The E-Book Tug-of-War Between Publishers an Libraries

publish, how to publish a book, beneath the cover, publishing industryWhy can’t publishers and libraries get along?

It used to be that libraries were a huge market for traditional publishers, but with the growth of e-books, and publishers’ concerns about digital piracy and loss of sales, all of a sudden libraries became possible opponents in a tug-of-war about e-book distribution.

Every time I see an article about publishers either pulling their e-books from libraries or slowly returning to libraries rights to offer e-books under certain conditions, I wonder why this is such a difficult area to get right. Surely it’s the library customer who loses (and surely library circulations have soared since the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, which are wait-listed at many lending libraries across the country, at least those that offer the titles).

The latest news involves Penguin Group USA, which last year took its e-titles from the library market and is now beginning to offer them again in New York City, on a pilot program with 3M. According to the New York Times article about the development, Penguin is worried that the tremendous popularity, and ease, of downloading free copies of its books at libraries may cost it sales of e-books in the long run.

This wasn’t the case, of course, when “traditional” books, those published in paper, were sold to libraries.

But e-books scare publishers. No matter that they’re so popular with readers, because it’s so easy to download a book that many people often buy books more easily than if they’d been at a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

With this new deal, Penguin will also likely delay the release of e-books to libraries for a few months, which it hopes undoubtedly will spur actual sales of these e-books to customers. The publisher is treating the e-book reading public as second-class, or like cable television subscribers who must wait a year to see a movie they’d rather not pay the $10 to $15 to $18 to see in a theater.

The customer isn’t the enemy here. Publishers still need to find a way to monetize their product more efficiently.

And who says that people will buy a book immediately rather than wait? They may not mind holding off for a bit. Many moviegoers don’t. Often, people find that after the first flush of anticipation for a film, once the film opens, these folks are just as likely to wait for that heralded film to be available for viewing in the comfort of their homes. Mightn’t the same thing happen to the e-books that are withheld?

In any event, people who are building a platform for their books in order to create an audience know that the book is just a tool to expand their business and establish their brand. For publishers, however, a book is still the main means of making money. There’s got to be another way, doesn’t there? Publishers just haven’t found it yet. In the meantime, they take it out on the people who matter: readers.

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One Response to “The E-Book Tug-of-War Between Publishers an Libraries”

  1. Anonymous June 28, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    It will be interesting to see how this tug of war plays out. 

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