Relations between publishers and librarians tend to be cast along adversarial lines. A current example is the debate over the “right to e-read”, whereby the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) has asked the European Commission to impose on publishers the obligation to make all their e-books available to libraries, regardless of the effect on the book market.
If e-book bestsellers and new releases often aren’t available for library lending, there are reasons for this. Experiences in countries like Sweden have shown that library e-lending can effectively cannibalize e-book sales, destroying markets before they have a chance to form. Spooked by this, publishers have naturally been wary about giving libraries unfettered access to their digital front list.
Now, however, we see emerging a number of innovative approaches towards e-book lending which manage to align the interests of publishers and libraries by giving publishers control over pricing and lending terms (number of copies available, number of loans per title etc). This makes e-book lending a much more attractive value proposition, even for front list titles. Many of the most promising projects are taking place in the United States, where every major trade publisher is now participating in some form of e-book lending to libraries.
A new report from the IPA, “Innovation in e-book lending”, assesses promising schemes in North America, Europe and Brazil which provide libraries with the conditions to acquire and lending e-books while putting publishers in control of lending terms.
Rather than Brussels bureaucrats needing to impose a “right to e-read”, policy makers should take note that practical solutions are already emerging. The e-book lending models documented in the IPA report show how libraries can remain relevant in the digital age by supporting the e-book market from the ground up, generating revenue gains for publishers and authors alike. These examples of publisher/library collaboration deserve our support and recognition.