What I've wondered is: why does it take so long to get ebook holds from the library. They're not physical copies, right? They're just collections of bits and bytes that get uploaded and downloaded between servers and e-readers. Should be a snappy process, but it's not. I've waited months to get email notices that say, "The following digital title is now available to borrow and will be held for you for 7 days (168 hours) from the time this email was sent. If you do not borrow this title within 7 days (168 hours), the hold will expire. Thank you!"
First of all, why are there holds in the first place? If 300 people all want to read Amy Chua's new book on their Kindles at the same time, why can't they?
Libraries purchase licensing agreements to e-books through a distributor. The purchasing agreements stipulate either a time frame or a number of uses. For example, the e-book may be loaned out for a year or for 26 uses. After this time period or number of uses, the digital copy disappears from the library's catalog.
This is something new and different because with paper copies of books, the library only has to buy the copy once, and they can continue lending it out until nobody cares about it anymore or the binding has turned to dust, whichever comes first. In most cases, this is many, many years of good hard use for about $12.99.
Digital copies of books, on the other hand, cost much, much more, and they're only good for a short amount of time. For a new bestseller today, publishers are charging libraries $84 per copy, and only one person can use it at a time.
How did this happen?
Traditional publishers have been caught off guard by the sudden rise in demand for e-books. A recent survey showed that roughly 50% of adults have e-readers, and sales of e-books continues to rise unabated. To protect their interests, publishers create these stringent and expensive purchase licensing agreements to keep the money flowing their direction. But I think this tactic is going to backfire.
What is preventing smaller publishers and independent publishers from creating much more attractive licensing agreements with libraries? Nothing except convenience for the libraries. And as we've seen with Amazon's innovations in independent publishing, it won't take much for someone (or perhaps the libraries themselves) to develop a simple way for small and independent publishers to make their e-books available on a vast and inexpensive scale to library readers everywhere.
Once this happens, publishers will not be able to charge $84 for a year's worth of single-use checkouts, and readers everywhere will have easy access to books that educate, entertain, and make life interesting.
So who's going to invent it? Is it you?