It's been just over a month since the Publisher's Association launched a year long e-lending pilot in partnership with 4 libraries in the UK, and the early results are showing that ebook borrowers are also buyers. Janene Cox, the president of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), was speaking at the London Book Fair last week when she told The Bookseller that "people who loan books, buy books".
The pilot, which is funded by a grant from the British Library Trust,enables the participating libraries to lend ebooks from a special catalog of 1,000 titles, most of which are otherwise unavailable to libraries.
There's not enough information on just how much this pilot has increased ebook loans, but there is some early data to show that pilot is generating sales. In Derbyshire, for example, 464 ebooks were loaned in the first monitoring period, leading to about 20 sales to library patrons. According to Cox, many of the patrons bought the ebook while they were still only part of the way through reading the laoned ebook.
"Working in partnership has to have benefits for libraries and publishers; it has to be about creating an audience for reading," said Cox. "Publishers should be working with libraries to make their titles as accessible as possible."
One of the less obvious goals of this pilot is to show publishers that they benefit from library ebook loans. I don't know that there is enough evidence yet from this pilot to prove the point, but this is a point worth proving.
While here in the US we might complain about major publishers charging high prices for ebooks that expire, the situation is much worse in the UK. According to Shelf Free, a UK library ebook advocacy group, only 3 major publishers (HarperCollins, Random House, and Hachette) sell ebooks to libraries in the UK.
Shelf Free found that in February 2013, 85% of ebooks were not available to public libraries. Out of the top 50 most borrowed adult fiction books of 2012, only 7 were available to libraries to lend as ebooks, and even then the selection depended on which vendor the library was signed up with. With one supplier, only two titles were available.
In short, the library ebook situation in the UK resembles the state of US library ebooks in 2011 or 2012, a time when Penguin pulled out of the market, and Simon & Schuster and Macmillan had yet to start selling ebooks to libraries.
image by Bev Goodwin