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The Whole “Library eBooks Kill Retail eBook Sales” Idea Makes No Sense

20 September 2019

From The Digital Reader:

I was working on a blog post this morning on Scholastic ebooks being in OverDrive when I got to thinking about the current uproar over library ebooks.

It seems a lot of people in publishing are convinced that library ebooks are responsible for retail ebook sales being down. This belief has been around for over a year now (since Macmillian first established that trial embargo on library ebooks in July 2018), and it’s now grown to include a concatenating belief that Amazon is the one telling publishers about the supposed connection between library ebooks and retail ebook sales declining.

I still don’t beleive that Amazon is doing that; I think it is an example of gossip spread in the industry before showing up in the media. But I don’t want to debate that today; instead, I want to discuss the underlying premise.

. . . .

The idea that library ebooks (in and of themselves) have a negative impact on retail ebook sales simply makes no sense to this ebook buyer.

It simply doesn’t match up with my understanding of how people use libraries.

BTW, the last time I pointed out that a common industry belief made no sense was in late 2017 when I debunked the then-current belief that “screen fatigue” was responsible for declining ebook sales. I never got any public kudos for my work, but when was the last time you heard a publishing CEO blame their falling retail ebook sales on screen fatigue?

No one is mentioning screen fatigue any more; now the bogeyman is library ebooks, and it makes just as little sense as the last bogeyman.

The underlying premise for this belief is that because people can get a library ebook, they won’t buy the retail ebook.  This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of consumer behavior.

. . . .

This runs contrary to the legacy industry assumption that if they deny the consumer the library ebook then the consumer will buy a copy of the ebook.

Take me, for example. I only buy ebooks, but when I think the ebook costs to much (or when I can’t tell if it’s worth the expense) I will borrow the print book from the library.

. . . .

What the legacy industry appears to have forgotten is that for the past eight years they have been training library patrons to settle for print books even when we want the ebook. This has been going on ever since the Big Six started imposing checkout restrictions and high prices on library ebooks in 2011.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

One of the beliefs that underlies the whole “Let’s delay the library book so everyone will buy their own copy” philosophy is that the release of a “big” book by a major publisher is something that lots of Americans will respond to by quickly purchasing their own copy so they can talk to their friends about it.

PG thinks such consumer behavior has become quite rare other than in locales within 15 miles of The Empire State Building or The White House. A major book release flies so far beneath 99% of the American population as to be invisible. There was a time when a lot of people paid attention to what Big Publishing was doing, but that time is gone, gone, gone.

PG is about 100% ebook when it comes to his long-form reading. As he’s mentioned before, he’s purchased a couple of print books that he knows he will like because he found a screaming deal on the price somewhere. They have sat (laid? lain?) within easy reach of PG favorite reading locations for months and months and months.

PG reads long-form nonfiction and fiction for pleasure every day. It’s all in ebook format.

He is currently reading The Ground We Stand On by John Dos Passos, published in 1941, and very hard to find for a reasonable price. PG thinks it qualifies as heavy-duty history, discussing and contrasting the parallel developments of New and Old England during the mid-17th century.

Parts of the book follow Roger Williams, the founder of Providence Plantations, which became the Colony of Rhode Island, and a Puritan minister. Williams was likely the first white man to learn the languages of the Native American tribes along the Eastern seacoast. He wrote the first book on the Narragansett language and helped to settle the Pequot War (1637-38) which could have caused enormous harm among the earliest British settlers.

The book follows Williams back and forth during his travels from the New World to the Old. Old England is in the midst of The Civil War and the Puritans were in control. While in England, Williams published his first book, A Key into the Language of America, in 1643. This book was, in part, the first printed dictionary/phrase-book of the language of the Native American tribes as well as an account of the life and culture of those tribes.

In his book, Williams wrote:

Boast not proud English, of thy birth & blood;
Thy brother Indian is by birth as Good.
Of one blood God made Him, and Thee and All,
As wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.

Williams succeeded in obtaining a charter from Parliament for Providence Plantations in July 1644. He then wrote a book titled,
The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience in which, among other things, Williams argued for a “wall of separation” between church and state and for state toleration of various Christian denominations, including Catholicism, and also “paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian consciences and worships.” Williams’ writing was not popular with the Puritan-controlled government and Parliament ordered the public hangman to burn all copies.

PG has rambled too much about his latest reading enthusiasm, but, to the best of his knowledge, a copy of Dos Passos’ book in physical form is unavailable anywhere in PG’s general vicinity. However, he was happy to find a copy in ebook form online (not at Amazon) for a reasonable price and is learning a great many things about this period of American and British history of which he was previously unaware.

Ebook Borrowing/Lending, Ebooks, Libraries

2 Comments to “The Whole “Library eBooks Kill Retail eBook Sales” Idea Makes No Sense”

  1. Wow! The deeds and thinking of Roger Williams sound fascinating. Thanks for sharing those tidbits, PG.

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