Last updated: April 19, 2012 - 1:23pm
As a technical matter, it’s remarkably easy to borrow an e-book from your local library. But not if you want to take out the best-selling biography of Steven P. Jobs, the hero of the Internet age who helped lure tens of millions of people to personal computers, tablets and other digital devices. The publisher of the Jobs biography, Simon & Schuster, does not sell digital books to libraries. Five of the six major publishers of trade books either refuse to make new e-books available to libraries or have pulled back significantly over the last year on how easily or how often those books can be circulated. And complaints are rampant about lengthy waiting lists for best sellers and other popular e-books from the publishers that are willing to sell to libraries.
Want to borrow “The Help,” the novel by Kathryn Stockett? On New Jersey’s state e-book consortium, 375 people were waiting for a copy recently.
“We hear a lot of frustration,” said Christopher Platt, the director of collections and circulation operations at the New York Public Library. “It’s rational. We don’t expect our readers to understand the complexities of the publishing industry.”
These complexities may only increase with the announcement that the Justice Department had filed a civil antitrust action against major book publishers and Apple, accusing the companies of colluding in 2010 to raise the prices of e-books. In the meantime, though, if you can find the e-book you want in the library, it’s easy to check it out. You can browse a library’s digital holdings from the comfort of your living room at any time. You don’t have to go to the library to borrow a book, and even better, you don’t have to go there to return it. Books vanish from your device when they are due. And you can get access to a library’s e-books from myriad devices, including e-readers, tablets and smartphones.
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