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Which E-Books Are Most Borrowed From Libraries, And Why?

OverDrive released its lists of the most-downloaded e-books from libraries in December 2011. These lists look pretty different from the current New York Times e-book bestseller lists. Here’s why, plus a few interesting tidbits.

All of the lists are here. Here’s the top-ten adult fiction downloaded list for December 2011. OverDrive’s lists include not just books that were actually borrowed in December but also books that are on waiting lists, and as anyone who’s tried to check out an e-book from a library knows, the waiting lists can be quite long. (I added the original publication dates, which may not correspond with the date the e-book was released.)

1. The Help, Kathryn Stockett (Penguin). Months on list: 15 (pub date: February 10, 2009)
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (Random House). Months on list: 15 (pub date: September 16, 2008)
3. Explosive Eighteen, Janet Evanovich (Random House). Months on list: 2 (pub date: November 22, 2011)
4. The Litigators, John Grisham (Random House). Months on list: 2 (pub date: October 25, 2011)
5. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen (Algonquin). Months on list: 13 (pub date: May 26, 2006)
6. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson (Random House). Months on list: 15 (pub date: May 25, 2010)
7. The Next Always, Nora Roberts (Penguin). Months on list: 2 (pub date: November 1, 2011)
8. The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson (Random House). Months on list: 15 (pub date: July 28, 2009)
9. A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin (Random House). Months on list: 9 (pub date: August 1, 1996)
10. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami (Random House). Months on list: 2 (pub date: October 25, 2011)

And here’s the adult fiction New York Times (NYSE: NYT) e-book bestseller list for the week ending December 24, 2011:

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (Random House)
2. The Help, Kathryn Stockett (Penguin)
3. The Litigators, John Grisham (Random House)
4. Kill Alex Cross, James Patterson (Hachette)
5. 11/22/63, Stephen King (Simon & Schuster)
6. The Drop, Michael Connelly (Hachette)
7. Red Mist, Patricia Cornwell (Penguin)
8. D.C. Dead, Stuart Woods (Penguin)
9. Locked On, Tom Clancy (Penguin)
10. Explosive Eighteen, Janet Evanovich (Random House)

Some thoughts:

— Penguin pulled new e-books from libraries in November. I am not sure how Nora Roberts’ The Next Always, which was published on November 1, escaped being pulled. The other new Penguin titles that made the NYT list, like Red Mist, are not available for borrowing as e-books in libraries.


Penguin Media Relations Manager Erica Glass tells me, “That title was made available before Penguin’s policy with OverDrive was changed.”

— The only big-six publishers that make their e-books available to libraries are Random House, Penguin (though new titles are no longer available) and HarperCollins (which only allows an e-book to be borrowed 26 times before the library has to purchase a new copy). This means Random House and Penguin dominate OverDrive’s most-downloaded list, with just one other publisher–Algonquin–on it. The NYT top-ten list is more varied by publisher, though it still only consists of books from four of the big-six publishers.

— Publishers are not restricting downloadable audiobooks in libraries in the same way that they are restricting e-books. OverDrive’s list of the most-downloaded audiobooks in December includes Kill Alex Cross and The Drop (both Hachette, which doesn’t license e-books to libraries) and Red Mist (Penguin, can’t be borrowed as an e-book).

— If Random House starts restricting e-book borrowing in libraries (it’s said it’s “reviewing” its policy), OverDrive’s most-downloaded e-book list is going to look very different as library patrons will be able to find way fewer new e-books to read. Right now all the newest books on that list are published by Random House, with the mysterious exception of The Next Always mentioned above.

— No self-published titles here.

5 Responses to “Which E-Books Are Most Borrowed From Libraries, And Why?”

  1. Christine Stotz

    Re: “Publishers are not restricting downloadable audiobooks in libraries in the same way that they are restricting e-books. ” Not so:
    This from Collection Development news from OverDrive 1/4/12: “Effective January 31, 2012, as instructed by the publisher, BrillianceAudio will suspend the availability of all download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors. This change does not affect any titles currently in your library’s catalog. You will not, however, be able to add any additional copies.”

  2. Number One is a surprise given Kathryn Stockett pseudo-stream, unauthentic, colloquial verbiage.

    This novel is certainly that, a fiction, that fails to rise above its genre. White story tellers (Skeeter and Stockett) apparently go about their young lives without much noticing the blacks among them and then, magically, a conscious is implanted in the duo at college. Surprisingly, as an aside, the author nickname’s her prototype “Skeeter.” Any self-respecting southerner knows that is a boy’s handle
    and a hint: not every story set in the south need be quite peppered with sobriquets.

    The use of Medgar Evan’s murder is an obvious artifice used to infuse the story with a sense of legitimacy. Skeeter’s documenting the help is so passive (though Stockett tries and fails to
    show it as dangerous), so far removed from real civil rights actions that she comes across as a shallow neophyte who will die her last breath absolutely out of the loop.

    Real people lived and died for civil rights in Mississippi. That’s the story and that is what should be told
    if one is to use it in a work, but, instead, it is adulterated in this superficial novel.

    Chris Roberts

  3. “library patrons will be able to find way fewer new e-books to read.”

    Or perhaps simply fewer new “Big Six” ebooks? As they pull back from library lending, I suspect we’ll see savvy small and mid-size publishers jump on the opportunity to increase their own discoverability. Also, there’s the possibility of the Douglas County model seeing wider adoption in 2012: “Assured About Security, More Publishers Agree to Sell Ebook Files to Douglas County Libraries”

    • Laura Hazard Owen

      Guy, yes–good point on the small- and mid-size publishers. I’m also going to be looking more at self-published authors distributing into libraries.