4 Reasons Why I Don't Borrow Digital Books

A library opportunity for publishing to take on Amazon?

August 11, 2014

"Neither Molly nor you seem to be appreciative of the public libraries and their impressive ebooks collections. As a taxpayer, I'm able to take get hold of the newest titles and bestsellers thanks to my local library. I haven't ever had to pay for an ebook and still ready at least one each week, a treat for my daily commute to campus.”

Ola, commenting on my piece Should You Subscribe to Kindle Unlimited?

I would love to borrow all my digital books from the public library.  

(I’d love to borrow my digital books from my academic library as well, but my understanding is that while academic libraries may sometimes offer non-scholarly digital books, this is not their primary mission.  Please set me straight on every count where I go astray).

But instead of borrowing my digital books from the library, I purchase my digital books from Amazon. 

Before the emergence of digital books I was a huge library and interlibrary loan patron.  My local public (and academic) library can get me about any book I’d ever want in a day or two, as long as that book is paper.

Perhaps I am deluded, brainwashed, or confused - but a paper book is not what I want.  What I want is a digital book.  A digital audiobook.  An e-book.  And I want the audiobook and e-book to sync.  I want to read on my Kindle.  I want to read on my iPhone.  I want to listen on my iPhone.  I don’t want paper.

Do you want paper books?  Do our students want paper books?  Will the next generation of college students want paper books?  (The answer to these questions may not be as obvious as we’d imagine.  If the two future college students that reside in my house (class of 2019 and class of 2021) are any indication, many future college students may prefer analog over digital for reading).

So why not digital books borrowed from the public library?

I spent some time over the past couple of days on my NH Downloadable Books Consortium website.  I searched, I browsed, I downloaded, I read, and I listened.

Here is what I found, and the reasons that I’ll keep giving my money to Amazon where I’d rather be borrowing from the library:

Reason 1:  The Selection is Terrible (at least compared to Amazon / Audible):

Perhaps it is not fair to compare the digital books available for borrowing from the library with the digital books available for purchase on Amazon.  But what other comparison should we make?  

From everything I have learned it is clear that librarians (both public and academic) would love to purchase more digital books for lending.  The problem is that the publisher pricing for lendable digital books is prohibitively expensive. 

This is not a library issue but a publisher issue.  If publishers figured out reasonable pricing for digital books for libraries then libraries would buy many more digital books.  

Libraries may be the best available counterweight to Amazon’s market power in digital books. 

Reason 2:  Even When the Books That I Want Are Available They Are Usually Checked Out:

This is also, I think, a publishing and not a library issue.  The publishers restrict the number of times that a digital book can be loaned.  The result is that when I find a book from the library that I’d like to download more often than not I need to put my name on a waiting list.  It can take weeks to finally be notified that the book that I want is ready to download. 

This waiting period makes no sense in a digital world.  It turns potential digital book borrowers into Amazon customers.

Reason 3:  The OverDrive iOS App is Atrocious:

Have you actually tried to use the iOS OverDrive app?  I could call the OverDrive iOS app slow, clunky, and difficult to navigate - but this would only serve to highlight the apps best features.  

The Downloadable Books Consortium website, also “Powered by Overdrive”, is a bit better than the iOS app.  I can at least browse and borrow books.  What the site does not have is any of the recommendation of review features that make the Amazon site such a good platform for book discovery.

Reason 4:  There Seems to Be No Way to Sync E-Books with AudioBooks:

The desire to read one book across multiple synced formats may be one that libraries will never be able to satisfy.  Perhaps this is a luxury reading request.  A first world reading problem. Book reading for the entitled and the privileged.

For those that have experienced Whispersync it is difficult to go back.  Synced audio / e-books allow me to read more books, and to read individual books more quickly and with great enjoyment.  I could discover no method to sync audio and e-books on the library digital book download site.

Please help me see the errors in my thinking about libraries and digital books.

As Barbara Fister tells us, Amazon’s digital book offerings are no panacea. 

A competitive (even remotely competitive) library digital book borrowing experience to Amazon would be wonderful.  

I can only hope that the publishing world starts to re-think its position towards the library world.  A healthy library digital book ecosystem would provide some necessary balance to Amazon’s digital book dominance.  

How can we move this conversation forward?


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