Will electronic book publishing kill libraries?

18 February 2022

Brewster Kahle, an American librarian, and founder of the Internet Archive, writing for Time, fears libraries may become a thing of the past, if commercial publishers have their way:

The libraries I grew up with would buy books, preserve them, and lend them for free to their patrons. If my library did not have a particular book, then it would borrow a copy from another library for me. In the shift from print to digital, many commercial publishers are declaring each of these activities illegal: they refuse libraries the right to buy ebooks, preserve ebooks, or lend ebooks. They demand that libraries license ebooks for a limited time or for limited uses at exorbitant prices, and some publishers refuse to license audiobooks or ebooks to libraries at all, making those digital works unavailable to hundreds of millions of library patrons.

In Australia we have the Lending Right Schemes, and I’m sure similar arrangements apply in other countries, whereby an author or publisher receives a royalty when one of their titles is borrowed from a library. While the arrangement doesn’t presently cover electronic books, changes are afoot. But it sounds like these sorts of payments may not be enough for some publishers going forward.