Why Would Anyone Buy a Book?


I read this on Nathan Bransford’s blog as part of his regular feature, This Week in Books

Meanwhile, publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin has some very helpful context on why publishers are so reluctant to let libraries lend e-books. This is definitely a tricky issue for publishers, and I don’t envy them being on the wrong side of public sentiment on this one. Publishers are looking at a landscape where library patrons don’t even have to go to the library to borrow an e-book – they can do it from home. Why would anyone buy an e-book once they figured out how to legally get tons of books for free just as easily?

I had to respond to that.

Why would anyone buy ebooks when you can get them for free?

Good question, but a few more come to mind . . .

  • Why does anyone buy books now when you can get them for free at the library?
  • How are ebooks any different?

Here’s my take on this whole debate.

I love books . . . but I rarely buy them.

Pretty much all of my reading comes thanks to the public library.

I fear a day when printed books won’t be as accessible and ebooks will be the norm. If you still can’t access those books for free from the library, it would be a great shame.

People who can’t afford to buy books will be out of the reading loop. Avid readers who simply can’t buy everything they read would also lose out.

How are ebooks different from printed books?

Printed books fall apart over time. They take abuse as they are lugged around by the library patrons. Every time they are thrown into the library chute, they suffer extra abuse. It’s only natural that after repeated borrowing, a book will be so damaged that it will need to be replaced.

Ebooks, on the other hand are permanent by their very nature. You could buy one ebook and copy it to every single patron in the library at the same time. You would also never have to replace the ebook EVER.

That is a big difference!

Making ebooks equivalent to paper books is the best option. 

This isn’t as hard as it sounds. If a library buys one copy of a book, only one patron can borrow it at a time. Libraries are already doing this and many have multiple copies of the same ebook just like they do with popular printed books.

Here’s how to make it more fair. 

Libraries can buy the same copy of an ebook every few years like how they’d have to replace bound books that start to fall apart over time. I’m sure we could come up with a formula to make it work and everyone would be happy.

Public Libraries are very important!

I hope publishers don’t underestimate the value of the Public Library. I have bought books that I’ve enjoyed for free simply because I needed to have them for my collection. I don’t buy books very often but when I do, I often buy more than one copy. I give them as gifts, I give them away to students.

What’s you take on this debate?

Please leave a comment below.

2 Comments on Why Would Anyone Buy a Book?

  1. Hi Chase .. I love to pick up a book and read its cover and back page, and the preface sometime, look through it perhaps and see if it's what I need – then I'll buy, or borrow if I'm near a library …

    Libraries aren't always accessible to everyone, don't always have a very good selection .. etc etc

    The answer is I don't know how or what is going to happen ..

    I'd still prefer a book and not read from a screen (I think!) .. yes there are obvious advantages – less weight, no wear and tear ..

    I've thought of buying two copies of things and giving them to charities, or hospices if they're appropriate …

    It's an interesting period of time for the written word and how its presented ..

    Cheers Hilary

  2. Hi Hilary,

    I prefer physical copies of books as well but I don't care if I own them or not.

    I think the public library is an absolute essential service. Everyone should have access to one in their neighbourhood.

    But like you say, sometimes you might want a book that the library doesn't have.

    So, there is a time for buying a book (even for me) but it is rare.

    Thanks for the comment. I was hoping more people who jump in on this debate.

    Anyway, have a great weekend!

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