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.
We can regard consumer behavior as a decision tree, and in this case the questions near the top are:
- Is this title available in my preferred format?
- Can I afford to buy this title? Is it worth the cost?
- Can I get this title at the library?
Here’s the thing the legacy industry misunderstands about that third question: the consumer is not looking for their preferred format in the library; they are simply checking availability. The consumer cares less about format than about access; if they can borrow a print book, they will read it.
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.
For example, I borrowed Patterson’s Big Bad Amazon novel in print (the ebook was too expensive, and not worth buying in the first place) from the library, but bought Enormity as an ebook because I could get it cheap and in under a minute.
And I’m not the only one to settle for print in a pinch.
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. (Sidenote: The Big Six did their best to make library ebooks unavailable while at the same time charging $18 for ten-year-old ebooks, and yet for some reason their ebook sales declined for much of that period. Go figure.)
And now, in 2019, the legacy industry suddenly think adding further restrictions on library ebooks will boost retail ebook sales?
I know that the legacy industry likes to tell itself comforting myths, but the idea that library ebooks affect ebook sales more so than high retail ebook prices requires a unique level of denial. Y’all are running around talking about how wonderful the emperor’s new robe looks.
Am I the only one who can see he’s naked?
P.S. If I blew your mind and/or forced you to reconsider this myth, I take donations through Paypal (you can expense it as a consulting fee). https://paypal.me/TheDigitalReader