Publishers, Libraries, and Digital Lending
One of the big issues for libraries in the future will be the adoption of e-books. There has been a subtle cultural shift in reading habits among our society; people are reading more through electronic access. This is not to say that individuals are reading less from printed materials. However, what I am saying is that people seem to be reading digital materials in addition to reading what they normally read in print. This is from my personal observations of people’s reading habits instead of anecdotal evidence.
I believe part of this shift is due to the increased use of mobile devices, but also to how new generations of readers are exposed to digital documents while they are growing up. As younger patrons grow up with these technologies readily available to them, the acceptance and expectation of these technologies develops into a social norm; if one grows up reading online, chances are good that you’ll continue to read online when older.
Wouldn’t this be a benefit for publishers if readers consume more information? One would think, but there are concerns from publishers that libraries won’t buy as many printed books and vie for the digital copy instead. Publishers say that ebooks do not take up shelf space,and they don’t have to worry about the physical wear and tear of an item. They do not necessarily have a faster turn around from customer to customer since most vendors have set amount of limited simultaneous access per book (e.g. one person at a time), and currently no way to “return” books early for other patrons to use (the loan expires after a set amount of time).
The later is one of my pet peeves–why have artificial access limits? This is just a mechanism for libraries to order more “digital copies” of a book (more money in the pocket of the vendor). Vendors, take note! You’ll have a lot more value to your product if these kinds of restrictions are removed, especially if you’re one of the few vendors who offer unlimited access to materials.
So why is there concern over people reading materials in digital format in addition to or perhaps instead of the print equivalent? Here is another important question to ask. Are the digital consumers the same group of people that are switching to print to electronic format, or are they an entirely different demographic unit (e.g. new library patrons that would not normally set foot in a library building)?
Libraries will continue to collect information whether in print or electronic format, but the real concern is for the publishing industry’s sheer existence should authors begin to publish materials on their own instead of going through the traditional routes. With the birth of the Internet, there has been a move to take the middle man (publishers) out of the equation, and to sell books and information directly to individuals.
Will publishers become an endangered entity?