The eBooks saga is continuing to run and run, as we all knew that it would. The latest entrant into the field is the Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray. Apparently, libraries are once again targeted as a major enemy - who knew that we had such power? He is quoted in a Bookseller article as saying "The BA has campaigned for several years to mitigate the potential damage that library e-book lending could have on our book retailing sector." He is very concerned that if libraries end up charging for eBooks (as Justin Tomlinson suggests) the money might be used to finance a variety of library services. He is of the opinion that the money raised should be used to buy books.
Now, before I actually respond to this bizarre Alice in Wonderland suggestion, let's get a few things clear shall we? First of all, libraries are not the reason why bookshops are having problems. Libraries INCREASE book sales, they don't decrease them. A recent study by Library Journal and Bowker PubTrack Consumer reports
"Our data show that over 50% of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library,” Miller noted. “This debunks the myth that when a library buys a book the publisher loses future sales. Instead, it confirms that the public library does not only incubate and support literacy, as is well understood in our culture, but it is an active partner with the publishing industry in building the book market, not to mention the burgeoning e-book market.
Moreover, if we look at a recent report from Pew, they are quite clear that Device owners are more likely to buy books. Some 61% of e-reading device owners said they purchased the most recent book they read, compared with 48% of all readers. Another 15% said they had borrowed their most recent book from a friend or family member (vs. 24% of all readers), and 10% said they borrowed it from a library (vs.14% of all readers). Asked their preference for obtaining books in all formats, e-book reading device owners were more likely to say they prefer to purchase than to borrow books in any format – print, digital, or audio. In related fashion, they are also more likely to say they start their searches for e-books at online bookstores.
And again, if we look at statistics from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, we see that inclusion in their collection increases sales of authors other work - 24% of customers who borrowed the Hungar Games bought 'Catching Fire' and 24% also bought Mockingjay, despite the fact that the entire series was available to borrow for free. Since the launch of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in November 2011, the paid retail sales of backlist trade titles in the library have seen 229% higher growth than corresponding titles that are not enrolled.
It is clear that readers and borrowers also buy books, in significantly large numbers. I am getting sick and tired of both publishers and booksellers trying to pin the blame for their failures on libraries. So, let's take a look at failure in more detail, and where better to start than with the bookshops. Figures from the Booksellers Association show that the number of independent booksellers stands at 1.094 at the end of 2011. This is down from 1,159 in 2010 and 1,289 in 2009.That is a bookshop a week closing.
According to Godfray it's because of competition from the internet and eBooks. This willful blindness is quite astonishing, since he seems incapable of thinking it could, in any way, be the fault of bookshops. Now, I go into bookshops a lot because - unsurprisingly, I like to buy books in a print form as well as in a eBook form as well as borrow them from my library. My knowledge of the stock of Forbidden Planet is as good as of my local library - and probably better if I'm to be honest. However, I can't recall the last time that I saw any real innovations in a bookshop - can you? Oh, apart from the nice little handwritten staff pick notes that I see in Waterstones. If I grabbed someone from 100, or even 200 years ago who frequented bookshops and put them in any bookshop you care to name today they probably wouldn't blink that much, and certainly wouldn't have any difficulty in working out what to do.
Let's take a case in point. I'm reading a series of graphic novels at the moment called Fables. Volume 14 in Forbidden Planet was priced at £14.99, but had been reduced to £10.99. On their website it was available for a web price of £9.32. In Amazon, it's available for £7.00 as a print publication, and as a Kindle publication it's actually £8.52. In a library it's going to be free of course, but this is a collection that I want to own, not just to read. Now, in what world, Mr Godfray are libraries or eBooks responsible for this situation? I'll tell you - they're not. I could have saved myself £3.99 by buying via Amazon. This little tale replicates itself over and over again, and then when we start to factor in the price of books in supermarkets, we're entering an entirely different league again.
Bookshops are failing - not because of libraries or eBooks - but because they have proved themselves totally incapable of adapting to the current market. They are trading (and trading badly) on past success, and the emotional ties that people have to them, which overcome their inclination to get books more cheaply. That's where the issue is, Mr Godfray. You need to look no further than your inability to move with the times, and the unedifying spectacle of you expecting 'a seat at the table' of Ed Vaizey's review of eBook lending would be laughable if it wasn't so pathetic.
I'm sick of libraries being tied to the whipping post, and being seen as the enemy by publishers and booksellers alike. We're an easy target, and because of that it leads to sloppy and lazy thinking. It's far easier to blame someone else, rather than look at your own failures and shortcomings, but if bookshops want to exist in a world of eBooks, supermarket sales and online vendors then quite frankly, they'd better buck their ideas up and pronto.