Peter Osnos in his article “The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S.” writes that everyone in the publishing industry “will find it very hard to keep up with the pace of sweeping changes underway connected to the impact of the enormous expansion of digital reading.” The fact is that people are reading online and reading ebooks, and Osnos cites 21% of Americans had read an ebook in 2011, and digital readers consumed an average of six more books yearly than just the print reader alone. One of the issues Osnos foresees that “greatly complicate[s] the evolving book culture and the publishing business” is the concerns of libraries and digital reading. Libraries have the issue of “how to integrate e-books into the traditional role of lending libraries” for two reasons; they want to “remain relevant by increasing the universe of material that is available electronically,” as well as “maintaining their venues as destinations people choose to visit.” Osnos claims that “publishers remain wary of making current e-books available through libraries, because of the likelihood that potential buyers instead will become borrowers of digital books that never wear out,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily what their concern is. Publishers know that potential print buyers can take out their print books from the library just as they always have, and instead of buying their ebooks, they could also rent ebooks from the library. OverDrive is one system through which the public can borrow ebooks from the library. Just like print books, the library purchases ebooks, which are then signed out by one person per copy at a time. So readers have to wait to read the digital file, even though there is no physical object that needs to be returned. What kind of user experience is that? It seems crazy to me (I mean, as of now, if people need the book right away, they can buy the ebook). The library buys a copy of the ebook, which Osnos states as one of publisher’s pricing difficulties: should they charge “as much as triple the price of e-books to libraries” in order to account for the repeated circulation of the item? Instead of having to guess at a fair price, and of making patrons wait to check out the ebook, why don’t libraries pay the publisher on a per-checkout basis? And before you think that’s crazy, think about the Public Lending Right. The PLR system is designed to “compensate authors for the potential loss of sales from their works being available in public libraries.” So why can’t we extend this type of system for publishers for their ebooks within libraries? (And the publishers could then pay authors based on their agreements). As of now, the Public Lending Right has variations on payment, but setting up a system whereby publishers can be paid for their ebook offerings through libraries makes the most sense for all parties concerned. The publisher will be compensated correctly, the author will be paid fairly, and the patron will have a better experience.
Osnos, Peter. 2012, April 17. The Coming Book Wars: Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. the U.S. The Atlantic.