eBook Lending – A Reader’s View

kindlebook Last week, I mentioned that certain publishers won’t let libraries lend their eBooks. To bring it home more, if you are looking for romance eBooks by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Lora Leigh, Keiran Kramer published by Macmillan Publishing at your local library or Simon & Schuster’s authors such as Jayne Ann Krentz or Sabrina Jeffries, don’t waste your time looking because their eBooks are not available for lending. If that is not enough, Penguin, which only offered backlist eBook titles for library lending, announced that it is terminating its contract with OverDrive, the library digital vendor, and starting February 10 will cease to offer any of its eBooks to libraries.

A 2011 survey among librarians suggests that they want to help make it easier for their patrons to check out eBooks. One librarian, Sarah Houghton, has taken it one step farther and wants your help in convincing publishers to change their stand on e-book lending. She has started a writing campaign. However, most publishers feel that borrowing an e-book from the library is too easy and will cut into their revenue. They actually want to make it more difficult for us as readers to read their books digitally. Almost all major publishers, Macmillan Publishing, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group, Brillance Audio, and Hachette Book Group block libraries’ access to e-books.” Quoting from this New York Times article:
“Borrowing a printed book from the library imposes an inconvenience upon its patrons. ‘You have to walk or drive to the library, then walk or drive back to return it,’ says Maja Thomas, a senior vice president of the Hachette Book Group, in charge of its digital division.

and from that same article:

Publishers feel that ‘they need to reintroduce more inconvenience for the borrower or raise the price for the library purchaser.’ Limiting the number of loans allowed per purchase, as HarperCollins has done, or holding back the most recent eBook titles from libraries.

It has been a year since HarperCollins implemented their plan limit of twenty six loans before the library has to re-purchase the e-book. When compared to no books at all, many libraries are thinking a little is better than none. I did check with my library before writing this blog. I live in a town of about 60,000. The eBook program was just added in May of last year and they now have over 1700 eBooks in their system from publishers that allow eBook lending. And no, my library is not buying eBooks from HarperCollins.

As with anything, when there is the void someone moves to fill it. And that someone is Amazon with their Prime Amazon Lending program. This blogger states it perfectly:

“For readers, high price points for eBooks might drive them to a library, except that publishers have withheld titles from libraries. Therefore, some readers might turn to pirated digital editions; others might turn to other forms of entertainment; others find cheaper books on Amazon. It has a dark beauty: through the combination of usurious pricing strategies and their undeclared war on libraries, the largest publishers have unerringly drawn their customers – readers with whom they’ve never cared to have a direct relationship – closer into the arms of the retailer whose market power and influence they most fear – Amazon. So much for a strategy of self-interest.”

Amazon lending library is not free, you do need to be a member of Amazon Prime. To be honest, I never would have joined Amazon Prime just for the book lending since you can only check out one book a month, but when added to free two day shipping and Amazon streaming video and television shows – it is attractive to me and apparently to authors, too.

In a blog on publishing perspectives, an unnamed author listed the pros and cons. And she definitely falls into the Pro column. You can read more about it here. And many other authors must have decided that it works for them because according to Publisher’s Weekly, “Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library now has more than 100,000 titles, growing to over 20 times its original size since launching in November 2011. While most traditional publishers are not part of the program, Amazon reports that KDP Select authors have had more than 1 million loans and that KDP authors participating in the Lending Library have earned $1.8 million, which is an incremental 24% on top of their royalties from paid sales.”

Publishers were looking to Apple to provide some severe competition to Amazon KDP program with their iBook author program. Marlene Harris in Reading Reality states: “However, if an author wants to be recompensed for the blood, sweat and tears they have put into their book, and they want to create it using Apple’s new program, which is supposed to be so cool, they have to be willing to sign over exclusive, absolutely exclusive, distribution rights to their work, forever. Not for a period of time, but forever. Authors can’t even sell their books on their own sites.”

Reading all that publishers have done to protect their business makes me wince as a consumer. In almost every way imaginable, they continue to tell us as consumers that we don’t matter.

There is hope, though. My librarian states that she was able to sign a very appealing five year contract on Harry Potter eBooks and publishers now seem to be shifting (if perhaps slowly) from a gatekeeper-oriented “You’re lucky to be with us” mentality to a service-oriented “What else could we possibly do for you” mentality. All the talk and media attention given to self-publishing as an alternative to traditional publishers seems to be having some impact. At Digital Book World, a panel featuring executives form S&S, Random House, Little Brown, HarperCollins and Perseus, spent the morning issuing mea culpas (and highlighting current and planned correctives) over past “paternalistic” practices in dealing with their authors. Indeed there was a fair amount of discussion about whether authors should be called “partners,” “customers,” or “clients,” in an era when veteran authors and even emerging writers have viable alternatives to the traditional publishing contract.

And hey, maybe they will remember readers next. Are you frustrated that you can’t get eBooks on current releases from your library? Do you still drive and pick up the actual paper copy or is it causing you to purchase the book? I would love to hear your opinions on this topic.

– Leigh Davis

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17 Responses to eBook Lending – A Reader’s View

  1. WendyL says:

    Another excellent blog, Leigh! So informative.

    Yes, it is frustrating that my library is limited to older books and non-fic for ebook lending. I can only imagine how people who can’t get to the library for paper copies must feel to have current release ebook lending so close, but unavailable due to marketing or whatever. I would feel much more kindly toward publishers if they’d at least provide a little slack for the elderly or infirm.

  2. farmwifetwo says:

    I can borrow from my county and they have made arragements that we can borrow from the city too in “e”. I can borrow in print across the Province.

    I don’t borrow in “e”. I tend to put many books on hold, wait for them to come in and have a library tbr on the floor. If I ever get to where I don’t have a pile to browse through… maybe I will.

    Just doesn’t interest me at this time.

    Although, I have noticed the library is adding more and more “e” to the shelves and they may force me to make that change one day.

  3. Diana N. says:

    It is extremely frustrating for me that certain publishers limit the ebooks available to libraries. Penguin’s recent retraction of its newer materials hit particularly close to home because alot of the PNR I read is from their Berkley line. Even worse, my local library doesn’t like to buy too many ebooks from other publishers. They feel they are not “reputable” and that patrons will not want to read books unless they come from one of the “Big Six”.

    So not only do I lose access to the romances I love, but I can no longer use the blurbs or reviews of these books to convince the librarians to purchase other’s publishers books.

    And now that Random House, one of the last remaining big named publishers still lending to Overdrive, is raising its prices, I am afraid it’s only a matter of time before I lose even more romances.

  4. Christine says:

    That was a wonderful article, you really encapsulated the current situation with e-book lending perfectly.

    The way the big publishers have acted has changed my book buying dramatically. I buy a fraction of the amount of books, particularly from the big publishers, that I did a couple of years ago. Like all consumers I hate feeling like I am being punished for preferring e-books or that I am being ripped off or mistreated.

    The biggest lesson publishers need to learn is what is emphasized above- Customer Service. I am not a continual customer of Amazon because I own stock or am personally or emotionally invested in them doing well. I continue to patronize them and their services because they provide excellent customer service in every sense of the word. They find out what the customer wants and they give it to them. Period. They don’t take a product and try to make the customer grateful for allowing them to have it.
    Of course the greatest irony, as you astutely point out above, is that by terrorizing libraries instead of partnering with them, the publishers are driving customers (even ones who may not like the idea of Amazon) into Amazon’s arms.
    As much as I have enjoyed the goods and services from Amazon, I don’t want them to be the only provider of books. I was extremely sad when Borders closed and I fear for the future of Barnes and Noble (who ironically was the target of publishers not long ago) and I dread Apple having any more power over the market than they do. As much as people fear Amazon, I fear Apple’s influence far more.

  5. LeeB. says:

    While my library buys tons of ebooks, they are usually not brand new but usually the author’s last release from the past year. But they do buy new paper books and thus I usually have 25 (the limit) library materials (books and dvds) on hold pretty much all of the time. The library is an easy 5 block walk from my work place so it’s not an inconvenience to me.

  6. Fenwick says:

    I bought an ereader partly to be able to borrow ebooks from our library for those books I knew I would not keep. I live in the country so I reasoned it was more convenient and less costly to borrow ebooks than to pay for the gas these days.Also my shopping habits have changed and I no longer drive to the malls weekly so I was browsing for books more online.

    The whole publisher attitude angered me and reminded me of Stephen King’s comment. At first his books were only published by Doubleday in hardcover. He was introduced to the executives several times but he was treated as a nobody whenever he went in to discuss business. This talking down to him went on for years until SK decided to expand to mass media and new publishers. I see Amazon as a new publisher.

    As for the editing services the publisher’s claim we will lose. I think they have been cutting back on spending money for editing “our” type of books for years. Woman’s fiction is not given the respect of the the income it brings in to pay for the publisher’s special contracts to public figures. (politicians etc)

    I am finding new authors to read and have gone from buying 3 or 4 paper books a week to about 6-10 paper books a year.

  7. EmilyW says:

    I live in a small town where the funding for the library is almost zero at this point. They hardly have any new print romances so ebooks? Not so much. Pair that with hardly being open due to funding cuts and not very nice librarians and, well, let’s just say I never go to my local library. I buy my few auto-buy authors from Amazon to read on my Kindle and scour for deals for others. This and my old TBR print pile are keeping me busy until the publishers get their acts together (hopefully).

  8. Carrie says:

    Christine wrote:. As much as people fear Amazon, I fear Apple’s influence far more.

    I agree! The collusion between publishers and Apple is a monopoly, and I still hope the law suit sorts this out.

    I’m blessed here in central NC to have a wonderful county library system and I physically visit one of the branches at least twice a week. I don’t borrow ebooks from the library because it’s simple to check out the print versions. I don’t buy ebooks from the publishers using agency pricing unless the books are free or greatly discounted. Between the library, used book stores, and Amazon (mostly for inexpensive kindle purchases) I have over a year’s supply of books already available. The publishers aren’t getting any new business from me by limiting their ebook lending. They’re just making me mad. Especially since budget cuts nationwide have limited the money libraries have to purchase books. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down.

  9. leslie says:

    Most books I read come from the library. When we moved from Seattle on 2004 I was really sad I would be losing physical access to one of the best library systems in America. But I found 3 amazing library systems in L.A. County and I kept my Seattle card active. There are always new release hardcover books available to borrow for a week (no holds on new books) at the L. A. City Library. Santa Monica has a fabulous romance catalog, new paperbacks are usually available soon after publish date.
    Not a fan of Barnes and Noble I was hit hard by Borders closure.
    I used to by 2 or 3 books a week, in 2011 I bought 3 new books and a handful at used bookstores. Santa Monica has a great Friends of the Library store where I find new paperbacks releases all the time for cheap and sometimes for free .
    I downloaded overdrive audiobooks from the Seattle Public Digital Library, but it wasn’t until recently I started getting e-books from spl. smpl. and lapl. My kids bought me a Kindle Fire for Christmas. I didn’t like it at first, but I like that I can read in the dark, but mostly I download e-pub to my PC and I have not nor will I ever buy e-books from amazon or B&N.
    I have found so many authors that I was unaware of by searching library catalogs. For example I first read Lauren Willig after picking up The Pink Carnation on the new books shelf at smpl. Now I buy all her books in hardcover then later in trade paper. I can say that about so many authors I read first at the library then had to own. I don’t understand why publishers don’t get it!! Romance readers are so very loyal to authors they love. MANY friends and co-wokers of mine buy e-books for kindle or nook, but they always say that when its a book they love they also buy it paper. Again, why don’t publishers get it.
    Public Libraries are closing all over North America. I think apple (worth over 500 billion), amazon and microsoft (both worth over 200 billion)
    need to step up to the plate and save our libraries now!!

  10. Leigh AAR says:

    WendyL, I completely agree. Can you imagine being bedridden, and have to ask neighbors to go to the library because you can’t get the e-book. What is sad is that many elderly and vision impaired individuals bought the readers because you can adjust print size etc, eliminating the need for larger print books, and now they can’t get the books unless they buy them.

    Farmwifetwo – my library browsing has decreased over the last couple of years. Just three weeks ago, I checked out a book, and never got to it. I kept thinking I would, and of course forgetting to take it back, and now I owe fines on it.

    Christine – Thank you. It more that I put together different pieces from other writers. Marlene Harris stated:
    “Instead, we have a situation resembling the one in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. On the one side, the dark tower of Amazon, with their huge distribution network and their “predatory” practices and their consumers locked-in to their Kindles.

    On the other side, we have the white tower of Apple, signing their authors into permanent contractual servitude, telling eager potential iBook textbook creators that if they want to use the cool Apple product they either have to give their work away for free or they have to let Apple own the rights to their work forever.

    And in the middle, us poor consumers, hunkering down while the electronic salvos fire overhead.

    Remember that in Tolkien’s story, the white tower didn’t turn out to be any less self-serving than the dark tower once the truth was revealed. White just turned out to be the new black.”

    I know it must seem like I have a bias for Amazon. It is not that I am blind to their faults. It just that while they seem to be looking for domination in the bookselling wars, they still do listen to us – the readers.

  11. Victoria S says:

    I too am helping to perpetuate what I am not fond of; the closing of bookstores and libraries. I too, am an Amazon Prime member, and the one library book per month added to video streaming on my Kindle Fire were the things that tipped the scales in Amazon’s favor for me also. Amazon is a VERY customer oriented company, and I find that more and more of my hardcover and paperback buying is at Amazon. With the discounts offered on hardcovers, their 4-for-3 specials, free and reduced priced e-books, I am one of the people lining up to patronize Amazon. I can’t tell you the last time I was actually in a bookstore. Me, who thought it a fun-filled day to go to Borders, and then head on over to Barnes and Noble all in the same day. Everyone I know with an e-reader buys e-books, and print books BOTH, why don’t publishers get this?

  12. Leigh AAR says:

    LeeB – you are lucky you are so close to the library. I have to drive about 15 miles or so one way.

    Fenwick – I am the same. I use to think nothing of driving 40 miles just to go after a book I wanted. Finally I realized that I was spending more in gas then the cost of the book. I realize that when you are the only game in town, it is easy to become arrogant and dismissive. Print books had all the status but now not so much. I afraid that many publishers have left their mea culpas too late. I have almost a $100.00 in Amazon book credit, and it would be easy to buy agency priced e-books, but unless I am desperate I am not doing it. If the library has it, then I get it from them. If not I buy the cheaper version at Wal-Mart. You can’t tell me that publishers are not losing money, when consumers like me do this. What is so ironic is that I wasn’t expecting e-books to be discounted half of the actual books. I just expected some discount. Now I am used to buying $2.99 e-books and it will take a hard sell for me to spend more. The library situation just gets me riled up all over again.

    Carrie, I totally agree with what you are saying.

    Leslie, my book buying has dramatically decrease. Previously I thought nothing of buying a couple of e-books a week. Now because I have drawn the line in the sand (grin) I don’t do it. And yes I have discovered some great authors from the library. Publishers don’t seem to realize that most readers have a different classification for certain books. purchase, purchase used, purchase if library doesn’t have it, and library only. Just because the library doesn’t have it isn’t a guarantee that I am going to buy it. In most cases I just look for another book, and never read it. And so that author has lost an opportunity of winning me over.

  13. Leigh AAR says:

    Victoria, yes Amazon gets “customer service”. Apple does too – but their collaboration with publishers on “agency pricing” has tainted my opinion of them – plus their anti-charity stand (which may be a thing of the past now).

    Amazon is not the white knight – like you said their pricing is putting out of business smaller book stores and I suspect soon some publishers. I don’t like it but it is nothing that other chains haven’t done. And look at Apple – they squeeze their suppliers and do have an impact on overseas workers quality of life – which depend on who you talk to is horrific or much better than before.

    I understand with bigness you get more clout and more concessions which you can pass on to consumers which makes you even bigger. Yesterday I was in a store, looking at an item – which I had already priced at Amazon and e-bay The individuals were so helpful, and it crossed my mind that ultimately some day Internet shopping could put them out of business – which is not what I want. But I can’t afford to spend $25.00 extra on one item to buy locally.

    Sometimes, I just think publishers are clueless. I do understand that they are fighting for their livelihood – but they have gone about it the wrong way alienated the people that buy their products.

  14. Carrie says:

    I wasn’t looking for huge discounts non ebooks, either. Publishers could have gotten by with $5.99 ebooks and made most people happy, simply because they’d be $2 cheaper than mass market. But they got greedy. As Leigh said, a lot of people are now used to $.99-$2.99 ebooks (ebook freebies, promotions, and indy authors) and feel like paying more is robbery. The publishers did it to themselves.

    And I agree that people like us who refuse to buy agency-priced ebooks have got to be making a difference. I won’t even buy their print books at retail now, either.

  15. Jessi says:

    I’ve noticed that some of the ebooks I get from the library (a recent example is Magic Slays) – have a message saying the publisher will not allow the book to be downloaded wirelessly onto my Kindle. Instead I have to hunt up the USB cable, plug my Kindle into my computer and transfer it that way.
    This is not a huge deal, but is slightly annoying – I wonder if this is part of the “make it harder for consumers to use the library” scheme?

  16. Leigh says:

    Jessi –

    Yes it is. I read that Penguin quit OverDrive because previously when you checked out a kindle book, you were then directed to Amazon for the rest of the transaction. Now I can understand why they wouldn’t want readers sent to their rival’s – in a way- site. But they have to be realistic if we have a Kindle then we are going to be visiting Amazon.

  17. Stephanie says:

    I am a heavy reader in both print and ebooks. My main complaint with the publishers is that by kicking the libraries in the teeth they have alienated a large group of people who recommend books to readers. I visit my local libraries weekly and the decision by penguin hit hard. They have made the public and authors angry. I admit I also have a problem with the greed factor. Print books should not cost the same as ebooks.

    With more authors self publishing or looking for better alternatives, the “big six” should not further alienate everyone. However if the executives in the large publishing houses can’t even remember Steven King. . . I don’t have much hope in them changing their behavior.

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