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E-books challenge public libraries and high street booksellers

Emma Le Marchand

E-books have caused a massive disruption to the UK's bookshops and libraries since the digital books revolution began in 2009 when Amazon introduced their Kindle. The digital migration led to a number of retailers going into administration or closing high street branches as consumers turned to their e-reader devices for books instead of picking up hard copies in store.

Libraries have not quite faced the same challenge as high street retailers with many introducing e-book lending schemes enabling members to get access to certain digitised volumes through the library system. The UK Society of Chief Librarians estimate that 75-89% of UK public libraries offer e-book lending, although they acknowledge that what is available through the scheme is fragmented, with not all publishers comfortable with releasing content to libraries for digital databases, especially their most recent popular titles.

OverDrive is the most popular system in UK libraries for offering e-books to members, covering about half of all public libraries across the UK. OverDrive has a catalogue of a million books, videos and audio books and offers each individual library the chance to choose what from the system to offer to their users. It also pulls a large number of out-of-copyright books from Project Gutenberg to offer users for free. OverDrive offers libraries the choice of two different lending models, one which allows one person to borrow a book at one time, the other allows simultaneous use for an unlimited number of readers over a set period - although not all publishers are willing to offer this service to libraries. OverDrive reports that, far from e-books causing a decrease in library usage, libraries have seen an increase in membership after starting to offer e-books to members, illustrating that the digital services are able to extend the library's reach into the local community. With librarians wide expertise and advice on what to read, and individual libraries' ability to choose exactly what texts they have on their shelves dependent on their landscape of their members, it is unlikely that e-books will cause libraries financial trouble or force them to shut down the way they have with high street bookshops.

UK e-book market

E-books are also considered to hold potential for raising the rates of readership amongst men due to the male tendency to seek the latest electrical product on the market. With male readership well below female, young boys need to be encouraged to spend free time reading early on in life, with male role models like teachers and celebrities promoting the activity; a shiny Kindle or other reading device instead of a dusty old book makes the process more attractive to a young boy.

Read up on the e-books market in the UK with the latest market research: UK E-Book Market


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