The Right to E-Read

Did you know that, unlike with printed books, libraries do not have a right to lend e-books?   And did you know that, unlike with printed books, only a small number of e-book titles are made available to libraries?   Most people do not know this, and are astonished to find out.  Libraries should have a right to e-lend because everyone deserves the right to e-read.  EBLIDA, the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Associations, agrees and has launched a Right to E-Read campaign.

Why are printed books and ebooks treated differently?

The difference in treatment of printed and e-books stems from copyright law, where lending constitutes a subgroup under the category of “distribution”. The rights holder has exclusive control over whether to publish or not, but after the first sale the distribution right is exhausted. This is known as the “first-sale doctrine” or “exhaustion doctrine”. Once exhausted, the rights holder, often publishers, cannot control subsequent lending or re-sale of the physical object. As a consequence, the library decides what books to buy and use for lending and how long to keep the books for.  And it’s not just libraries that rely on this right of exhaustion, it underpins the secondhand book trade too.  Without it, if you wanted to sell your unwanted books to your local bookshop, or offer them for sale on Amazon, you’d need permission from the publisher first.

In their interpretation of European copyright law publishers and some legal scholars claim that e-books are “communicated to the public” rather than distributed, that communication to the public is a “service” and the exhaustion doctrine does not apply to services. As a result the library can only acquire an e-book by entering into a contract with the rights holders and rights holders are free to decide whether they want to give access to a specific work, and to decide on the terms of such access. This means that the library cannot loan e-books without permission.  It also means that libraries are tied into long-term subscriptions to aggregator services to prevent e-book titles being lost. And it’s not just library e-books that are acquired under licence.  Did you know that when you “buy” an e-book, you aren’t “buying” it in the traditional sense, you are actually buying a right to access it with terms and conditions attached?    Although there are challenges to this interpretation in the European courts, the position may take years to resolve.

Why does this matter?

Libraries have to rely on publishers being willing to grant them licences to lend e-books, but some are refusing to do so, or are demanding unacceptably high prices and terms. Research conducted in February 2013 by Shelf Free found that 85% of ebooks were not available to public libraries.   Out of the top 50 most borrowed adult fiction books of 2012, only 7 were made available by publishers for libraries to e-lend – and even then it depended on which supplier the library service was signed up to. With one supplier, only two titles were available.  Public libraries promote literacy and foster a passion for reading and so, as e-lending looks likely to become a major form of lending, they must be able to provide a wide range of digital content to the communities they serve.  Not to cater for the increasing demand for e-books will turn libraries into museums of the book.

Why are publishers withholding titles?

Some trade publishers view e-lending as a threat to their business, arguing that if people can borrow an e-book, why would they buy one?  We agree that publishers are entitled to a reasonable return on their investment and we understand why some are cautious of digital distribution.  However, rather than damaging sales, available research shows that libraries enhance sales and are important customers for publishers.  A 2011 study reports that 50% of all library users in the USA report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library, for example.

The ongoing e-lending pilots, initiated as a result of the Sieghart Independent Review on E-lending, will enhance our understanding of the dynamics of e-lending, including the impact on the e-book market, and are very welcome. However, they are predicated on a licensing solution which will leave the power with publishers. This threatens the mission of public libraries to provide access to knowledge and works of the imagination, and gives publishers undue influence over the collection development policy of library services.

A right to e-read?

What is required is a change to European copyright law to enable libraries to purchase and lend e-books. This is at the heart of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Association’s (Eblida – Right to E-read campaign, which was launched in May last year.  The campaign focuses on:

  • Raising awareness in the professional library and information community, so that they become advocates of change
  • Alerting politicians and members of the public to the situation, so that they support such change
  • Directly lobbying the EU for this change.

The focal point of the campaign is an E-reading Day on 23 April, the UN’s World Book and Copyright Day. The aim is that all national professional associations should issue a press release on the Right to E-Read campaign and, if possible, organise events on the day.

Shelf Free and CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, are getting behind this campaign.  We are calling for a fairer copyright framework that enables libraries to lend and at the same time provides reasonable remuneration for publishers and authors – both Shelf Free and CILIP are supporting authors in their campaign to extend Public Lending Right to e-books loaned by libraries remotely, which also requires a change to EU copyright law.

If you want to become an advocate for change so that everyone has a right to enjoy and benefit from the e-books provided by libraries, please get behind the Right to E-read campaign.  The EU Commission has announced a review of copyright law this year, so the time to campaign for these changes is now.  Supporting material and further information is on the CILIP website at:

Yvonne Morris, Policy Officer, CILIP: The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals


Testing the impact of e-lending

Society of Chief Librarians and the Publishers Association Invitation To Tender

“Testing the impact of e-lending both on-site and remotely upon the Public Library and Publishing sectors”.

This is an invitation to UK local authorities
The closing date for tenders to be submitted is the 1st November 2013
Here is some detail from the ITT document: (for full detail click on the link at the top of this post to go to the SCL website)

“Criteria for the pilots
Libraries and publishers have been working closely together to design pilots which control as many factors as possible, whilst varying four elements. It was agreed by the SCL and the Publishers Association that we should identify:

  • A local authority representing a largely rural population who will loan ebooks for 7 days
  • A local authority representing a largely rural population who will loan ebooks for 21 days
  • A local authority representing a largely urban population who will loan ebooks for 7 days
  • A local authority representing a largely urban population who will loan ebooks for 21 days

Each of these pilots will be asked to purchase a pre-agreed list of approximately 1,000 titles. This list will include a combination of front and back list titles from the major publishing houses, works from some of the most prominent authors in the UK and new titles as they are published. In turn, we will ask the local authorities (and their suppliers) to:

  • Meet the standard terms of business of each publisher
  • Meet standard accessibility requirements
  • Comply with industry-standard DRM and work with a secure and robust system
  • Provide a ‘click to buy’ button for all books included in the service
  • Be operational by 1 February 2014 (contractual agreements permitting)
  • Commit to allocating the budget and purchasing the pilot titles
  • Providing the pilot consistently throughout the year

Local authorities and their suppliers will also be asked to provide a report six months into the pilot and within a week of its conclusion detailing:
Physical habits

  • Change in number of members of the library service (and each individual library in the service)
  • Change in footfall to those libraries
  • Change in socio-economic profile of members
  • Change in lending and profile of the lending E-lending habits
  • Number of registrations
  • Number of logins per user, average and range
  • Number of books borrowed per user, average and range
  • Web analytics eg. consumer journey / entry and exit pages

None of this will have any affect on any existing e-lending service or contractual agreements that a local authority may already have in place.

Project Timetable
The indicative timetable for the project is:

  • Deadline for submissions: 1 November 2013
  • Short-listing of pilot authorities : 4 November 2013
  • Negotiation with short-listed authorities and interviews where necessary:
  • week beginning 11 November
  • Announcement of participating library authorities18 November 2013
  • Chosen suppliers / aggregators to enter into commercial agreements with publishers November / December 2013
  • Publishers to confirm list of titles following agent / author agreement:November / December 2013″

Fourth National Ebook Workshop

Shelf Free is pleased to announce the Fourth National Ebook Workshop.
10 am to 4pm, 13 November 2013, Library of Birmingham

Book a place….
This event is aimed at, but not limited to, public library staff, and is free of charge. It’s an opportunity to find out what’s going on nationally for example with:

  • Shelf Free
  • Society of Chief Librarians / Sieghart Review pilot projects
  • The Reading Agency’s Digital Skills programme
  • EBLIDA’s proposed campaign

It’s also an opportunity to start planning for a proposed National E-Reading Day in 2014. In the afternoon we are offering breakout sessions where we can learn from each other on the subjects of:

  • Running public workshops – helping people to use library ebooks
  • Promoting your ebook service
  • Ebook platforms and library management systems
  • Consortium purchasing

The full programme will be published shortly

We’re very excited that the programme will take place at the new Library of Birmingham. We’re hoping there will be the opportunity of a guided tour before the workshop, or you can follow a self-guided trail during the day.

Because of demand, we will be limiting takeup to one place per authority / organisation.

Sponsored by Bibliotheca, “The world’s leading technology supplier to libraries”.

Book a place….

Follow (Twitter) at @shelffree.

‘Frictionless’ ebook lending from public libraries

The Sieghart review of ebook lending  talked about the need to introduce ‘friction’ into ebook lending from public libraries-in essence so as not to challenge the current business model of publishers. They fear that easy (‘frictionless’) ebook lending from public libraries will threaten their business.

Tim Coates of Bilbary will have none of this. In a recent blog he says: “There are other ebook models for libraries which do not require this ‘Friction’ – but no one seems to be exploring those. Not in the UK anyhow. In these models a library can offer all the ebooks in the world – with as little friction as they can manage- and a payment is made to publisher and author each time the book is read.”

At the recent (May 2013) Westminster Forum on ebooks Tim outlined what he sees as a better approach to that advocated by Sieghart. It follows a model well known and adopted widely in academic libraries -‘Patron (or Demand) Driven Acquisition (PDA). What follows is my explanation of PDA not Tims.It’s based on work I have done for the Jisc and individual university libraries. In essence what happens in academic libraries is that a large collection of records, representing a wide range of ebooks, is loaded into the library catalogue.  Sometimes libraries ‘profile’ the records to excluded certain ebooks. Nonetheless the basic idea is that there is now a *very* large collection of ebooks presented to users- far more than the library actually owns.For public libraries this would immediately overcome the problem of the often pathetically small collections of ebooks on offer. I did some work on ebook provision in Scottish public libraries recently and most libraries had no more that around 1,000 ebooks. If I remember correctly, Tim’s words at the Westminster Forum were: “every [public] library in the country could have a catalogue of a million ebooks at no cost”. The collection as a whole is not purchased by the library.  The library does not actually pay for the ebook until the *user* ‘demands’ it. There can be some sophistication in how this operates –the library sets the parameters. For example  the first few user ‘demands’ might be delivered for free or incur a relatively small fee — paid by the library (to the provider of the ebook collection) . A trigger might be set that, say after three satisfied user demands, the library ‘buys’ the book. These mechanisms help the library to mange its budget and requests  for very low demand titles can be met without buying the book.  Evidence from academic libraries has shown that users rarely make frivolous choices and there is further evidence that users make better stock selectors than librarians.

The other elements that Tim believes are important are:

A national service:

Ebooks are digital creatures that can be delivered anywhere from a single repository. There would be significant cost savings in removing the duplication of the many separate ebook platforms that exist across UK public libraries at present. The basic infrastructure for a national public library catalogue of course already exists. Another advantage of the scale inherent in a national service is the business intelligence/analytics that could be made available. This has considerable value to all stakeholders, not least publishers, so could be a factor in determining the ebook lending business model.

Payment to publishers/authors.

This would align the interests of libraries and their users with publishers and authors. It not clear at this stage how the payment would be calculated or paid but this should not beyond the wit of the stakeholders to figure out.

These are the bare bones of the idea. Of course there is a lot of detail that will need sorting out. When it was presented at the Westminster Forum in May in got, as I recall, positive reactions from both publishers and librarians.Maybe it will be a focus for one of the ‘Sieghart’ research projects?

Ken Chad

e-lending pilot projects: next steps on from the Sieghart review.

Few people seem to be aware of the precise nature of the pilot projects that were a key part of the recommendations from the ‘Sieghart’ review of e-lending in public libraries. Fortunately the RFP (tender) document is available on the SCL website and what follows is taken verbatim from that:
“A key recommendation … is to conduct a number of research pilots which will explore the most effective approaches to e-lending so that the outstanding concerns of publishers, libraries and authors can be resolved and a sustainable e-lending model can be implemented across Public Libraries.
The British Library Trust has agreed to fund this research and have made a grant of £40,000 available to SCL.
Aims and objectives
The aim of this research is to explore how e-lending works in practice (remote as well as downloadable in the library building) and the consequences of differing approaches to e-lending on libraries, publishers, readers and authors.
We are seeking a research partner to co-design a small number (ideally involving three or four library authorities) of e-lending research pilots in England and to evaluate them.
We are keen to appoint a research agency that has a demonstrable understanding of the complexity of the market that e-lending will operate in. We would like the research agency to help co-design with Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and Publishers Association (PA) a robust research project that takes into consideration the constraints of this potentially commercially sensitive area. The research agency will not be able to determine who the aggregators will be, what e-books will be available, which publishers will sign up, what e-reader device the library patrons will have or which they will need to have to access the e-lending service at their local library. This will be done via a tender process from which the PA and SCL will select pilot participants.
The key research questions are:
1) What is the reader journey? (possible measurements)
•    From accessing a library catalogue through to loaning / not loaning or potential purchase.
•    What are the key steps that they take?
•    What is the impact of loan periods on their choices?
•    What device are they utilising to choose / to loan / to read?

2) What is the impact on sales?
•    We would like the research agency to help develop measurement tools to enable publishers to measure the impact of the e-lending pilots on their sales in a consistent manner, to include consideration of best sellers, mid list and back list titles

3) What is the overall impact on the Library Service? (possible measurements)
•    Changes in membership levels (remotely and at the library)
•    Frequency of use both in terms of book borrowing (e-books and books) and use of the library services (remotely and visits to the library)

4) How does an e-lending offer change the customers’ perception of the library service?
•    What is the impact on book buying habits of people using the e-lending service? Does the availability of an e-lending service affect the book buying habits of people who do not currently use the library service?
•    General population or library users?
•    What is the potential impact on author’s income?
–To include consideration of the Public Lending Right and royalties
We would expect that the project delivers the following outputs:
1) A concise and accessible report which identifies the key findings against the named objectives.
2) A clearly formatted Excel spreadsheet of aggregated data which does not disclose any information that might be confidential and or competitively sensitive to any of the pilot participants.

Project Timetable
The indicative timetable for the project is:
Invitation to tender published: 27th June 2013
Deadline for tender proposals 17th July 2013
Interviews (if applicable) week beginning 22nd July 2013


So interviews for the research agency to undertake to projects should be taking place this week. No doubt SCL will keep us all informed of progress….

Ken Chad (