Nate Hoffelder Takes on the Myth that Libraries Are Killing Retail E-books

The “Digital Reader,” Nate Hoffelder, has written a post disputing the belief that “because people can get a library ebook, they won't buy the retail ebook.”

He argues “This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of consumer behavior”:

The underlying premise for this belief is that because people can get a library ebook, they won't buy the retail ebook. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of consumer behavior.

We can regard consumer behavior as a decision tree, and in this case the questions near the top are:

·         Is this title available in my preferred format?

·         Can I afford to buy this title? Is it worth the cost?

·         Can I get this title at the library?

Here's the thing the legacy industry misunderstands about that third question: the consumer is not looking for their preferred format in the library; they are simply checking availability. The consumer cares less about format than about access; if they can borrow a print book, they will read it.

This runs contrary to the legacy industry assumption that if they deny the consumer the library ebook then the consumer will buy a copy of the ebook.

Mr. Hoffelder asserts that “the idea that library ebooks affect ebook sales more so than high retail ebook prices requires a unique level of denial. Y'all are running around talking about how wonderful the emperor's new robe looks.”

The post is well worth a read.

Mr. Hoffelder’s point that it is not library sales but the retail price of e-books that discourages sales hits home. That library readers are often format neutral is axiomatic: most, as Mr. Hoffelder notes, will use print or digital. As RF has noted elsewhere, consumers for whatever reason are unwilling to pay $12.99 or $14.99 for an e-book but will buy the print at the same (or even slightly higher) cost. Hence the large growth of sales of Indie e-books at a fraction of the cost. Many of the large publishers also ignore how people who first check out items in the library (or learn about them through the library but get tired of waiting on our limited e-books) go on to buy the items.

Mr. Hoffelder, thanks for pointing out that the Emperor Has No Clothes.