted in a building pressure against the government, who in actuality are backing the new addition to the library, to consider updating the public lending rights (PLR) and the digital rights management (DRM) to protect publisher’s rights. The government’s response was to create a review of the entire situation claiming that ‘the panel will consider issues such as the benefits of e-lending, current levels and expected future demand, and possible consequences for libraries, publishers and the public.’

The resulting independent review covers the protection of publishers’ rights and makes it easier for libraries to navigate the correct course of e-lending. As part of this protection the review proclaims ‘the fourth recommendation of this review is that digital copies of books should be deemed to deteriorate, ensuring their repurchase after a certain number of loans. Their printed counterparts naturally deteriorate, forcing popular books to be repurchased. This principal therefore should be applied to digital books; otherwise publishers would be unfairly discriminated against.’

Librarians against DRM. Source: drm.web.unc.edu

Librarians against DRM. Source: drm.web.unc.edu

Beneficial to the library?
This rule is the perfect excuse for publishers however to bump up their prices, whilst it costs around £2.50 to an average of roughly £12.00 for a customer to buy an ebook, it can cost the library sometimes up to £75.00 to replace one of their own and with the frequency with which they have to re-buy their ebooks it can be particulary damaging to the libraries funds. Sometimes libraries are forced to re-buy their books as often as every 21 uses while others will only last a pitiful year.

Whilst more and more publishers are willing to enter the lending programme some are still too afraid to use it, Simon and Schuster and Macmillan publishers don’t allow their ebook rights to libraries, while others like Harper Collins only allow 26 uses of their ebooks before a new version must be bought, much to the frustration of the library.

Although you can download your ebook onto your PC or Mac most people would rather transfer it onto their reader devices. For instance the nook can be used, however the main ebook reader people have is the ever popular kindle. Amazon make it very unclear where their support lies with ebook lending as the kindle is currently usable in the US for library downloads but have kept it unavailable for use in the UK. Though it is easy to understand amazons choice of being wary about entering into such a deal the offer of the free book on a kindle instead of paying amazon does seem far more appealing. Yet with time it could surely become amazons advantage, with the ability to use the kindle to their benefit, offering a link at the end of the library loan to buy the book on amazon could in all accounts work well in their favour.

‘Bring in new users that could never before have enjoyed the libraries uses before.’

Will there always be a need for libraries? Source: deanneleblanc.com

Will there always be a need for libraries? Source: deanneleblanc.com

With all the loops a library is forced to jump through simply to join the digital age it’s easy to wonder if it is worth it. With so many publishing giants opposing the idea it would be simpler to walk away from it. This is multiplied when considering the added possibility that if people no longer need to go to a library itself they could potentially be putting themselves out of existence. If fewer people cross the threshold of a library as they can now get all they need from at home, then they could face substantial amounts of financial cuts.

And while it is a challenge to adapt to, the future seems to have a large foothold on the digital book industry and a library could cause itself to become irrelevant if they don’t keep up with the times. The advantages for allowing the loans of ebooks for members are attractive, partially sighted users will now have the opportunity to read their books with the addition of having the feature to change the size of the writing. The ability to do this for free is extremely beneficial and could really bring in new users that could never before have enjoyed the libraries uses. It also brings the chance for the housebound to become a member, and an added opportunity to reach children through their many gadgets. The elderly will also be gaining the chance to take advantage of the new services with libraries offering to help with the set up and show them how it is all used. With the government still reviewing loaning laws it is difficult to predict the certain outcome for e-lending libraries, but with so many benefits for the members it is favourable to think that it will soon become the norm.

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