E-Books: A New Technology for You, A New Headache for Libraries
Leave it to the electronic age to make something simple complicated.
Like, say, library books.
You visit the library, pull the book of your choosing off the shelf, check it out, and bring it back a couple weeks later. Right? Wrong. Electronic books have convoluted the library check-out process as we know it.
Turns out that some folks have become wise to the e-book section on their public library’s website, and instead of having to physically travel to the library and check out a print copy, they’ve opted to borrow an electronic copy from the library with a simple mouse click.
The big man at the publisher’s office claims this will diminish his own print and electronic book sales, claiming people would much rather check out a book for free than pay for it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I can remember a bookstore ever suing a library back when print copies were all the rage.
Last I checked, books – print or electronic – have to be purchased, regardless, and if a library is purchasing the book, they would then be free to distribute it at their own discretion.
An electronic book can only be lent to one person at a time. That’s it. They have the same amount of time as someone reading a print copy to “return” it, after which time, the electronic copy is returned into the possession of the library once more. If anyone should complain here, the library should, because they’re going to have a hard time collecting late fees when everyone’s books are automatically returning themselves.
No, an electronic book is not going to ever run the risk of being stolen, lost, ripped, stained, or needing to be replaced. When a print copy reaches the end of its lifetime, the library naturally has to purchase a physical replacement. How often does a library face the need to replace a book? The ones I’ve checked out have always been ones used for years, and – more often than not – decades.
You're the 27th checkout? I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Dave.
Are you publishers saying that, 30 years down the line from now, you’d like the library to purchase a “replacement” copy of the same title that – were it a print copy – should have since worn out? Maybe. And maybe that’s not a bad idea. But publishers trying to limit the books purchased to 26 checkouts each would be akin to repossessing their printed counterparts before the 27th person came along to check it out. If you’re going to place a number on something like that, make it a little more reasonable, and actually take the time to do the math to compute, realistically, how many times a book is checked-out before it needs to be replaced.
These “problems” are all made under the assumption that the number of free library check-outs will surmount the number of e-books sold. Never mind the fact some folks like to have more than two weeks to get their reading done. Never mind the fact some people (like myself) still don’t own – nor intend to own – a Kindle, Nook, or general variant of these e-book whatchamacallits. And never mind the fact there are a good number of folks out there who prefer a hard, printed copy of their reading material.
For some, borrowing books is more of a burden than it is a convenience. Even when it is free to borrow a book, and even when the library check-out process can be done online, it still leaves the reader with a limited timeframe with which to enjoy their book. Sometimes, a week – maybe two – is far from enough time to legitimately enjoy a book without rushing through it.
Reading will always come down to a matter of preference. Step on any Metra train making the morning commute into the city, and you’ll likely find several people reading the books: one, reading an actual, paper copy, another, reading it on his smartphone, another, on his Kindle, and likely perhaps scrolling through it on his laptop. They are all reading the same material, just in a different manner with a different device. All of them are accomplishing the same task, and all of them have made a choice as to which medium it is they prefer.
Heck, some of them may even be reading the electronic copy checked out from their local library. But I guarantee you that they all aren’t.
What’s your stance on electronic reading devices? Do you think that free checkouts will have an impact on sold e-books?