At a recent event in London many publishers and booksellers got together to talk about the current state of affairs in the world of digital publishing. One of the hot topics of the day entailed libraries lending out digital books and how it effects bookstores. Waterstones m.d. James Daunt said that library e-lending could be disruptive to brick-and-mortar booksellers. “If you can download a book for free and read it, why would you want to own it?”
The essence of this issue is if digital lending from libraries actually hurts online bookstores? Obviously libraries have been lending out physical books for hundreds of years but the digital frontier is evolving dramatically and many online retailers are struggling to adapt. If people can just borrow books for free, what incentive do they have to purchase it?
My opinion is people with lower incomes traditionally are the ones that patronize libraries in the digital realm. Tangible libraries in small towns have more functions than just lending books, but they also provide parents with an easy way to get their kids out of the home and discovering the love of reading. It also functions as a study hall for students to all get together and work on group projects. I would say that libraries that lend out digital books do not directly hinder online retailers that sell the books, because they are not in the position to buy them anyways.
I don’t think its fair to blame libraries for devaluing books by lending them out for free. This is actually the main reason why many publishers pulled out of doing business with Overdrive. Many bigwigs are of the belief that if you give it away for free it really makes the item worthless. I think people are looking to deflect the blame from their existing business model that often becomes irrelevant fairly quickly, due to the dramatic shifting landscape of digital books and online retailing.