The networked library of the future as bookseller

Could libraries become sellers of digital content as well as e-book lenders and promoters of good writing? And should publishers be more flexible in how they let libraries operate? Here is my write-up from a session at DBW on how libraries fits into this ecosystem. It was enlightening in any number of ways but more of that later . . .

The one e-book one user system for loaning digital books to libraries is working for authors, agents, booksellers and librarians, according to comments made at a session at Digital Book World entitled, "Where do libraries fit into the ecosystem". Publishers were also encouraged to use libraries' developed communities in order to market, loan and even sell their digital content.

The session, on the second day at DBW, followed the comments made on the first day at DBW's c.e.o. panel during which Brian Napack, Macmillan US president, defended Macmillan's decision not to allow e-book lending to library users. In response to a question from the floor, Napack told delegates: "We believe in libraries, so we are committed to that. We have spent a lot of time looking for a business model, the fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again, so we are hard at work, we continue to wrestle with it."

But Steve Potash, who heads up Overdrive's library e-lending service, which accommodates the one e-book one user model, rejected this view. He said: "There is a misperception that there is a problem with e-book lending in libraries. But the one e-book, one user model is the perfect complement for authors, retailers, publishers and agents. The fact that one or two trade publishers haven't figured it out yet, does not mean that the other 98% are having any problems with it." Potash even joked that publishers should be paying libraries for inclusion in their digital catalogues as it actively promoted their books and their authors. "The library is the best way of getting every author, every new release elevated sales," said Potash.

The view was backed by Chrstopher Platt, a librarian with the New York Public Library, who argued that there were many more book readers who viewed their online database than were allowed to loan books. He said the library, in co-operation with OverDrive, had recently introduced "buy-now" buttons in order to allow those who could not loan the ability to buy. "We know that Amazon, or B&N, is just a click away." Potash suggested that libraries could use their brand name to drive digital sales overseas: "Globally they want your e-books, 70% of Europe wants English-language e-books."

Platt said he wanted publishers to better include libraries in their ongoing digital development, and to stop worrying about the risks. "We don't want any of you to go out of busiensss because then we wouldn't be able to serve our users." And he said that when he heard publishers talk about "communities", he had to remind them that libraries already had developed social networks. "We have over 90,000 Twitter folowers and we promote your books on it. When you reach out to have conversations with librarians understand that they are already connected to the people you want to reach."

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