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Public take to library e-books

07/07/14

A trial scheme to make e-books available to library users is a stunning success, one local council is reporting.

Kindle ebookNewcastle City Council is one of four authorities picked to carry out research into which sort of books readers want electronically - and if schemes are commercially viable.

Residents were offered around 1,000 e-titles not currently available from other authorities - including a range of new releases.

Now the cuts-stricken council, which has been forced to close many of its libraries, says e-book loans have soared by 78% from last year.

In the first month of the scheme alone - at four city libraries - 3,358 e-books were borrowed, of which nearly half were titles not normally available for loans.

Councillor David Stockdale, Newcastle's deputy cabinet member for leisure, said: "Libraries recognise that not everyone prefers to read a hard copy of a book. With the ever-increasing ownership of digital devices such as e-readers, libraries have an important role to play in helping people to borrow digital titles."

Peterborough, Windsor and Maidenhead and Derbyshire County Council are also gathering data on e-book lending throughout 2014.

The Society of Chief Librarians was handed a £40,000 grant to carry out the study in partnership with The Publishers Association, with results expected next March.

It followed last year's report to the government on the future of e-lending by a panel boasting publishers William Sieghart and Faber & Faber, plus author Joanna Trollope.

The report warned that libraries risk becoming irrelevant if they do not start lending digital books, which should be loaned free of charge and - most controversially - available remotely.

It rejected the fears of publishers that borrowing would be so easy that sales would plunge, insisting there was evidence that readers' enthusiasm would be fired to buy other titles. It also advised that writers should be paid when digital books are loaned from libraries, extending the public lending right (PLR) from merely physical books.

Ministers agreed, triggering a regulation in the Digital Economy Act 2010 to extend the PLR to audio and e-books - for on-site loans - which came into force on 1 July this year.

However the neighbouring council to Newcastle - Durham County Council - refuses to make e-books available, arguing it does not make practical or commercial success.

The authority blames barriers, including:

* "Substantial fees" of around £16,000 to use a service, to be paid before any titles are used.

* The price of e-books - which are "not always cheaper" than paperbacks.

* Amazon's refusal to allow Kindle titles to be made available.

* That many want e-books sold to libraries "disintegrate" after 26 issues.

It is no known how many local authorities follow Durham's lead in shunning e-books altogether.


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