ALA Midwinter is winding down. I didn’t write about it last week because it looked like it would be pretty boring. The what’s happening page had a long list of speakers, most of which I’d never heard of but didn’t think I’d want to see, plus some others I knew enough about to deliberately avoid.
On the other hand, Dallas in January is a lot better than Boston or Philadelphia in January, and as conference cities go it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The weather was pleasant. Nobody in Dallas walks anywhere, so the sidewalks weren’t crowded, though I wouldn’t call the place pedestrian friendly by any means. There were no restaurants to speak of near the convention center, but then again the attendance was only about 4,000, so it didn’t matter much that the only convenient food was the convention center swill.
As conference cities in Texas go, Dallas is a lot like San Antonio, minus the charm. And the restaurants and pedestrian friendly atmosphere.
Which brings me to the news that Overdrive was playing up their ebook circulation statistics at Midwinter. You can read the basics from their press release: eBook Discovery and Sampling Skyrocketing at Public Libraries. Skyrocketing!
The statistics are impressive, too. Supposedly, there were:
- 1.6 billion book and title catalog pages viewed, up 130% from 20109
- 9.5 million visitor sessions, up 107%
- 35 million digital titles checked out in 2011, with 17 million holds
I’m a little surprised by the last figure, since it seems like every ebook available through my public library has 20 holds on it at any given time. I would have thought 35 million checkouts meant at least 100 million holds.
But then I realized Overdrive says that 35 million “digital titles” were checked out, but their digital titles include far more than ebooks. According to the press release: “The OverDrive catalog for libraries now includes 700,000 copyrighted eBook, audiobook, music, and video titles in 52 languages, including 300,000 titles added in 2011.”
That would explain why there were more checkouts than holds.
They may have added 300,000 “titles” in 2011, but the number of ebooks added must have been a small percentage of that, and growing smaller now that Penguin is going to stop making ebooks (and now audiobooks!) available to libraries.
As we see from this article, what ebooks get checked out the most from libraries are what ebooks are available for checkout, which at the moment includes only 2 of the Big 6 publishers. The most popular new books from libraries are all from Random House. All it would take is for Random House and HarperCollins to go the way of Simon & Schuster and all would be lost.
Unless, that is, there is a positive correlation between having an ebook available for library lending and increased sales of either that work or works by the same author. The press release implies something like that with the phrase “discovery and sampling.” We know anecdotally that people use libraries to discover authors they then sometimes purchase, but can that be proven?
Publishers fear that an ebook borrowed from a library is a sale lost. It’s an old fear, but it’s not one that I’ve seen any evidence for.
If some industrious LIS researcher needs a research project, either disproving that a book borrowed is a sale lost or proving a positive correlation between library ebook availability and increase sales of that ebook or author would seem perfect. You could probably even get a grant.
And if the research shows the opposite, it can just be suppressed like other LIS research that doesn’t go well for libraries. (A study on school librarians someone wrote me about comes to mind, but I couldn’t verify the suppression.)
Between studies showing good things come to those publishers who like libraries and my previous suggestion to have library patrons start contacting publishers directly to complain about their hating libraries, publishers might come around.
Or maybe not, and my predictions for the year will come true.