E-book readers have been relatively slow to borrow digital works from the library, frustrated by a limited selection and by not even knowing whether their local branch offers e-releases, according to a new study.
The Pew Research Center published a survey Friday that reports around 12 percent of e-book users 16 years and older downloaded a text from the library over the past year. Earlier in 2012, Pew issued a study showing that around 20 percent of adults had read an e-book recently.
Simon & Schuster, the Hachette Book Group and other major publishers have limited e-book offerings to libraries or refused to make any available, citing concerns that the ease of free downloads would hurt sales. Lack of awareness may be another factor. Around 60 percent of those 16 and older couldn't say whether their libraries had e-books.
Pew's Internet & American Life Project study, conducted with nearly 3,000 respondents between Nov. 16 and Dec. 11, 2011, suggests that library patrons trying to borrow digital texts have been deterred by the selection and by not having the right e-book device. Just over half of respondents said their library did not have the book they were looking for and nearly 20 percent found that the device they owned could not receive a given title.
Nearly half of those who have not borrowed an e-book said they would be "very" or "somewhat" interested if they were lent an e-reading device with a book already downloaded.
Officials from the American Library Association have been meeting with publishers in an effort to work out a system that would satisfy both sides. On Thursday, Penguin Group (USA) announced a pilot program with the New York and Brooklyn library systems that will make e-books available six months after they first go on sale. Penguin had suspended its e-book program with libraries last year.
"I applaud Penguin's decision today to re-start e-book sales to libraries so that we may again meet our mutual goals of connecting authors and readers," library association president Molly Raphael said in a statement.
One statistic reported by Pew should please publishers and librarians: Those who borrow e-books from libraries tend to read more — 29 books a year — than readers who don't use the library (23 books). But library card holders also are more likely to borrow, as opposed to buy, a book compared to those without library cards.
Overall, around half of those surveyed said they had bought their most recent book. Around 15 percent said they had borrowed a copy from the library.