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Libraries start selling books online

July 2, 2013

Hot on the news of Barnes and Noble struggling, comes news that they have a new competitor. Libraries are entering the online book sales market. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the New York City public library system, along with libraries in Orlando, Jacksonville, and at least 73 other library systems are selling books online, with at least three dozen others, including the Boston Public Library, thinking about following suit. And roughly one-in-eight systems already given patrons the ability to buy e-books that aren’t part of the library’s collection.

Although any revenue stream might seem welcome when municipal budgets are tightening, not everyone is thrilled with the idea. According to the article, Stanley Katz, director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University says that the sales indicate a subtle but important shift from libraries being a free service to a model that gives different levels of service if you have the money to pay for the service. The manager at your local Barnes and Noble probably isn’t thrilled, either.

Katz’s objections may be tilting windmills. In their recent deal with libraries, Simon and Schuster included an option to allow patrons to buy books. Overdrive, which coordinates e-book distribution for many libraries, included a “Buy it now” option for its e-books last year.

Currently, the trend is little more than a trickle, with the NY city library system making less than $1,000 last year. But the program isn’t currently being heavily marketed among patrons. And many readers, if given the choice between giving their money to Amazon or the library, would choose the library, particularly in times of budget cuts.

Having an agent of the government competing against private industry in a retail setting–even if that agent is the library–could be problematic to many. But if Barnes and Noble’s footprint shrinks, as many think it will, or disappears, libraries may be prime candidates to replace their stores.

After all, you can browse at a library, sampling books at will, then use their wifi to purchase a book you like. Many libraries have also added coffee shops to their services, making the modern bookstore experience complete–except being able to walk out with the best seller under your arm.

So we leave it to you–is this a good development? Would you buy from a library rather than Amazon? Barnes and Noble? The independent book seller down the street?

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2 Comments
  1. July 2, 2013 8:07 am

    Reblogged this on Sex and Relationships.

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