Discussions "ongoing" over e-book lending

UK publishers are locked in discussions with librarians over ground rules for e-book lending, with librarians continuing to press publishers to allow institutions to loan e-books under the one e-book, one loan, model pioneered by the US digital content provider Overdrive.

Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Faber and Quercus are among those declining to allow single e-books to be lent in libraries. Discussions have taken place between the Publishers Association, aggregators and the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) over how to manage e-lending in a way that suits the interests of both parties after both sides clashed over the PA's baseline position. Earlier this year, the SCL said the baseline had been "set at a level that may have very limited practical use for library customers".

Richard Mollet, chief executive at the PA, declined to comment on a likely timescale for agreement between publishers and librarians, but said: "We are having almost constant interaction with the librarian community and it is ongoing. The meetings are being held in a very constructive atmosphere—all parties fully appreciate the other parties' constraints and desires. We are exchanging perspectives on what's possible."

Penguin and Lonely Planet are among those permitting it; HarperCollins is permitting e-lending but has said it is "not ruling out" imposing a 26-loan limit per purchase on its e-books, as HarperCollins US has done. A Random House spokesperson said the publisher "does participate in e-book library lending for the majority of our catalogue".

Amazon and Overdrive last week announced the launch of a scheme that will enable readers in the US to check out a Kindle book from their local library, to read on their own Kindles or via a Kindle app. An Overdrive spokesperson declined to comment on any future roll-out to the UK, but Stephen Edwards, stock manager for Hampshire libraries, said it was "absolutely essential" for the development to come to Britain. "The Kindle is taking over the market and because it's a proprietary device that means that at least 60% to 70% of e-book readers can't use libraries," he said. Martin Palmer, strategic manager for Essex libraries, said a lot of people had already been asking about Kindle lending, and the media coverage sparked by the US announcement would boost that demand.

Edwards said that getting more UK content was the key issue for Hampshire's e-lending programme. "There are more UK publishers that don't sell e-books to libraries than do at present. The key thing is to get a partnership going. We are keen to behave responsibly and grow the market for everyone," he said.

A Random House Group spokesperson said the publisher was "in active discussions with interested parties—such as the Society of Chief Librarians—to find mutually acceptable systems which take into account market factors as well as reflecting appropriate copyright and rights restrictions."

Issues such as the appropriate number of loans-per-purchase are understood to be among those being thrashed out in the UK, with librarians arguing that a print hardback can be lent at least 100 times.