The launch of a government review into e-book lending in public libraries has been met with a mixed response, with Publishers Association president Ursula Mackenzie "very positive‚" but Booksellers Association chief Tim Godfray angry at the lack of bookseller involvement.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced on Wednesday (26th September) that the review would be led by publisher William Seighart, with a panel consisting of Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page, author Joanna Trollope, PFD m.d. Caroline Michel, British Library chief executive Roly Keating and Janene Cox, the president of the Society of Chief Librarians.
The review is tasked with establishing the benefits of e-lending, the barriers to the supply of e-books, and the impact of e-lending on libraries, publishers and authors. The panel will issue a call for evidence shortly, before reporting back in the new year. Godfray said: "As any decision taken around e-book lending has the potential to profoundly affect the retailing landscape, we are angry that there is no bookseller representation on this task force." He said he was also "dismayed" that the impact of e-lending on booksellers was not mentioned as an issue in the review announcement, and said the BA would make further efforts to ensure the sector was represented.
Library campaigner Desmond Clarke added: "Any solution needs to be supported by the big publishers, who are not on the panel. Their involvement is critical. But another question is who will be responsible for managing and developing the national e-book library service. We cannot wait for 151 separate authorities to get their acts together."
But Mackenzie said she felt "very positive" about the review. "At the PA we're hoping that it will work much like the Finch Review managed to do in bringing together different stakeholders and finding a way through that is workable for everybody," she said. "The Finch Review was so successful because everybody understood everyone else's position."
Mackenzie added: "As long as we are given the opportunity to put our position across, people tend to understand it. In the lending of physical books there is friction‚ you have to walk to your library, see if the book is there, maybe wait for it, pick it up, take it back‚ so there are quite a lot of factors that means library lending will never be a threat to book purchasing because plenty of people want something more immediate. With e-books, if we didn't put in some limitations‚ if everyone could sit at home and download any book they wanted to‚ that could have a significant impact on authors, publishers and booksellers."
Penguin UK chief executive Tom Weldon said: "We have already had some constructive conversations with Ed Vaizey and the DCMS about e-lending in libraries, and we very much welcome the review and look forward to fully participating in it."
Fiona Marriott, adult services manager at Luton Culture, said she doubted the review would find an easy solution. "I think in the end there will be lots of different models," she said. "Different publishers have different issues‚ some are concerned about their back catalogues, while some are concerned about their frontlists, so no solution will be straightforward."