E-books, I Kind of Want to Quit You

6 years ago

As I look at my relationship with e-books I'm starting to considering writing them a "Dear John" letter. Dear e-books, it's not me. It's you.

Oh, there are still many things I love about e-books but lately my frustrations are reaching a level where I'm almost considering giving them up.

There are things I love about e-books, such as their convenience. As someone who grew up in a town without a bookstore it still sometimes amazes me that I can click a few buttons on my computer or phone and have a new book in my hands in seconds. Sure, it can sometime be a pain to move my e-books from one device to another, but over all I have to say that e-books are quite wonderful. So why am I thinking about giving them up?

I get a lot of the e-books I read from the library. Sure, I buy them when I need to get my hands on a book quickly though, that isn't really limited to e-books. Most of the books I read in a year, e-books or paper ones, come from the library. Publishers are becoming wary of how I, and library users all over, access e-books.

First there was Brian Napack, the president of Macmillan US, a publishing house that doesn't currently allow their e-books to be distributed via libraries, who was quoted as saying that, “The fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again.”

I read that and laughed. Then I laughed a little bit more. Clearly there is a disconnect between some of the people that publish books and the ones that read them. Yes, I read a lot of library books, most of which aren't e-books, and in my end of the year tallies the number of library books always exceed books I own. A couple of years ago I got curious about how much money I was actually saving by using the library. I was already tracking the books I read in a spreadsheet so I just added in an extra column for the cover price of the book. I tracked the cover price of every book I got from the library in 2008 and 2009 and I saved somewhere in the range of $1200 per year. But it's not really savings since I really wouldn't spend that much on books. If my library were to disappear tomorrow, I wouldn't suddenly have an extra $1200 in my bank account to go spend in bookstores. The library allows me to read more books than I'd have the opportunity to read without it, e-books or not.

But that doesn't mean that I don't buy books. I spend anywhere from $30-50 per month on books, or if you want to take that to a yearly amount, anywhere from $320-600 over the course of a year. E-books are becoming a larger percentage of that amount this year. I've already spent about $125 on books in 2011, about 20% of which was on e-books. There are months I don't spend anything on books because I know that the next month there are three books being released that I want to buy. Some of the books I buy are actually books I've borrowed and read from the library but I've decided I want to own. Rick Riordan, Sarah Addison Allen, and even J.K. Rowling were all authors that I found first at the library before adding to my home collection. No, being a library user doesn't mean that I don't buy books.

Shortly after the Macmillan statement, it came out that Harper Collins is limiting library lending of e-books to 26 loans. After 26 loans the e-book license locks and no one can use it unless the license is renewed, at an additional cost to the library. The idea behind it appears to be that e-books don't get wear and tear, therefore libraries never have to replace e-books. Harper Collins concluded that 26 checkouts seems reasonable and the 26-checkout limit started this week.

E-books are changing the publishing industry and these two stories, both coming out within a week of each other, makes me feel as though publishers are terrified of the changes. I understand it, to an extent. A big problem with any kind of digital file is pirating, and publishers are having to deal with the pirating of books on a level that they never had to consider before. I know that publishers and authors both worry that rampant, illegal downloading of books means lost sales. I think that's probably both true and false. I do think that yes, some sales are probably lost. Maybe not if you're Neil Gaiman, who has discovered that pirating has actually boosted his sales, but not all authors are Neil Gaiman. However, I also don't think that every download necessarily represents a lost sale. I (unfortunately) know people who illegally download music, books and movies and often they download things simply because they are there and they often wouldn't have spent money on them or consumed them in any way otherwise.

What's upsetting to me -- as a reader, as a library user and as a consumer -- is that I feel that once again people who are are legally and responsibly consuming e-books are feeling the repercussions of those that are not. My library is not doing anything wrong by loaning e-books, and I'm not doing anything wrong by borrowing them yet my library is likely going to have to pay extra, at a time when many libraries are facing significant budget cuts. As a library user I expect that my library will actually purchase fewer e-books overall, and I believe that is unfortunate for everyone from the author down through the reader.

I don't think that putting further limits e-books for the consumers who are already buying and legally borrowing the products is the answer. It just makes this reader want to stop consuming them. I won't, at least not yet. I'm too fond of their convenience. But if publishers continue to impose more limits on legal purchases or borrowed e-books, I just may find myself letting my e-book reader gather dust.

Do you both borrow books from the library and purchase them? How do you feel about library lending limits on e-books?

Contributing Editor Karen Ballum also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

Photo Credit: © St. Petersburg Times/ZUMAPRESS.com

Original for BlogHer

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