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New Report on UK Library eBook Pilot Says Nothing That is New or Useful

5014437293_96c4c97f77_bThe UK Publishers Association released a new report this week which summarizes a recent pilot study of library ebook lending. The pilot program looked at the effect of remote library ebook lending on library visits, bookstore traffic, etc, but I’m not sure that it actually tells us anything.

You can find the report and the related press release on the UK Publishers Association website, but the tl;dr version is that the pilot was conducted on such a small scale that I’m not sure whether the study actually failed to find an impact or simply wasn’t big enough for the impact to be measured.

Here’s the background:

  • the pilot added 893 (out of a planned 1,000) front list titles to 4 participating libraries' catalogs (Peterborough, Newcastle, Derbyshire, and the London suburb Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead – a suburb of London)
  • the new titles represented a huge addition to these libraries digital catalogs and loans (few front list titles had been previously available)
  • the ebooks were loaned under the standard terms from OverDrive

When I first covered this pilot last spring, I thought it could find a way forward for libraries in the UK, which typically had (have?) an anemic supply of ebooks that was far more limited than the selection available in the US.

But now that I have the report I have to wonder how this was worth spending £40,000.

The pilot purports to test the impact of remote e-lending, a fancy name for borrowing ebooks from the comfort of your own home. Given that UK library patrons can already borrow ebooks from home (just like in the US), I don’t see why this would need a pilot rather than a monthly survey.

But never mind that; let’s look at the impact.

  • eBook loans increased significantly, for obvious reasons (adding new titles would attract new interest). But loans also declined from the beginning of the pilot, suggesting that adding a mere 873 titles was not enough to keep patrons coming back.
  • There was no impact on commercial ebook sales, but that could just as likely be due to the small size of the pilot and limited number of titles rather than stand as proof that library ebooks don’t hurt trade sales.
  • The pilot had also previously failed to show whether e-lending could drive sales, but as I pointed out last fall the pilot was not set up to actually measure how one could affect the other.

So there was no impact, but at least we have a survey report to show for the £40,000 spent on this pilot.

Library patrons who checked out ebooks were polled on how a larger ebook catalog might affect their buying habits:

uk ebook pilot library survey

Those are good questions to ask, but I think the survey is missing several questions which would have better shed light on patrons' buying behavior.

Had I been asked I would have said that a larger ebook collection would not impact my buying habits because a limited collection would push me to borrow the book in paper form. Unfortunately that is not an option on this survey, because apparently they forgot to take paper books into account.


All in all, folks, if this report wasn’t a complete waste of time then I don’t know what is.

Between the stuff that could not be measured at all, the metrics which weren’t measured correctly, the questions not asked, and the overall tiny sample size, I don’t see the value of this report.

images by Thomas Leuthardmlibrarianus

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Gary June 6, 2015 um 6:26 pm

If this pilot only operated in the four locations you mentioned (Peterborough, Newcastle, Derbyshire and London), then it was an English pilot, not a UK one.

I imagine the English libraries are probably managed by local authorities; I’m 99.9% certain the Scottish ones are. However, there are possibly professional or trade associations which might represent UK libraries as a whole…

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