E-book and e-audio survey, 2014

Photo of a pile of books and an ereaderYou may recall Andrew Coburn from Essex put a message on lis-pub-ebooks earlier this year asking for information from other authorities, so that Essex could benchmark their e-lending service.  He’s kindly given us permission to replicate his survey summary, and here it is.

(Picture:  CC Melenita2012)


Essex Libraries were early adopters of e-books – we subscribed to OverDrive in early 2004 and other suppliers soon after. We got into e-audio quickly too and at one point had three suppliers for each of e-books and e-audio. However our offer had grown ‘like Topsy’. It meant that customers had to get used to different ways of accessing and using stock from different suppliers and remember which was which.

However for Essex, like all public authorities, the improvements in e-offers and budget considerations made us review our e-offer at the end of 2013. Part of the consideration was to ask how much use we get for how much money. While we can get figures for our own service, we had no idea if these are typical. We wanted to benchmark provision against other authorities and so sent out the survey. The survey went out in late May on lis-pub-ebooks and lis-pub-libs.

30 authorities (including Essex) responded. One did not have e-books and four did not have e-audio. One had only recently gone live but I encouraged them to complete the survey for their comments.


In use

Of e-audio suppliers OneClick Digital was the most used (62% of e-audio respondents.) For e-books OverDrive was most used (55% e-books and also 49% e-audio). Askews & Holts showed a reasonable customer base and, as one respondent pointed out, they have the all-Wales consortium though only two responses were received from that group. Bolinda/ Borrowbox are beginning to build a customer base – they were the only other supplier mentioned more than once.

Ulverscroft, Peters and Public Library Online (Bloomsbury) were also listed.

Zinio and Press Display were also mentioned but fall outside the area in which we were interested.

Additional comments.

Two authorities have recently stopped using one or more suppliers – focusing their provision more specifically.

Six authorities were looking at new suppliers- either in addition to current provision or as their first step. Interestingly OverDrive and Askews & Holts were not mentioned in this context.

E-Books – spending and use

Two thirds of respondents spent up to 3% of their total book budget. Of the rest there were two (7%) spending 11- 15%. The others are between those levels.

Two thirds of authorities reported loans of up to 1% of total book loans on e-books. The remainder report 2-3%.

E-Audio– spending and use

There is a wider spread on spend. 11 authorities (38%) are only spending up to 3% but the others are spread over the other 4 levels offered. 6 (17%) spend the equivalent of over 16% of their Spoken Word budget on E-Audio.

Issue percentages are also varied from up to 1% (10 authorities or 34%) to 6% plus (another 11 – 10%) with the balance between those two figures.

Access mechanisms

Most (if not all – it’s not quite clear from the responses) provide separate access through the library website. About half load records to their main catalogue which link to the e-supplier sites and slightly more have a separate e-book/ e-audio catalogue (also linking through to the supplier sites.) This implies that some offer access through the main catalogue but have a separate e-book/ e-audio catalogue as well.

In the additional comments box there seemed to be some enthusiasm for having records in the main library catalogue but not everyone is there yet. In some cases, issues with LMS were mentioned, but others were not specific as to the problem. At least a couple of authorities cite the need to have a dummy item attached to the catalogue record to make it display on the OPAC – a cumbersome process.

Other comments

E-books/E-audio are felt to be popular amongst users and there was enthusiasm to be able to expand whatever offer is already there, but pressure on budgets is preventing this in some cases as well as issues such as problems of integration with catalogue and LMS.

Frustration with the range of content available was expressed by a couple of people.

There was one plea for a national e-book/ e-audio offer. Nobody explicitly mentioned Sieghart’s e-books review or the pilot projects resulting from it.

The benefits of sharing provision in consortia such as the All-Wales one (and at least one other) were also mentioned.


The Survey was useful for Essex in that we can see where stand by comparison with other authorities. We have carried on with our review and made some radical changes this year – we are now down to just two suppliers. This means we have simplified the offer to customers for the present and intend to devise a longer term strategy in early 2015 with a view to trying to ensure that the money is there for the next and future financial years.



Our response to the Sieghart e-lending review

The key Sieghart recommendations that library users should have a free ebook lending service available ‘remotely’ (e.g. at home) is a big and welcome step forward. A major step was urgently needed to bring us out of a situation that was clearly one of stagnation. It was becoming very hard indeed to refresh our ebook collections with new titles. As librarians we have been as frustrated as our users that public libraries haven’t been able to meet the growing demand for ebooks for loan. It’s been a major constraint on the service and we’ve been forced to watch customers move away from us. In the context of a rapidly expanding ebook market it just doesn’t make sense to say to a user that they can have the printed book but not the electronic version. It makes for a less inclusive service. It contributes to the worsening of the ‘digital divide’. We want library services to be open and available to all.

So the findings of the review are very welcome – IF they persuade more publishers, particularly the Big Six, to unlock their ebooks for public library loans. We are confident that Shelffree speaks on behalf of a very large number of the library authorities in the UK when we say that we are very eager to work with publishers and other stakeholders in the book trade, to establish a model that works for all parties: that allows libraries to continue their role as gateways to reading and developers of the reading market, while protecting publishers’, authors’ and agents’ legitimate rights. We also welcome the recommendation that Public Lending Right should be extended to e-books. We believe PLR strengthens the relationship between authors and libraries.

We hope that the new relationships between publishers, the book trade and libraries will develop swiftly. We all share a common interest in a thriving reading ecosystem. We take this opportunity to volunteer our group and our services to help make this happen.

Shelf Free can be contacted at shelffree@gmail.com