E-books will inspire new readers
Five years ago the e-book was nearly unheard of, but this month more than 11,000 public libraries across the nation will begin lending Kindle-format e-books through their library websites. The Kindle format joins e-books designed for Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Sony Reader which are already available at select libraries. However, the Kindle has a much larger market share than these other readers and will also allow users to read Kindle books on a variety of other devices through its multi-platform applications.
Since its inception in 2007, the Kindle has become quite popular. The first version sold out in five-and-a-half hours. The International Data Corporation estimates that in 2010, more than 12 million e-readers were sold, half of which were Kindles. Millions of books are now available in the e-book format, including 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright right works. E-readers have become ubiquitous on planes, Metro buses, and waiting rooms across the country.
Due to the low costs of e-books and limited physical space, the new library program has the opportunity to make many more books available in the e-book format than could have fit inside the building in paper form. Having to purchase an expensive device could easily mitigate the democratizing effects of access to such an extensive catalogue.
One current set back of e-books is their lack of usefulness in a college environment. In 2010, a pilot study followed graduate students at seven universities using the larger format Kindle DX in their coursework and found that e-readers are simply not ready for higher education. The linear format of the Kindle is better suited to leisure reading than reference. Though it is possible to highlight and make notes on the Kindle, these functions so necessary to the college student can be awkward in practice. Furthermore, the bookmarking features can be buggy in some models, and it is cumbersome to move through sections quickly.
Lastly, the e-reader industry has been reticent to permit individual lending of e-books. Publishers are understandably concerned about the rise of e-readers and the effect this will have on their bottom line. Amazon, the exception to this rule, allows the publisher to choose if a book can be lent. If the publisher gives permission, the book may be lent one time, for a 14-day period, but the majority of publishers decline, seeing every lend as a lost sale. This is not necessarily a one-to-one comparison. Many readers will purchase a borrowed book that they enjoyed, or more books by the same author, raising overall sales for that publisher. Prolific readers love to lend, borrow and share their books – hopefully Amazon’s deal with public libraries is indicative of a new acceptance of this social reading culture.
Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at opinion@ thedailycougar.com.