Can Libraries Survive the E-Book Revolution?
Facing higher prices from and limited access to e-books from the major publishers, the man charged with running Douglas County, Colo.'s library system has inspired a national movement to promote smaller, digitally based presses and self-published authors.
Barry StaverFacing higher prices and limited access to e-books from the major publishers, Jamie LaRue, the man charged with running Douglas County, Colo.'s library system, has inspired a national movement to promote smaller, digitally based presses and self-published authors.
More than 20 years ago, when Jamie LaRue took over the library system in Douglas County, Colo., few people outside that patch of Rocky Mountain wilderness south of Denver knew who he was. A lot of things were different back then. Public libraries were still considered pillars of the community and the most important stop for any local resident looking for the latest from the printed word. Commercial e-books were still a fantasy in the mind of some anonymous Silicon Valley geek. The rules of the game between libraries and publishers had been established long ago: Discount prices and generous access were the norm, and there was every reason to believe that the status quo would continue, ad infinitum.
Instead, the e-book revolution has overturned the whole infrastructure upon which libraries depended. From 2011 to 2012, the percentage of Americans who owned an e-book reader leapt from 18 to 33 percent, a rapid climb from 6 percent in 2010. Attempting to accommodate this shift, more than three-quarters of U.S. libraries allow their customers to check out digital books, but they’ve encountered fierce resistance in access and pricing from the major publishers. Some won’t even sell e-books to libraries. If libraries are able to obtain mainstream e-books at all, those sales almost always come with onerous conditions and high prices, especially compared to the traditional discounted rates libraries pay for hardcover copies. Read more...