The new e-book hot spot

Public libraries are becoming key players in e-publishing

With its worn carpets, potted plants and shelves of dog-eared books, who would have guessed the humble public library would emerge as a key player in the world of online media? Yet that’s exactly what’s happened after bookseller Amazon finally decided to allow owners of its popular Kindle e-reader to borrow digital copies of books from 11,000 local libraries in the United States, a feature that was previously available only to owners of rival machines. The move opens up the libraries’ free digital collections to an estimated 7.5 million Kindle users in the U.S., about two-thirds of the e-reader market. A spokesperson for the Toronto Public Library said the service is expected to come to Canada eventually, although no date has been set.

But while Amazon’s move promises to boost Kindle sales, it could come at the expense of selling online books. Which likely won’t sit well with publishers. At present, most libraries buy and lend e-books the same way they do regular ones, to one person at a time for a period of two to three weeks. But at least one publisher, Harper Collins, has changed its policies to require libraries to repurchase titles after they’ve been borrowed 26 times, while others have declined to sell to libraries at all.

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