New Stats: 2011 Libraries' Digital Checkouts Up 133% Over 2010

Publishers are pulling e-books and digital audiobooks from libraries, but the demand for those materials is increasing exponentially: New stats from digital library distributor OverDrive show that library patrons checked out 35 million digital titles* in 2011, up from 15 million checkouts in 2010.

OverDrive is saving most of its good statistics to release at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference next week; most of what the company shared today focuses on expansions to OverDrive’s platform and increases in its user base. Since OverDrive is by far the largest distributor of e-books and digital audiobooks to libraries, however, its new stats provide insight into the general public’s increasing appetite for digital materials in libraries.

A few more data points from OverDrive:

–22 percent of all checkouts are now made via mobile devices
–1.6 billion book and title catalog pages viewed, up 130 percent from 2010
–99.5 million visitor sessions, up 107 percent from 2010

Kindle started supporting library borrowing in September 2011, and I would imagine support for that platform is one big reason for the increases in checkouts and page views, along with increased awareness and adoption of e-readers in general.

Book publishers are wary that library borrowing will cut into print and e-book sales. The numbers we see here would likely be even higher if more big-six publishers made e-books available to libraries. (Quick point here in case some don’t realize it: Libraries buy the e-books — and audiobooks and print books and everything else — in their catalogs. They do not get them for free.)

Currently, only Random House offers unfettered access to its e-books in libraries. Penguin suspended availability of new e-books — and new digital audiobooks, too, as of yesterday. HarperCollins allows an e-book to be checked out only 26 times before the library has to purchase a new copy. And Macmillan, Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) and Hachette do not make any e-books available to libraries.

Libraries are the next frontier for self-published authors. It is not as easy to get a self-published e-book into a library as it is to sell it online, but I expect we will see a lot more authors doing so in 2012. Libraries are also a big opportunity for small and mid-sized publishers who don’t already make their e-books available there. Look for a piece on this soon and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

*Note: Digital titles means e-books, audiobooks AND digital media. E-books are not broken out separately here. In October, OverDrive reported that 12 million e-books were checked out between January 1 and September 30, 2011 — up 200 percent over all of 2010.