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Publishers have grappled with how and whether to make ebooks available to libraries — fearing, in part, that a library ebook checkout means a lost sale. A new survey from digital library distributor OverDrive and the American Library Association suggests that ebook borrowing from libraries does not cannibalize avid library users’ book-buying habits. However, this finding does not necessarily apply to the general population.
OverDrive and the ALA conducted the online survey at “thousands of U.S. public library websites powered by OverDrive. 75,384 people completed all or part of it. 78.4 percent of them were female, and the most common age group was 50- to 64-year-olds (34.9 percent), followed by 40- to 49-year-olds (20.1 percent). 40.9 percent had a 2- or 4-year college degree and 33.1 percent had a graduate degree.
Respondents were dedicated readers and library users and were familiar with ebook borrowing: More than half of them — 55.5 percent — had been borrowing ebooks from the library for over 6 months. On average, they visited a physical branch of a library 2.4 times a month, and they visited a digital library site 6.9 times a month.
To reiterate, these are very active library users — 60 percent of them said the library was their preferred place to get books — and big readers. The survey didn’t ask them how many books they read each month, but on average they bought one print book a month and 2.2 digital books (ebooks or digital audiobooks) a month.
An optional question asked respondents whether their book purchases had increased or decreased over the past 6 months. Here’s the breakdown between purchases of print books and ebooks:
We don’t know why many users’ book-buying habits changed and whether this had to do with increased library usage or other factors, but it seems that many of the same people who are borrowing ebooks are also buying more ebooks.
One finding that surprised me is this:
It’s pretty easy to answer “yes” on a question like this, so the fact that nearly half of respondents said no is surprising. It could suggest that users are primarily using library ebook collections to borrow titles they’re not super-passionate about. That wouldn’t be surprising, since digital editions of new titles and bestsellers tend to be scarce in library collections. And the answer could change if more publishers began making new titles available to libraries as ebooks.
Photo courtesy of Flickr / melanzane1013