Monday, March 01, 2010

Digital LibraryWorld: Where Have All The Readers Gone?

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports on the Shaler North Hills Library and their digital experiment planned for National Library Week in mid-Apri. Library members will be able to not only loan ebooks from their 18,000 collection, but a lucky few will also be able to borrow one of nine Amazon Kindle readers the library has bought for their members. The Shaler library has seen the number of users using their ebook service mushroom from 82 to 4,500.

Meanwhile here in the UK the Hampshire Library are the latest to offer free armchair reading. Their members merely need to validate themselves and Overdrive’s Pandora’s box opens for free. The files are still restricted from copying and printing, but they are free to read.

Last weekend we had two guest stop with us in London. One was from Kent and the other Shreswbury. Both were teachers, big readers and members of local reading groups. They didn’t buy books any more and were getting their reading group books for free from their library. The library even supplied a reading list for their groups to choose from and their reading schedule was planned out for the next few months. Obviously this is great for the libraries and publishers, but not so great for authors and resellers. Heavy readers are potentially being taken out of the buying chain, new potential readers are being introduced to spoon feeding from libraries and books that should be in circulation were ‘on reserve’. We are pleased to see active reading, we are pleased to see library resources being used, but we question the long term economic impact, its level of adoption today and where healthy promotion of reading becomes unhealthy resellers and authors.

The step from physical to digital reading groups, like the step from buying physical to loaning digital books is a small, but the implications may be far more wide reaching. There appears to be little or no debate and what there is, tends to be focused on the role of libraries and not digital publishing and business models. Perhaps publishers still sell books so have little need to be concerned today if a few more resellers go to the wall. However when digital has grown to say 15% on the market will it be too late? Are free to loan digital books from the armchair now a given public service and the digital future we predicted yesterday?

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