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Report: Library eBook Lending Lags the US in Much of the World

5146281054_ba26fb9723_m[1]A new report from the IFLA reminds us that annoyances like Penguin and other major US trade publishers restricting checkouts is truly a first world problem.

Released last week, the IFLA 2014 eLending Background Paper offers a detailed look at the state of library ebook collections around the world.

If you went by the press coverage you might think that OverDrive was the sum of the library ebook market (with indie programs like Califa and Douglas County thrown in for variety), but there’s more to library ebooks than that. This 32-page report covers everything from the current state of library e-lending to legal frameworks, business models, and non-profits which could upset the commercial apple cart.

The report  reveals that there are shocking disparities among the various book markets. In Africa, for example, the latest estimates show that "90% of overall publishing revenue in Africa is derived from education markets". As a result, in Africa library ebooks can mainly be found in university collections, with an emphasis on streamed scholarly publishing content originating outside the continent.

While the African situation is quite different from in the US, it’s not dissimilar from library ebooks in China. According to the report, the leading library ebook vendor is a beijing-based company called Apabi, which is focused on scholarly works and not novels. Reports elsewhere on the web indicate that Apabi has upwards of half a million Chinese titles in their catalog, with most of the works published in the past 8 years.

9253134937_59e3d26b94_b[1]And that’s not all. The paper also reported that Japanese libraries have yet to take to ebooks, and that in the EU ebook availability in EU libraries "varies significantly from country to country depending upon factors such as the funding available for library purchasing, indigenous publishing practice, library governance structure and preferred licensing regimes".

After summarizing the state of library ebooks in countries around the world, the report goes on to discuss the various lending models. While here in the US OverDrive has been allowed to have free reign, there are a few countries which have launched national library ebook programs, including Denmark and Norway. As you may have read in the news, Norway is setting out to digitize the entirely of Norwegian books published before 2001, and is planning to make them available to all citizens through streaming.

All in all this is an extensive report, but it is also incomplete and in some countries it is out of date. For example, the latest cited data for South Korea dates to 2012, and the section on the UK is missing the most recent info.

As I reported earlier this year, the ebook advocates at Shelf Free have revealed that UK publishers have largely stayed out of the library ebook market. Their latest report showed that 85% of popular trade fiction ebooks were not available to UK 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.

But even though it is less than complete, this report offers the single best source of information on library ebooks on a global scale. The report can be downloaded from the IFLA website.


images by jepoirrier, xmacex

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Felipe Adan Lerma August 5, 2014 um 7:36 am

I’m liking the added commentary and thoughts you put into the posts, Nate. It’s like a review and over-view of the piece being linked.

Only thing I’d add is in re to :

"A new report from the IFLA reminds us that annoyances like Penguin and other major US trade publishers restricting checkouts is truly a first world problem" – also applies to Amazon.

No one in Kindle Unlimited, except writers with enough clout, are allowed to also place their ebooks in libraries.

I love Amazon, but this is one of the few things I’d like to see it change.

Nate Hoffelder August 5, 2014 um 8:27 am


jjj August 5, 2014 um 2:33 pm

The market should be driven by devices install base so not surprising at all. Funding and piracy also matter ofc.
The right way to look at it would be to compare the library ebook market against the total ebook market in each country.

New Report Offers a Swedish Take on Library eBook Systems Around the Globe | The Digital Reader March 13, 2016 um 4:50 pm

[…] can't explain the absence, but it did remind me that the IFLA released a similar but more comprehensive report back in 2014. They have not released a follow up report, […]

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