Friday, April 18, 2008

Digital Public Libraries for Free?

Buried within all Mike Shatzkin’s presentations there are always little gems that make you think. His presentation at the recent LBF ‘Crossing the New Frontier: America and the Digital Revolution’ seminar was no different. In it he raised the interesting question of why consumers would buy a digital download when they could rent it for free from their library.

This question is very interesting and raises many potential issues especially at atime when the industry is trying to engage with the libraries in many projects.
As we grapple with pricing and markets in the digital world. Some would argue the digital copy is already paid for and the reduction of inventory warrants higher royalties to authors. Others would argue that the cost reduction should be reflected in lower costs to the consumers. Some may argue that any cost savings are merely offset by the higher cost of digitisation. What is certain is that the consumer will view the digital product as cheaper or even free.

Libraries are unlikely to dramatically increase their book spending be it digital or physical and have to live within heavily controlled budgets where book spending competes with a range of other materials, equipment, staff and buildings. They will also want to offer books in all formats to the community.

So why would you buy an ebook and download it to whatever as opposed to loaning it from a library for free. Why would you pay to even rent it online for a time period when you will be able to rent it for the same period for free?

Public libraries may not pose this problem today but will do in the near future. So how will the industry respond? We don’t know the answers, nor can we offer the solution, but as the industry scrambles for sales and visibility, the issue will surface and we wonder what the response will be?