Released: July 22, 2013

Amazon vs. your public library

Superficially, libraries seem to be on the ball with digital books. Just over three-quarters of libraries lend e-books, according to a survey last fall by the American Library Association. Even people who do not own an e-reader can often check them out from their local branch. Nearly 40% of libraries let patrons borrow Kindles, Nooks or other similar devices, the survey found.

The convenience of downloading library e-books is debatable. Many libraries let people do it from home. Some others require visiting the library branch in-person. The actual mechanics can be a bit complicated for some patrons because libraries sometimes have multiple e-book catalogues.

But the most serious challenge facing libraries is that most have relatively few e-books to chose from. The Alexandria Library, in Virginia, has 35,000 digital titles versus 450,000 in print, for example. A lack of money for buying new digital books is a big hurdle, for sure. But there are other factors at play.

Publishers, fearful that selling to libraries will hurt sales to the general public, have thrown up roadblocks. Some major publishers jack up the price libraries pay for e-books compared to what they charge the public. Others make only a small number of titles available, delay their availability until weeks after the general release or require libraries to buy another copy after lending it 26 times.

Such policies actually mark an improvement over the recent past. Until earlier this year, some major publishers refused to sell to libraries at all.

Public awareness that libraries lend e-books will play a key role in whether Amazon’s digital book business erodes, Barclays said. As it is, relatively few people know about borrowing digital books, although their numbers are growing. A survey last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 31% of the public was aware that libraries lend e-books, up from 24% in 2011. Only 5% of people actually had checked out a digital book compared with 3% in the prior year, Pew found.

Superficially, libraries seem to be on the ball with digital books. Just over three-quarters of libraries lend e-books, according to a survey last fall by the American Library Association. Even people who do not own an e-reader can often check them out from their local branch. Nearly 40% of libraries let patrons borrow Kindles, Nooks or other similar devices, the survey found.

The convenience of downloading library e-books is debatable. Many libraries let people do it from home. Some others require visiting the library branch in-person. The actual mechanics can be a bit complicated for some patrons because libraries sometimes have multiple e-book catalogues.

But the most serious challenge facing libraries is that most have relatively few e-books to chose from. The Alexandria Library, in Virginia, has 35,000 digital titles versus 450,000 in print, for example. A lack of money for buying new digital books is a big hurdle, for sure. But there are other factors at play.

Publishers, fearful that selling to libraries will hurt sales to the general public, have thrown up roadblocks. Some major publishers jack up the price libraries pay for e-books compared to what they charge the public. Others make only a small number of titles available, delay their availability until weeks after the general release or require libraries to buy another copy after lending it 26 times.

Such policies actually mark an improvement over the recent past. Until earlier this year, some major publishers refused to sell to libraries at all.

Public awareness that libraries lend e-books will play a key role in whether Amazon’s digital book business erodes, Barclays said. As it is, relatively few people know about borrowing digital books, although their numbers are growing. A survey last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 31% of the public was aware that libraries lend e-books, up from 24% in 2011. Only 5% of people actually had checked out a digital book compared with 3% in the prior year, Pew found.

Read the story at http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/07/22/amazon-9/