A must read article for librarians came out on August 12 in the Wall Street Journal by Geoffrey A. Fowler.
The article is titled: Why the Public Library Beats Amazon- For Now.
So the central question is who is better at providing ebooks Amazon, Oyster, Scribd, or the public library? The surprising answer is the public library! I would have thought that WSJ would have been in the corner of private enterprise here, but when the focus came to who provides the most to the customer the public library came out ahead.
A few takeaways from the article:
The public library has a wider selection of the ebooks that most people want to read. This was supported by Fowler’s use of ebook collections in the San Francisco Public Library and the Richland County (South Carolina) Public Library. Readers will want to take a look at Fowler’s chart which shows how these two public libraries faired when matched up against the private ebook vendors. You’ll be surprised at who has the better collections.
The tension between Amazon and major publishers has limited the amount of ebooks provided to Amazon for distribution.
There is a far better relationship among publishers and public libraries. According to Fowler, the Internet has put an end to many bookstores, so this has left the library as a prime showroom for “discovering books”. Therefore publishers see the library as a revenue source and a marketing venue. In the future it might be the only place that can perform both functions for the publisher.
The one drawback of the public library is that there is a wait list factor for the more popular and new ebooks. On the other hand the ebook services that the public library provides are free.
The article hints that the current library advantage with regards to ebooks may not always last. This could be due to publishers resolving their issues with Amazon or paid subscriptions services becoming more main stream.
It is impressive that the library has been able proactively provide access to ebooks that the public wants to read. We should not always assume that private enterprise will always be the best source to meet customer demand. On the other hand, we should be mindful of Fowler’s final thoughts that the library is more than just a book or ebook provider. The library holds a vast array of programs that are valuable to the community, assists with patron instruction of which technological training plays a role, provides space to those seeking a quiet place to study or to those that want to hold group meeting, and advocates for privacy considerations. These are just a few of the things that the library does in addition to providing ebook access.