E-books at libraries are a huge hit, leading to long waits, reader hacks and worried publishers

This content has been archived. It may no longer be accurate or relevant.

From The Washington Post:

While some people are scrambling to collect log-ins for Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu and, now, Disney Plus, Sarah Jacobsson Purewal is working on a different kind of hustle. She signs up for any public library that will have her to find and reserve available e-books.

The Los Angeles-based freelance writer used to borrow a friend’s address to keep a New York Public Library account, and helped another out-of-state friend get a card for the Los Angeles Public Library.

“I’m a member of every library in California that allows me to be a member as a resident of the state,” said Jacobsson Purewal, before rattling off a list of cities: Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego.

. . . .

Digital books are sold online, typically for less than their physical counterparts. They’ve also found popularity in public library systems, where cardholders can download multiple e-books and audiobooks to their devices without leaving home. But, as with hardback library books, there can also be weeks-long waits and the inability to extend loan times for in-demand titles.

. . . .

And while there are technically an infinite number of copies of digital files, e-books also work differently. When a library wants to buy a physical book, it pays the list price of about $12 to $14, or less if buying in bulk, plus for services like maintenance. An e-book, however, tends to be far more expensive because it’s licensed from a publisher instead of purchased outright, and the higher price typically only covers a set number of years or reads.

. . . .

Library e-book waits, now often longer than for hard copies, have prompted some to take their memberships to a new extreme, collecting library cards or card numbers to enable them to find the rarest or most popular books, with the shortest wait.

. . . .

The first-grade teacher is a card-holding member of the Queens, Brooklyn, and New York Public Library systems, the Cape Cod library sharing system (CLAMS), and another city’s library where he borrowed a relative’s address.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post (Sorry if you hit a paywall. Sometimes, an incognito window will help.)

5 thoughts on “E-books at libraries are a huge hit, leading to long waits, reader hacks and worried publishers”

  1. Digital is changing public libraries and literary culture in general. I don’t expect the change to end soon. I’ve been a rural library trustee for six years now and even in this short time, I’ve seen big changes. Our door counts are down and our circulation is up. Digital circulation has increased steadily. For a few years, physical circulation seemed to be flat or declining, but since about 2015, physical has also begun to rise faster than our population. Yet, the digital share of our circulation has increased every year.

    On the macro level, cost per circ and patron interaction has risen steadily. Increases in health insurance costs and COLA for our staff has been a big factor in increasing our cost per interaction. However, I suspect that publishers’ draconian ebook pricing is also a factor, but our accounting is not sufficiently granular to substantiate that and collection costs are under 20% of our budget.

    We have communities clamoring for additional branches and branch expansions because they want their library to function as a community center, but at the same time, door counts decline. Frankly, I’m not sure what direction public libraries should take.

Comments are closed.