Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another setback for library digital lending

The availability of digital books through NH Downloadable Books took a step backward last week when Penguin announced that it was ending its contract with Overdrive (content provider for NHDB) to provide both eBooks and downloadable audiobooks. This move leaves only Random House as the only major unrestricted source of eBooks for libraries. HarperCollins limits a copy to 26 checkouts before a new copy has to be purchased, and Hatchette Group does not make new releases available for libraries. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not participate in library lending programs. While there are still many smaller publishers participating, these "Big Six" are responsible for many high-demand titles. We can get them in paper, but not electronically.

Why is this happening? The major publishers say that library lending will hurt sales and erode author royalties. Studies show that just the opposite is true. eBook borrowers are also eBook buyers. Libraries introduce people to authors that they might not otherwise discover. Many bestselling authors support library lending because they know that once a reader finds them, they'll be back for more.

Leaders from the American Library Association and the Public Library Association recently met with publishers' representatives to plead for liberal digital library lending. A dialog is ongoing. Penguin's decision to pull out in the middle of the conversation is a serious blow. It's easy to say that libraries should be moving from paper collections to digital, but there's little we can do if major players aren't playing.

Penguin titles that NHDB already owns can still be borrowed, but if you have a Kindle, you'll see that you can no longer download wirelessly. All Penguin titles will have to be downloaded to a PC and transferred to a Kindle via USB cable.

When I teach people how to use their eReaders with NH Downloadable Books, I preface the training by telling them that whatever I show them today may be different by next week. That's because the players and rules keep changing. Let's hope Penguin's decision is short-lived and the other major players will join the team soon.

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