Libraries get into the digital book business

Libraries will loan ebooks for free, causing worries among private dealers

November 28th, 2011 3:05 pm| by admin
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Libraries across the country have begun loaning out for free what Danish publishers have been struggling to sell: ebooks.

The librariesÂ’ new digital book loan service is called eReolen. It began on November 1 with a selection of just over 1,800 Danish-language digital books (alternately referred to as ebooks or e-books) from 53 different Danish publishing houses. In less than a month, around 6,000 users have borrowed ebooks some 9,600 times.

Each time a book is loaned out, the library pays the publisher a use fee – 18.5 kroner for new releases and 15 kroner for ones more than one year old. The more a title is borrowed, the lower the fee to the library. But to the patron, it’s always free.

The individual libraries decide how many digital books patrons may borrow and for how long. In Copenhagen, users can borrow up to five ebooks per month for up to one month each. When the loan period expires, the digital file automatically becomes inaccessible. No more need to return books on time. And no more late fees either.

The convenience for users is obvious, and eReolenÂ’s project manager Susanne Iversen fully expects ebook lending to grow with time. But could the free loans undercut the national sales market for ebooks?

“It’s a huge worry for a lot of us,” Elisabeth Fogtdal, legal manager of Gyldendal, Denmark’s largest publisher, told Politiken newspaper. “On the other hand, eReolen could also give the commercial ebook market – which has been really sluggish in this country – a positive lift.”

Digital books account for just one percent of total book sales in Denmark today, compared to 15-20 percent in the US, reports Politiken.

Fogtdal noted that digital audio book sales leaped forward after the libraries began lending them as part of the Netlydbog.dk programme.

Managers at Lindhardt og Ringhof publishers are betting that Danes will graduate from loaning ebooks to buying them.

“We think it will raise awareness of ebooks. People will get the chance to try them and see how it is to read books on a smartphone or a tablet,” Cliff Hansen, CEO of Lindhardt og Ringhof, told Politiken. “We hope it will turn them into customers.”

Both Gyldendal and Lindhardt og Ringhof have partnered with the libraries on eReolen.

As further encouragement to buy as well as loan, eReolen has added a ‘buy button’ to its book listings. The buy button will first be activated in mid December, but then library patrons will have the option to ‘try’, ‘loan’, or ‘buy’ digital books in Danish. The profits from sales of digital books on eReolen is to be evenly split between the libraries and publishers.

“We’re introducing the ‘buy button’ to see if we can make ebooks accessible without wrecking the commercial market. There’s a cap on the loan time, for example, and we would like to see how many people buy the book because they didn’t have time to finish reading them in the loan period, or because they just want to have it. In the long run we hope that the traffic will flow out to the normal ebook sellers,” Fogtdal said.

But those “normal ebook sellers” are precisely the ones who are most worried about eReolen.

Jesper Enger-Rasmussen is the CEO of mibook.dk, an ebook seller with 160,000 titles in Danish, English, and German, among other languages. Although eReolen only has titles in Danish – and just under 2,000 of those – Enger-Rasmussen still worries about what it will do to his Danish ebook sales, which account for 60 percent of his business.

What really worries him is not that the libraries are loaning out ebooks, but that they plan to start selling them as well.

“We really hope that the ‘buy button’ will not be activated on eReolen. How can the public sector use taxpayer money to help the libraries get into the commercial book market? That can’t be right,” Enger-Rasmussen told The Copenhagen Post.

In other words, if people can both borrow Danish ebooks for free and also buy them on the publicly-funded eReolen website, what incentive will there be for them to see what private ebook dealers are offering?

“It should be illegal for a public institution to jump into the private market. You’ve also got the two biggest book publishers in Denmark [Gyldendal and Lindhardt og Ringhof] going in on this,” Enger-Rasmussen said. “I’m afraid this could force private sellers out of business. We don’t get public funding, you know.”

You can check out eReolen here or on your local libraryÂ’s website. eReolen loans work on PCs, Android devices, iPhones, iPads, and tablets, but not on the Amazon Kindle.

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