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Guest Host: Frank Sesno
In the past year, libraries have seen a sharp growth in e-book borrowing. That trend is transforming the relationship between libraries and publishers. Libraries need to offer electronic books to remain relevant today. But some publishers worry lending e-books will lead to piracy and loss of sales. Two of the big six publishers license their e-books to libraries. Others are exploring pilot programs or have declined to participate. Many library patrons are frustrated with the limited availability of titles and long waiting lists. And some buy a copy of the e-book anyway. Guest host, Frank Sesno, and his guests discuss the challenges of e-booking lending at the library.
- Vailey Oehlke director of libraries at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore.
- Allan Adler vice president of legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers.
- Carrie Russell director of the Program for Public Access to Information, Office of Information Technology, The American Library Association.
- Jeremy Greenfield editorial director of F+W Media's Digital Book World.
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, host of "Face the Facts USA," director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University sitting in for Diane Rehm today. She'll be back tomorrow.
MR. FRANK SESNOMore than three-quarters of the nation's public libraries lend books electronically, a fact not widely known among the reading public. While some publishers worry that e-book borrowers don't buy books, a recent study suggests 41 percent of readers purchased the last e-book they borrowed.
MR. FRANK SESNOJoining me in the studio to talk about the current and future role of e-books at our nation's libraries and maybe the future of libraries themselves, Jeremy Greenfield of F+W Media's Digital Book World, Carrie Russell with The American Library Association, Allan Adler of the Association of American Publishers and, by phone from Portland, Oregon, Vailey Oehlke, she's director of libraries for Multnomah County Library.
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd Vailey, I'd like to start with you because Multnomah County Library, it's a remarkable place. I understand that you lend a lot of books.
MS. VAILEY OEHLKEIndeed, we're second in the nation in what we call circulation. It's basically the number of items checked out and renewed.
SESNOSecond in the nation behind...
OEHLKENew York City.
SESNOHow is Multnomah County, Portland, Oregon area, second to New York City?
OEHLKEThat's an excellent question.
SESNOYou read a lot in Portland?
OEHLKEYou know, my joke is it rains a lot here.
SESNOI thought that might be -- of course, I had some other thoughts about that, too, but...
OEHLKEIt's definitely a reflection of this community. It's a very, you know, well-read community and I think also a community that really values the institution of the public library and what it offers.
SESNOSo as I was getting ready to come over here this morning and do this program, I was talking to my wife about this and she said, you know, I didn't know libraries lend e-books.
SESNOSo what is an e-book in terms of the library's definition of it and how do you lend it?
OEHLKEAh, great question. So I think you can go from a very narrow definition of an e-book, which is the actual, you know, a digital copy of essentially a physical book that we're used to that is downloaded digitally to a device like a Kindle, for instance, which is a very popular device.
OEHLKEA broader definition is it's an e-book. It's also any sort of e-content that is either streamed or downloaded to a device or to a computer. So the definitions vary. In general, it's digital content as opposed to actual physical print content.
SESNOSo give us an example of, you know, I want -- you know, I'm a little lonely. I want to read "A Tale of Two Cities" and I don't want to come in and pick it up and I think it's available on e-books and I want to borrow it from you. What happens?
OEHLKESo that's an excellent question. Part of why we're talking about this right now is that not every title that comes to mind that you're interested in reading on e-book is available through your library. If it is, if it's a book that is available, and I suspect "A Tale of Two Cities" is, ideally from your house in your pajamas, if that's your current status, you could hop on a public library website.
OEHLKEAnd go to the place on the site that lets you look at the catalogue, find that title and then essentially with a few clicks download that item right to your Kindle, your Nook, your iPad, whatever the device is that you prefer.
SESNOSo I'm borrowing the book from you, the library, reading it on my device...
SESNO...and can I still have late fees if I don't get it back to you on time?
OEHLKENo. And in fact, part of the conversation right now is the fact that in some cases, you borrow that book and after, for instance, two or three weeks, whatever the lending period is, it simply disappears from your device. So that's actually kind of a nice thing. You don't worry about accidentally accruing late fees because you forget to renew.
SESNODo you loan the device, too?
OEHLKEWe don't, but many libraries do across the country.
OEHLKEUm-hum, and that's an actually important role, I think increasingly important, for public libraries because those devices cost money.
SESNOAre you a librarian?
OEHLKEI am indeed a librarian.
SESNODo you worry, as a librarian, that you're spelling the end of the library by doing this?
OEHLKENo, I don't actually. I think libraries -- you know, my library has been around for -- we're about to celebrate 150 years of existence and in that time, we've transitioned over a variety of formats depending on technology and people's preferences, you know. Think about the eight-track tape and then think about iTunes. And we've weathered those transitions. I think this is a big one for us.
OEHLKEIt's really significant and will have a profound impact on how we provide that access, but I think with good strategic thinking and with good partnerships with publishers and authors and others, this will be just another great success for public libraries.
SESNOWhat are your trends? Are e-books galloping away or sort of steady as she goes or what?
OEHLKEGalloping might be an exaggeration if you look at the percentages, but absolutely a steady increase both in what we're able to offer the public as well as what the public expects. We just did an online community satisfaction survey of our residents and one of the comments we got over and over again is people want more e-books.
OEHLKEThey are expecting e-books. To them, it's just another way of reading and they expect their public library, which has been their reading source forever, to have access to those e-books.
SESNOAll right, I'm going to turn to our other guests in a minute, but before I do -- and then I don't want you to go away because I'd like you to stay part of the conversation. You read a lot, I trust?
SESNODo you read books?
OEHLKEI read print books and more so than I read electronic books, but I do read quite a bit on my computer.
SESNOYou read on a device so that you can curl up with a cup of tea or something or you read on your computer?
OEHLKEAbsolutely, absolutely. And for me, I find that their greatest value is in terms of traveling. It's just so much easier to have an electronic device that you can slip into your bag and you can have, you know, 10, 15 books on there.
SESNOBut you're still a book person, you said?
SESNOOkay. So given a choice, you'd still prefer the big, old, clunky, heavy dusty thing?
OEHLKEIt's what I'm accustomed to.
OEHLKEI think. And that's, you know, I have a 14-year-old in my life who is quite satisfied reading her books on a device or on the computer. She was essentially born into that. For me, it was, you know, these things just came on to the scene recently and I think that's our experience across our community. It goes from people who are explicitly physical book readers to people who are explicitly digital content readers.
SESNOLet me turn back to the studio here and let me also remind our listeners if you've got thoughts, questions on e-books and libraries as we go here, 1-800-433-8850 or firstname.lastname@example.org Carrie Russell, you're director of the Program for Public Access to Information at the Office of Information Technology with The American Library Association. You just heard Vailey talking about what's going on out in Portland. Is this the national trend?
MS. CARRIE RUSSELLYes, it certainly is. And thanks, Frank, for inviting me and hearing from libraries today. We at ALA -- it's a member association so we have some 60,000 members and we're hearing from them a lot about the tremendous change that's going on in their libraries. The complaints that they are getting from their users who want to see more content available, all kinds of things down to training people how to use their own e-readers.
SESNOWhat percentage of libraries now offer e-lending?
RUSSELLThe latest figure is 76 percent.
SESNOSeventy-six percent of libraries are doing this. Why don't more people know about it?
RUSSELLI don't know. I think it's something that, you know, we need to promote a little bit more. I think that people when they receive their readers -- for example, if you get a Kindle for Christmas or something, you kind of associate the Kindle with Amazon so I'm going to go and shop on Amazon. You don't really associate that device with something I would do at the library.
RUSSELLBut certainly, it doesn't have to be exclusively a reader. It can be a computer or an iPhone or anything.
SESNOJeremy Greenfield joins us on the phone from New York. Jeremy is, as I mentioned, the editorial director of F+W Media's Digital Book World. How many people borrowed e-books from libraries in the past year? What is a typical e-book borrower like? Are they, you know, 14 years old, as we heard from Vailey, or are they 84 years old?
MR. JEREMY GREENFIELDThanks for having me, Frank. According to the latest figures, about one in five people have borrowed an e-book in some way and we don't have, as far as I know, that kind of demographic information on them, but we do know that those readers are what we call power readers.
GREENFIELDBy and large, they read a lot more. They borrow a lot more from their library. They buy a lot more books and e-books so they are sort of the best kind of library patron or the most interesting kind and they're also the best kind of customer for book publishers.
SESNOAnd when you say they're reading more, they're reading more books in...
GREENFIELDThat's right. They read more books than other people.
SESNO...all other forms? Are they reading them in all their forms or are they reading more books because they're reading them on their devices?
GREENFIELDI think it's hard to say. However, since the rise of e-reading, power readers in general are buying more books. It's hard to say whether they're actually reading more books. It's very easy to buy a lot of e-books at a very low cost, to download many of them. Many, many e-books are available for free.
GREENFIELD"A Tale of Two Cities" was mentioned earlier. I believe that e-book can be downloaded for free from almost anywhere. So they're definitely downloading more books since the rise of e-reading but whether they're reading them all, it's hard to say.
SESNOAllan Adler is vice president of legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers. Allan how many of the books that are published today, not "Tale of Two Cities," but today are available to borrow in e-book form?
MR. ALLAN ADLERWell, that varies greatly because when you say available to borrow, it depends on through whom. Right now, I think if you look at the major publishers who are involved in the publication of what the industry refers to as trade book, bestselling fiction and non-fiction works, they have very different positions with respect to e-book borrowing from libraries.
MR. ALLAN ADLERYou'll find that two of the major publishers don't make their e-books available for lending through libraries while two others are in the middle of what they call pilot projects where they're experimenting, more or less.
SESNOThey don't make them available through e-books, but they would make them available through hard copy lending?
ADLERYes, they would make them through hard copy lending or, in many instances, they have other arrangements through which e-books can be made available to the public either downloading directly from the publishers, downloading through...
SESNOBut not for free, right?
ADLERBut not for free. That's right. And one of the things that -- and then I said there are other members who do have agreements whereby they make some of their works, perhaps backlist works rather than their newer front list works.
ADLEROthers may make all of their works available. But for example, one of them has a policy where a book can only be loaned as an e-book 26 times before the library has to re-up its licensing arrangement.
SESNOYou mean to 26 different people?
ADLERTo 26 -- well, 26 times that it's loaned out. Whether it's to different people or not, doesn't really matter. The idea there is, is that publishers are trying to replicate, to some extent, the business model involved with print books, but it's a very different one.
SESNOA quick break, we're going to come back and talk more about e-books and libraries after this.
SESNOYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane. Today we're talking about e-books and the impact they're having on libraries and E-book lending from libraries. Allan Adler, you were talking a moment ago about publishers and what they make available and you were saying that some do make e-book lending available to libraries, others don't with the new releases that they've got. Why don't all publishers make e-book lending available if they're making hard copies available as the book comes out? What's the difference?
ADLERWell, for one thing, I should say that this is, of course, a bottom line competitive issue amongst publishers in the marketplace. So it's not an issue that they can get together and discuss among themselves, nor does AAP as the trade association discuss this issue with them for antitrust reasons. But they have different perspectives on how to best advance their business interests through the use of e-books.
ADLEROne of the concerns, of course, is the basic concern that always applies when you're talking about product in digital formats. They're so easily reproducible and distributed in that format that there is concern about security.
SESNOSure. Think about music and what we've seen in the music industry.
ADLERThat's correct. And of course, when you're talking about these books being in the custody of third parties like libraries to the extent that the libraries make them available through remote access by their patrons, there is a concern as to whether or not the digital rights management technology and other security that is afforded to these books is adequate to prevent any kind of problems.
SESNOJeremy Greenfield, the question from publishers to libraries might be if you can download a book for free, why own it? Doesn't that undermine the whole business model?
GREENFIELDI think that's something that publishers are wrestling with right now. In the past week or so, I've spoken to a number of publishers, some of the much larger ones and some of the smaller ones as well. And that's something that they're all thinking about. How will this affect my business? At the same time, the publishers themselves are book people. They love books, they love libraries and they want to find a way to support libraries.
GREENFIELDSo it's a question that they're wrestling with. And the publishers that are lending to libraries are very closely monitoring, how does this affect my business because they don't want it to undercut their business. And it's really unfair to authors as well if their work can be widely distributed for very little or no money. How does an author get rewarded for spending months or even years of their life producing something if hundreds or thousands of people can look at it and the author gets no remuneration?
SESNOCarrie, can I start with you? What's the Library Association's response to this issue?
RUSSELLYeah, well, the libraries, we're kind of confused. We don't really understand that argument at all. If you talk to someone in the general public and you tell them that some of the major trade publishers don't sell e-books to libraries, they wonder why. And we wonder why too, when we have evidence that, in fact, library users are the same people that buy books. And we have data that proves that.
RUSSELLJeremy talked about the power patron and we have also new readers coming into the library that are excited about digital content. And in addition, the publishers are doing pretty well financially.
SESNOBut do you do the same thing in libraries? And maybe, Vailey, this is where you want to jump in, since, you know, presumably you're sitting among the stacks right now as we speak, although it is a little early there. But do you have -- you know, so Walter Isaacson's, you know, book comes out on Steve Jobs. You get the hard copy for this. It goes in the shelf. Presumably you have a couple of copies. You don't have 5,000 copies so that nobody's ever going to go to the bookstore to buy them. Do the same thing with the e-books?
OEHLKESimilar. You know, what we would do with a print book is we gauge the interest in that book, you know. For instance, right now, there's a book in our collection called "Gone Girl." I went to put a hold on it about a week ago and we had, I believe, over 100 copies that we had purchased for our community. And there were close to 2,000 holds on those 100 copies. So I went and bought the book because it's going to take that long in order for me to get that book.
OEHLKEOther people who aren't in my position can't afford to buy the book or willing to wait will simply wait for that hold.
SESNODo the same thing with e-books?
OEHLKESimilarly with e-books. They -- you put a hold. We only have a certain number -- you know, it's a single use per copy, which is very similar to the print model, the way we do it now. So a patron -- if that book is out, you can put a hold on it. But until that book is, you know, returned, as it were, it's not available to the next patron.
SESNOSo have you just answered Tyler's question? Tyler writes an email from Michigan, "Why is there waiting lists? Why are there waiting lists for e-books? Can they only be downloaded in a finite amount?"
OEHLKEAnd that's exactly why and it's, you know, it gets back to the points that have been made around the interest of the publishers and ensuring their bottom line, which we certainly support and appreciate. We consider ourselves, public libraries, partners with publishers and with authors. We know that a lot of authors are actually discovered through public libraries and that's an important role for us to play.
OEHLKESo for us, you know, we don't want it to be the case that suddenly no one purchases books because it's like everyone, you know, can get them for free from the public library. We are part of that ecosystem and we take that very seriously.
ADLERWell, you know, publishers are just grappling with the impact on the availability of their books in digital form as compared to print form in the sense that publishers traditionally would have a schedule for releasing a book atypically first in hard cover and then they would make a decision about when to release it in paperback. Similarly now, they have the additional decision about when to release the book in e-book for purchase.
ADLERBut now we're talking about a fourth level, which is the question of when can that book be made available for borrowing through libraries, where typically in the U.S., because there is no rental right as such or borrowing right, publishers don't typically get paid for each of the borrowing instances. There's also something that's very important to understand, which is these decisions don't just involved publishers and libraries. There are very important players involved, people like Amazon, for example.
ADLERAmazon has a separate interest in selling its leading book-reading device, the Kindle. So their policies with respect to selling books, but also lending books is influenced greatly by the extent to which that helps advance the sales of...
SESNOCarrie, is Amazon, to pick one, a place -- competition to libraries now?
RUSSELLI wouldn't say so. I think people that want to download books and own them and keep them, they'll do that through Amazon or Barnes and Noble or directly from a publisher. The thing with Amazon is that it's the giant, giant player in the room. More people get books on Kindle than any other device and the people -- the purchasers of those are kind of tethered to their e-reader and that leads them directly to only Amazon books.
SESNOCarrie, let me zoom out to 20,000' for a minute, which I like doing from time to time, and Vailey, let me invite you into this conversation as well. You know, we used to have things on street corners called record shops and people went in and they browsed and they bought music and they went away. And they went away because people now do that electronically. We see bookstores -- small little bookstores have gone away because people are able to access books from their home. They can read samples. They can download whole chapters in some cases before they make the decision to buy the whole book.
SESNOWhat is the larger trend here as far as libraries are concerned? Are people going away because of the rise of e-books? Carrie, you want to start?
RUSSELLYeah, I'll start. Actually, we have more people going to public libraries than we have had before and more circulation of titles from libraries. In part, that's due to, you know, the tough economic times where people come to the library to do all kinds of things, job searches, e-government, filling out forms, all that kind of stuff. But libraries remain popular. It's sad that the bookstores have gone away. I mean, bookstores are fabulous, but I think that makes the library even more important because the library takes the place of discovery for the bookstore. So people can come into the library and discover books just as they did in bookstores.
SESNOVailey, are they doing that? Are they coming in in greater numbers because they can also discover online?
OEHLKEAbsolutely, they are. You know, if you think about it, you know, imagine yourself browsing the collection electronically versus browsing a physical collection. You know, I think it's an entirely different experience. I think Carrie makes a really good point. You know, again, we consider bookstores, you know, important partners for us. We both sort of support each other's business as it were.
OEHLKEBut for us, absolutely people come in and our use, our visits continue to increase year over year.
SESNOIncluding with young people who've grown up in this world of digital everything?
OEHLKEI think to the degree it always has, yes, absolutely. And I think what we find is that, you know, talk about 20,000 feet, if you back it up to the fact that libraries, public libraries are really ultimately about reading and access to information, the device, the format of that changes, you know, over 150 years it's changed, but ultimately, we are fundamentally – we exist to provide that free and open access to the communities we serve, whether it's digital content, physical content, whether it's programming, whether it's job seeking help, all of those sort of things. That's our fundamental role of value...
SESNOI just asked the question because I recently addressed a question to a room full of students, and I asked them if they'd bought a newspaper. And nobody had bought – nobody in the room bought newspapers. They read them entirely online, and I'm thinking, well, are books far behind?
OEHLKEI think that's an excellent example. The newspaper industry, I would suggest is different than the public library world, but they are definitely struggling, and the ones that are adjusting to a different reality are successful.
SESNOWe have an email from Pat. "How does a publisher actually make an e-book available to the library? Is there a distributor that deals with e-books? Are these e-books paid for or is there a usage fee?"
ADLERWell, that's a very interesting question because, again, as I was saying before about there being other players involved, there are what I refer to as middlemen vendors that actually make the e-book available to the library so that the library can make it available by lending to a patron. So, for example, a company called Overdrive is probably the best known vendor that performs this role. And of course, they have to make some money in the process. Hopefully, the publishers and the authors of those books will get paid for the usage of them.
ADLERSo all of this is trying to devise new business models. They're recognizing that the usage departs from the way print books were used to see that those various players can get paid for the contribution they make to making the books ultimately available to the public.
SESNONow on the business model, Jeremy, it's really interesting because -- and this has been sort of alluded to, but a PEW study recently found that of people who are e-reading, 41 percent who borrow books from libraries purchased their most recent e-book. So reading it once isn't enough, I guess.
GREENFIELDWell, the study, I believe, actually said that among people who do borrow e-books, 41 percent purchased the last e-book they read.
GREENFIELDSo what that suggests is that people who borrow e-books also buy e-books. And among the publishers I spoke with, they mostly agree with that, that is probably the case. And I have very good news for libraries coming out of these major, major publishers who are running library lending programs right now. They're happy with them. They believe that it is helping their business and not hurting their business. And they plan on continuing them or expanding them even.
GREENFIELDAnd I believe that in the coming year or two, you'll probably see other publishers do the same. However, that statistic and that belief among librarians and the PEW study and the patrol profile study is not 100 percent believed among publishers. There are some publishers I spoke with who think that that study isn't really conclusive, that it doesn't really prove that if I let people borrow my e-books from libraries that they won't stop buying them.
GREENFIELDSo for instance, let's say you're a big publisher and you don't lend your books to libraries. You might be thinking, if I do lend my books, they're going to stop buying those books. And the only reason people who borrow books are buying books is because I'm not making them available right now. So there's a lot of questions in the marketplace. And I think the larger message from publishers is we want to work with libraries. We see them as a very important way for people to discover new books, for people to discover our books. But we just want to do it in a way where it doesn't undercut our fledgling e-book businesses.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join our conversation, give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to email@example.com. One thing I think we can be certain of is that the audience for this show is a frequently reading audience because we certainly hear that in the questions and in the commentary that we get. So let's go to the phones. Carrie joins us now from Norfolk, Va. Hi, Carrie. Go ahead with your question.
CARRIEYes, I was wondering if the libraries have an application that you can download through your mobile devices or stuff like that to be able to get e-books or to borrow these books? 'Cause I'm in the military and let me tell you, on deployment, having a Nook reader was the best thing ever so I didn't have a lot of space for all these books. And I go to Barnes & Noble and I just want to buy the whole store, but I can't.
CARRIESo e-books are great and especially that the -- I didn't know libraries had this and I haven't been to libraries in years. But knowing that they have this, it's wonderful and I was just wondering if there's a way that you can just do it from your phone or something like that?
SESNOWell, I'll tell you what, Carrie. I'm gonna thank you for your service and let the other Carrie answer the question. Carrie.
RUSSELLYes, you can download e-books from the library if you're a member of the library, if you have a library card. There is -- you can't do it unless you're authorized to, you know, be a part of the library. So you certainly can do that. There are issues in regards to, like, geography, though. How big is a public library's customer base? Is it just in the geographic vicinity or does that extend to places that might be overseas?
SESNOLet me go to the calls again -- the phones again. Joe from Oxford, Ohio, calls in. Hi, Joe.
JOEHi. I'm a college student and I just paid my tuition and I'm $115 short. And that ended up being a late fee from the library from last semester. And I was wondering if -- imagine like a college student who has to write a paper and you check out 15 books just for one paper. You don't want to carry all those around so renting an e-book on your iPad or whatever would be really useful in terms of writing your paper around campus, just not in the library. But I was wondering if publishers would be willing to work with colleges and universities to make that system available at the institute level, you know, for study so students could take advantage of the e-book reading more than you could otherwise.
SESNOAnd so you don't have to be deeper in poverty than normal students are in any case.
SESNOOkay. Carrie and everybody else, let me open that up for the question.
RUSSELLActually, we have in the academic publishing area there's a lot of great movement using different business models to provide e-books to college students, all kinds of different options including simultaneous access. So you wouldn't have to wait for that e-book to be returned. You could have access at the same time as another student. And I think we can learn a lot from the academic publishers in this regard because they've been more directly involved in content. If titles are offered for a reasonable price they really have some interesting business models.
ADLERYou know, also there are alternative forms of access where there aren't downloads that occur at all, but online access is the way in which the material is used. One advantage for that is that then the user doesn't have any particular reliance on a particular device or download service, but basically can find that the work is useable on their phones, laptops or any internet-enabled device.
SESNOAnd, Vailey, quickly, out in Portland, Oregon, what are you doing for your college students?
OEHLKEWell, if they are members of our library system, we have about 450,000 cardholders in our system, they have full access to our collection.
SESNOAnd would you do something special for them electronically, textbooks and other academic offerings? Because some of those are very highly specialized.
OEHLKEYeah, and you know, the mission of a public library is somewhat distinctive. They certainly overlap with an academic library, but we have several institutions of higher ed. right here in our community. And they definitely serve their students with electronic access. We are more focused on the general public.
SESNOCarrie, what about college libraries, university libraries? Are they doing more e-lending?
RUSSELLYes, certainly, same thing. Over time, a lot of different -- I just think that academic publishing has actually done a really good job in this area because they have offered these titles and they have been very innovative.
SESNOWe'll take a quick break. When we come back, more on e-books, libraries and how you get access to both on "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. We're talking about e-books and e-lending and libraries, not yet e-libraries. Our guests, Jeremy Greenfield, editorial director of F & W Media's Digital Book World, Carrie Russell of the American Library Association, Allan Adler of the Association of American Publishers and by phone from Portland, Ore., Vailey Oehlke. She's director of libraries for Multnomah County Library. Jeremy Greenfield, to you. How has reading changed in the last decade or so?
GREENFIELDTremendously, in short. It's not just about books and e-books, although, for my part, the rise of e-books has been precipitous. In 2007, when Amazon introduced the Kindle, the amount of people reading books on devices like Palm Pilots or their laptop or desktop computers was miniscule. Now we're seeing that healthy double-digits of Americans have read e-books or regularly read e-books. But it's not just e-books. If you look at, you know, the students that you spoke with in the classroom, they're not buying newspapers. Fewer of them are likely buying magazines.
GREENFIELDA lot of reading is happening online. And if you wanna go to the edge of what is happening there is a lot of reading happening through RSS or through applications like Flipboard, which cut out, you know, the online magazine as we know it right now. So reading has changed tremendously. And I think it's actually a golden age for reading. I'm reading a lot more than I ever have. And every single other person I know…
SESNOAre you reading…
SESNOAre you reading more things less deeply or are you reading as many or more things more deeply? In other words, are people reading more in shorter bursts -- right? This is the Twitter world we live in. Or are we still reading full-length books in the same way that we were reading 10 years ago?
GREENFIELDAs I said earlier, we don't really know how many of the e-books that people buy and download -- how many of them they finish. Now, Amazon knows and Barnes and Noble knows. And these retailers are very slowly giving publishers some of that information. And there are new startups that are helping publishers figure that out. But I can tell you from my own consumption, that I'm reading a lot more stuff and a little bit less deeply. And I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm several weeks behind on my New Yorkers.
OEHLKEI was just gonna say, everyone is.
SESNOI have an email here from Winifred, who says, "My complaint with loaning," I assume she means borrowing e-books, "is that it is not seamless. The technology for lending e-books should be as easy online as putting a book on hold is normally." Carrie?
RUSSELLYeah, that's definitely an issue. And…
SESNOThat's a technology problem?
RUSSELLIt is a technology problem. And part of it is the inoperability between different readers. Some you can only read certain kinds of e-files.
ADLERWell, that's one of the important considerations once we entered the digital age of books, which is, is that print books could be used without any intervening technology. Whereas books in digital form require devices, require access to the internet perhaps. And all of that involves more players than just simply the bookseller, the publisher, the author and the library.
SESNOVailey, do you lend the e-reader as well? Do you have different platforms that you have to worry about?
OEHLKEWe do not here at our library, but many libraries across the country do. And in fact, what we do is we offer a good number of classes and one-on-one training for individuals. You know right after Christmas we've got a ton of people walking through our doors asking, you know, how do I turn this thing on? How do I get a book on it? We provide that kind of support and training in our libraries all across the country.
SESNOHere's another email. This one's from Lisa. "I contributed my paper and ink books to my local library. I'd like to be able to do the same thing with my Kindle books. I may purchase a book and not plan on reading it again. I'd like to be able to pass them on to another reader." Carrie, can she do that?
RUSSELLProbably not, according to the license agreement that she clicked on when she purchased her titles. That's something that is worrisome because in the print world we could always -- there was more sharing going on because we could share books and buy them in used book stores and that kind of thing. But the license tends to restrict your use to your own individual use.
SESNOLet's go to the phone. Kate joins us from Detroit. Hi, Kate. Kate, you there?
KATEOh, sorry. Hi.
SESNOThat's all right.
KATEI was just thinking about what Carrie was talking about and the shareability factor. That's really interesting.
SESNOWell, we're glad you're thinking about what our guests are saying. We're succeeding then.
KATEYeah, yeah, so my name's Kate. I’m from the Detroit area. And I worked at a publishing company about 11 years ago. They were trying to get into e-books and they were working out standardization issues and XML and blah, blah, blah, the technology stuff. I was kind of in between the editorial staff and the technical staff because everything, of course, in this environment -- we served libraries, schools and academics.
KATEYou had to go electronic. So I was kind of working with data standards. Now, my questions are not so much about technology, not at all about business, but simply about the human issues. I'm very interested in readability. And in the computer world, they use this term usability. I wish that…
SESNOSo you're interested in -- when you say usability, readability, what do you mean exactly?
KATEHere's what I mean by example. If libraries and books ought to be free and open and accessible to the general public…
KATE…what are we doing for, for example, people with low vision issues…
KATE…people who are blind, who need Braille.
KATEMy mother is veritable power reader and she's gotten a little familiar with using Amazon to research and find…
KATE…books and order books cheaper, but, you know, usability is just such an impoverished term. I mean…
SESNOAll right. Well, let me let Vailey jump in on usability, from the library, which is where she is. Vailey, you want to start us off on that?
OEHLKEI will start, but I think I'm gonna hand it over to Carrie 'cause she's been doing a lot of work around the accessibility issue, which is a huge issue for us. Public libraries serve everybody. And everybody is everybody, no matter what sort of, you know, challenges they may have in accessing those materials. You know, we have collections for visually impaired people. And so that's a critical issue for us in terms of access because, remember, our bottom line at public libraries is about providing access to the public we serve. That's our bottom line. So accessibility is a big issue for us. And I think Carrie could add to that.
RUSSELLYeah, I think that hope is on the horizon for people with print disabilities because some of the manufacturers that create the e-reading devices have, from the beginning, universally designed the e-reader to be accessible for people with low vision or other vision problems. So some manufacturers are doing a really good job. Others are not. We really need to pay attention to that. And we're on the case in terms of trying to work with these people.
SESNOAllan, is this a persuasive argument, an issue for publishers?
ADLERYes. It's a very important one, but also a difficult one. Publishers work with the disabilities communities to try to provide accessible format versions of their works. It may be in large print, it may be involving a device that allows the work to be read aloud. It may involve assistive technology, like text-to-screen translation software that will work with the digital text of the book. Part of the problem is that there are questions of rights, whether or not the publisher actually has the right to make a book available in a certain form.
ADLERThere was a dispute people may recall…
SESNOWhat do you mean? That isn't part of the deal, right, going in? It says you can make it available in all forms?
ADLERWell, you know, the first question is what rights does the publisher actually acquire from an author? Now an author may give the publisher the right to broadly, geographically distribute the book in print form, but not necessarily in electronic form. It may give them the right to distribute in an electronic form, but only a particular electronic form. So all of these issues go back to the question of whether or not the publisher is authorized in making the book available in a particular way that makes it accessible to people who have disabilities.
SESNONow, here's an email I'd like to ask you about because this raises a really interesting question about libraries as innovators. It's from Dallas. "It's exciting to see libraries demonstrate innovation," Dallas writes. "Perhaps the next step is actual revenue generation by building partnerships with e-reader makers, publishers and perhaps the list of most-often borrowed books to compete with the New York Times Best Seller List or something like that." What's your thought?
RUSSELLRight. Those are great ideas and some of them are already happening. Some libraries offer e-books. And also if the e-book is unavailable and the library user wants it right away, they can choose to purchase the book right then and there. And some of the profits of that go back to the library.
SESNOJeremy, what is your take on that?
SESNOI think that there are a lot of library systems that are doing some really interesting work to try to innovate in the digital space. One stand-out library system is the Califa Library system in California, which to provide more e-books to its patrons has gone and signed deals independently with Smashwords, which is one of the largest distributors of self-published work. It has done partnerships with a company called Bilbary, which, as Carrie said, is a company that makes it possible for patrons who see a book that there's a long hold period on, that they can buy the book and the library gets a small part of the profit.
ADLERI also talked to a lot of librarians who, you know, e-books is a very important issue for them. But it's just one of many issues facing libraries in the digital era. They're thinking about new and different ways to make more information available to their patrons, to turn their physical library spaces into incubation tanks of ideas, incubation tanks of digital technology.
SESNOSo instead of saying library on the front of the building, it's gonna say incubation tank?
ADLERWell, that's a really good question. What is a library in the digital era?
SESNODo you think it's an endangered species?
ADLERI don't. I don't think libraries are endangered species. I think that they're the backbone of our democracy, to some extent. I think the existence of so much free information on the internet has changed what libraries need to be, but I don't think that they're at all endangered. I think it's wonderful that people who are unable to get to the library can download an e-book now or use the library website for access to all sorts of information, but it raises the question, what is a library today?
SESNOLet me go to the phones and Roy, who calls us from Indianapolis. Hi, Roy.
ROYHi there, Frank. How you doing today?
SESNOGreat. Thanks for calling.
ROYYeah, I just wanted to comment real quick. I was enjoying the conversation. I only jumped in about 20 minutes earlier. And basically I wanted to comment that I'm a university student out here in Indianapolis. And I just wanted to say that, you know, the Kindle, the Nook, all the electronic readers have just been like a, you know, a breakthrough in technology in my opinion because every class that I signed up for in college thus far has had an electronic book available for the class. And I was a lucky one because not every student has had that option.
ROYSo with me personally, you know, it's an extreme convenience to have all these options available just because instead of, you know, carrying around three, four, five, six textbooks around the college campus day-by-day, it's, you know, really convenient to have those, you know really lightweight…
SESNOAnd is it a lot cheaper for you, too? Because some of those textbooks now can be shockingly expensive.
ROYYeah, I mean, I rent all my textbooks because I just, you know, I don't find the need to keep them afterwards unless I feel like it's a really important class and I want to keep the book for a reference. And I've only done that for one class so far, but usually I rent them and they are pretty cheap for rentals, especially when it's an e-book.
SESNOWell, good luck with your studies, Roy. And you'll have to get exercise some other way since you're not lugging all those pounds of books around as you walk the campus. Let's go to Terrence in Germantown, Md. Hi, Terrence.
TERRENCEHello. I'm one of the few Americans, I guess, without internet access at home. So my question is, my library system in Maryland used to offer dialup internet access. I don't know if they still do that, so I'm wondering if this is something that's more widespread, of if it's only limited to a few small library systems.
RUSSELLYeah, this is important to librarians, to be able to serve people that can't come into the library. We do have, most libraries are wired for wireless technology. In fact, sometimes you'll see a bunch of people parked in the parking lot outside of a public library, using the wi-fi, instead of being in the building. But yes, this is a great issue for us. We want to see technology deployment for all of our libraries. The issue now, sometimes, a lot of it is traffic, and how much broadband the library has, and how it can manage that. But certainly this is the wave of the future.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to call us in our remaining minutes, the number is 1-800-433-8850, or you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're joined now on the phone by Scott, who calls in from Dallas, Texas. Hi, Scott.
SCOTTHi, how are you?
SESNOGreat. Go ahead.
SCOTTI have two questions that kind of tie in with each other. Does the electronic reading service the libraries are offering now save operating dollars? And if so, are the small-town libraries able to utilize this to exchange word-only books for books that are dependent upon print size, such as engineering design, graphic art design, Scientific Britannica, stuff like that?
SESNOOkay. Vailey, let me let you start with the operating cost part of the question.
OEHLKEYou know, ultimately absolutely there will be some operating savings simply because of how you manage an electronic version of a book versus a physical version of a book. Right now, you know, our e-books account for about four percent of our collection budget. So those savings aren't huge, but I expect that as that changes and that shift changes and increases over time it will have an impact.
SESNOCarrie, very quickly, the part about lending back and forth?
RUSSELLYeah, lending back and forth between individuals…
RUSSELL…and libraries, there are certain projects ongoing where people can lend back and forth, but those are far and few between. And again, it's usually related to the license agreement that the publishers offer to the libraries and what libraries can negotiate. Once we moved into digital content, it was, we pay for access instead of paying for ownership.
SESNOJeremy, I think it was Jeremy, but you mentioned earlier in the conversation that it was just in -- what, 2006, 2007 that Amazon…
SESNOYou know that's five -- it's hard to believe that it's only been five years.
GREENFIELDSo quickly has it grown.
SESNOOh, my gosh. So let's -- we've got just a couple minutes remaining here. Let me ask each of you to now peer the next five or seven years into the future and what you predict very quickly is going to be the impact on publishing or libraries. Jeremy take it first.
GREENFIELDThe growth of e-books has been breakneck. There have been triple-digit gains at publishers in terms of the e-book revenue they've been generating. That's starting to change.
SESNOSo what's your prediction?
GREENFIELDI predict that e-books will flatten out a little bit. They will level off at something like 50, 60 percent of what people are reading. And I believe that some time in the next few years all of the major publishers will have some arrangement with libraries to make their e-books available.
SESNOVailey, what's your prediction for your library?
OEHLKESimilarly, since 2009, our e-book checkouts have increased a total of 6,230 percent. I expect that those checkouts and the expectation will continue to increase. I tend to agree with Jeremy that it will sort of flatten out somewhere around 50 percent, but ultimately that climb will continue and libraries will be right there providing that access as long as we're getting it from publishers.
SESNOAllan, the publisher's prediction?
ADLERI think that the market is gonna continue to advance to the use of digital formats of books. And as the various devices become more transparent, more seamless for consumers, consumers will continue to use more and more of them.
SESNOMore and more of them. Carrie, very quickly.
RUSSELLYes. I agree with Jeremy and Vailey. We will soon be able to have access to all e-books and in addition, there'll be more activity in libraries in creating such things as e-books and e-content.
SESNOSo I'm gonna thank our wonderful guests for talking about this wonderful topic today. And we're gonna close with an email from one of our listeners, Linda, who says, "Just wanted to let you know that while I'm listening to this show, I'm signing up with my public library and adding the app to my Nook and phone so I can access e-books from my local library. Thanks." You're welcome. And thanks for listening. And thanks to our guests. I'm Frank Sesno. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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