Feature: Digital lending & why libraries sell books

February 25, 2011 Features, Opinion 1

Slightly Scandalous UK cover

I have been reading, with growing disbelief, today’s new shenanigans over digital lending in libraries.  In brief, OverDrive (the ebook-lending platform used by many public libraries) is pushing through a licensing change at the behest of certain publishers  (hi there, HarperCollins!) which would impose a maximum number of loans upon certain books, after which the library would have to repurchase the title.  This is, frankly, balls.  Money-grubbing, library-shafting, shameful balls perpetrated by people who seem to have little regard for libraries or readers.  Library budgets are stretched to breaking point already, and while I fully support publishers’ right to make money, introducing these sorts of punitive measures – designed to either make libraries pay, or cease offering digital access altogether – is really beyond the pale.

For the full details and discussion, I suggest visiting Bobbi Newman’s post, and also seeing what SB Sarah and Jane at Dear Author have to say from the reader’s perspective.

In browsing the comments at Smart Bitches, and enjoying the righteous indignation, I did come across a comment from an author with a somewhat negative attitude towards libraries. I don’t want to reply over there because I’m tired and a bit cranky, and others have responded awesomely already, but I just wanted to reflect on the idea (which I have also seen expressed elsewhere) that libraries in any way deprive authors of income.  You can probably guess just how much credence I give that.  Since it’s Friday night and I left my powers of reasoning in my desk drawer at work, I’ll offer an anecdote in response.

Slightly Scandalous UK cover

I was appalled to find that Romancelandia is not united in love for this book!


I read romance in my early teens, then stopped for years until my mid-twenties when I borrowed my Mum’s library copy (yes!  screwing up library lending statistics! have I no shame at all?) of Mary Balogh’s Slightly Scandalous. I loved it, sought out and read the other Slightly books and thought ‘hey, this historical romance stuff is all right’.  But being a low-paid library assistant I was conservative with how I spent my book money, and not likely to take a chance on buying an unknown author. I collected Mary Balogh’s ouevre, but the sheer volume of romance novels was hard to navigate.


Kiss Me Annabel UK cover

I do love James's UK romance covers. So pretty!

A few months later (at the library!) I came across a book with a nice cover and an interesting premise: Kiss Me Annabel by Eloisa James.  I borrowed the book, loved it, and much as I had with Mary Balogh, promptly devoured everything else James had ever written.  Then the same thing happened with Julia Quinn.  And Loretta Chase.  And Laura Lee Guhrke.  And at some point I got all adventurous and branched out into contemporary romance where I fell upon Rachel Gibson and happily acquired her entire backlist.  All of these authors (plus many more I’ve no doubt forgotten) introduced to me by the library, and on whom I have happily spent lots of money since.  And under whose umbrella are they published?  HARPER-flipping-COLLINS. You’re welcome, guys.

So, anytime an author or publisher suggests that libraries are detrimental to their sales, I look at my bulging bookshelf, think about how it is approximately ten times more stuffed than those of my non-library-using friends, and wonder what exactly these people are smoking.

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