Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kindle Users to Join the Long Library Queues with the Rest of Us

I wonder if Amazon's announcement that the company has partnered with OverDrive to make it possible for Kindle-users to download books from local libraries will be the final nail in the coffin of Sony's e-book Reader?  Amazon's slowness in making it possible for its Kindle to connect with public libraries has been about the only good thing Sony still had going for it in the e-book-reader wars.  Now, Sony is saying goodbye to even that last advantage.

Without a doubt, Amazon is doing the right thing for its customers.  But those customers are likely in for rude shocks the first time they try to "check out" a book from their local libraries.  Even without the millions of Kindle-users in the queues, checking out an e-book has been no easy task.  It is all a matter of supply and demand - and most public libraries are already finding it near impossible to keep up with the demand for e-books.  Throw the new Kindle-based patrons into the mix, and the wait is likely to be one of several weeks for access to even a relatively popular title.

Rather than helping to shorten the wait-time for library patrons, publishers, still unsure how to deal with public libraries and e-books, are actually a big part of the problem.  Libraries face at least three challenges when acquiring e-book copies, especially copies of popular titles: high base prices vs. their very limited budgets for what are considered to be extra books; not all publishers are willing to sell e-books to libraries; and, at least one publisher will only allow its e-books to be checked out 26 times before they must be retired forever.

There is little doubt that Amazon's entry into your public library will bring the e-book/public library business model to a crisis much sooner than would have otherwise happened, forcing publishers to take a more reasonable approach to libraries - or to concede that market to other publishers willing to grant more equitable terms.  In the short run, this will further frustrate those who enjoy the convenience of acquiring library books from the comfort of home; in the long run, it will probably help to equalize the current e-book supply/demand imbalance a whole lot sooner than expected.

We'll be watching.


  1. As someone who lives in a town where the academic library (where I work) is way better funded than the public library, even considering budget cuts, all this news did was remind me how much the library e-book situation in my town stinks.

    Whatever issues public libraries face with e-books, they might as well be centuries ahead of academic libraries. It's only just recently that one of our e-book providers announced that we would soon be able to buy downloadable e-books (at an unspecified higher price, of course). My library has tens of thousands of e-books...all of which must be read on a computer.

    Public libraries are going to have even more demand for their library books, but at least public library e-books are on semi-correct footing. I still can't figure out why more academic libraries don't see anything wrong with owning e-books that can't be read on anything portable other than a laptop (or possibly an iPad - not an option I've been able to test).

    E-books in libraries are apparently a terrifying and repugnant thing for many publishers, and a painful thing for many libraries. I hope one day all the issues get worked out, for all types of libraries.

  2. I hadn't realized that academic libraries were running behind public libraries in this area, Library Girl. That surprises me a bit since I have felt that the lead in change of any sort would come from the academic libraries. Believe me, though, public libraries are far from prepared to meet this new onslaught of patrons wanting to borrow e-books. Checking out an e-book has been an extremely frustrating experience up to this point - primarily, I think because of the poor approach taken by publishers to this new golden egg of theirs.

  3. I'm hoping that the libraries and publishers will figure out this model so we can all enjoy the same easy access to eBooks as we do to print books at the library. As the owner of a Kindle I guess I am part of the problem!

  4. Not part of the problem, Kathleen, part of the solution. All the new Kindle user demand might force publishers to come up with a plan that makes sense regarding how they will supply e-books to libraries.