Over the past six months the big six publishers have all come to terms with the idea that digital loans can be good for business, and are now on board with e-book lending at libraries. In April, Simon & Schuster, the last to launch a pilot program, made its complete catalogue available to libraries for unlimited checkout for a one-year period, with e-books required to be repurchased annually as well as offered for purchase on the library Web site. Thursday’s panel focused its attention on the next question: is e-book lending good for authors, or does it lead to lost book sales?
The session kicked off with general agreement that e-book lending is not only good for libraries but for authors and publishers, too. “It leads to discoverability,” said Jack Perry, owner of 38enso Inc. Indeed, discoverability was seen as one of the finer points of e-book lending. Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, noted, “Trying to find a way to make e-books available in libraries was a challenge,” but she believes “the library has to make the book available for sale as well as for loan.” Because when copies are not readily available, chances are greater the reader will go one click further and buy the copy they are so eager to read.
Steve Potash, president and CEO of OverDrive, dismissed concerns over piracy: “Fear should never be associated with libraries in providing literary works.” He added that e-books have been in circulation for close to a decade, and the process “isn’t a science project.” Amid cheers he said, “This is the future of connecting with the next generation of readers.”
Maureen Sullivan, president of ALA, and Perry both addressed the issue of ownership of e-book files. “It’s a simple question with a complicated answer,” said Perry, while Sullivan noted, “We want to see that a reader wants an e-book, there is an opportunity for them to get it. I worry most about children growing up and being able to have that access.”
Late arrival Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said, “It’s a license. If it weren’t a license, libraries couldn’t push out multiple copies.” He understands author frustration over lack of royalties with e-book lending, but notes, “Library lending licenses in other countries are nice, but they’re really pennies on the pound and don’t make up for royalties. I’m not sure that’s a path through this thicket. Pricing rights will be experimental until people figure out what makes sense.”
Sullivan echoed Aiken, adding, “We want to see options tested so readers are able to borrow books in the function they want when they want it.” Touching base on windowing, or “embargoing,” as Sullivan deemed it, the panelists appeared to be in agreement that it wasn’t the way. “Windowing is going the way of dinosaurs,” said Perry. When the product is easily accessible, all believe piracy will be cut back—much like it was in the music industry.
Perry believes one glimpse of the future may be OverDrive’s Big Library Read pilot program, where libraries worldwide offer a single e-book to their patrons. The program spotlights a title for a set time period for library patrons to read simultaneously. Michael Malone is the first author to participate in the program with his novel The Four Corners of the Sky. In two weeks 37,100 readers have borrowed the book, the cover has had 5.9 million impressions, and visibility has increased 600%. Of his company, Perry said, “We’re here to help sell as many books as possible.”
The bottom line is selling books and connecting readers with authors. Discoverability will lead to increased author sales, publishers believe. While it’s early yet, and the future of e-book lending isn’t set in stone, Sullivan summed up the panel succinctly: “The goal of libraries is to make content available to readers. We’re willing to look at different options.”