imagesThe Economist of 23 March has a round-up piece on the difficult issue of the lending of ebooks in libraries. This article shows how fluid the relations between publishers, authors and libraries are becoming. Just today, Penguin has announced it will be letting libraries lend their new ebooks once again. As in so many aspects of the book business we have to say that the only constant is constant change.

I’ve been thinking of writing something about Public Lending Right, and this flurry of news of libraries perhaps provides an occasion.

We in America don’t know much about this — no such right exists here. PLR started out in Europe as an expression of the belief that authors deserved to be remunerated for the use of their books in libraries. Basically the number of times a book is loaned out is tabulated and at the end of the year the numbers from all libraries are grossed up and a proportionate payment, derived from central government (i.e. the taxpayer), is sent to the author. Here’s a link to the UK site. PLR was established in Britain in 1979. Authors have to register to be eligible, and if there’s a reciprocal agreement, can also receive payments from overseas.

Just yesterday, Futurebook, The Bookseller blog, had news about PLR and ebooks. Nothing conclusive yet, but perhaps an indication of the way things are going. They say

“The Government-commissioned report into library e-lending, led by William Sieghart, has finally released its findings. On the surface it looks like all sides have been listened to, which is a polite way of saying that this is a report that seeks to be all things to all parties. Yet it does have an edge, particularly over the issue of remote lending.”

“The report sets out the principle that e-lending should be free at the point of use and recommends that public libraries should offer e-lending remotely to their readers. The latter goes directly against publishers who argued (via the Publishers Association in 2010) that remote downloading should not be allowed. However, publishers have won some new concessions: the report recommends introducing ‘friction’, in the form of e-books that deteriorate in line with print books. Booksellers also get a sweetener, namely the possibility of a pilot scheme that will look at whether a ‘buy now’ prompt could be used to encourage borrowers to purchase “titles from a variety of sources including local retailers”. Crucially for authors is the broad agreement that PLR should be extended for e-book loans, even if the government response is not clear if this will come from an enlarged pot, as Sieghart recommends.”

PS: I just found this item from Brave New World on 16 January. I’d sent myself the link then forgot about it.

We knew an exclusive digital public library was coming and to many it makes good sense for civic communities to mix their digital and physical offer to members. Now Bexar County, Texas, has announced its plans to become the first totally digital US public library.
It is claimed that the initiative came to County Judge Nelson W. Wolff after he read Steve Jobs’s biography. He claims he was inspired to believe that future generations will have little use for hardcover or paperback renditions. As a result the new ‘BiblioTech’ system plans to make thousands of e-books available for county residents via both an online service and at a 5K square foot building and importantly offer no physical books. Not only will members be able to check out books onto their own ereaders, they will be able to borrow one of the library’s 150 e-readers.
This bold step is possible because Bexar today doesn’t have a civic library and currently pays and uses San Antonio city facilities. This is a new library with zero legacy inventory to deal with and therefore it can be born totally digital.
Bibliotech is in somewhat a great position to push this proposal forward, but some would question whether the $3.7 million in currently spends with San Antonio would be better deployed in working with them to create mixed environment which would serve both communities and offer the richest of both worlds. In establishing a single library entity and restricting the material on offer they may be seen by some as playing to one small community at the expense of the bigger community. Idealology over logic, personal ego over civic responsibility. To some, it would make more sense to build a state digital library, which would share cost and inventory and obviate building lots of little ones with their own unique systems, inventories and costs.
The picture is of the main Toronto City library (Oct 2012)Update from San Antonio Express