ATG Article of the Week: Need Library E-Books to Feed Your New Gadget? Here's the Answer

 Need Library E-Books to Feed Your New Gadget? Here’s the Answer, is an thought provoking article by David Rothman posted in TeleRead a few weeks ago.  In it he advocates “a well-stocked national digital library system—in fact, two of them—one public, one academic.”

Obviously the number of ebook “gadgets” is growing and Mr. Rothman notes that  people are increasingly using them, but he bemoans the lack of ebook availability especially for those with limited expendable income.  Among the positive effects, he notes that increasing access to ebooks will improve family literacy and  children’s academic achievements.

However, he points out that “publishing is a conservative industry” and he thinks that the “current business models for book publishers deserve reexamination” if any progress is to be made.  He may be onto something if the figures he quotes are correct.  It appears that “of the $2,700 that the average American household spends annually on entertainment…  just $118 goes for books and other reading.”  One would think that such depressing news would have publishers eagerly seeking new business models.

As part of the solution Mr Rothman suggests that former Congressman Tom Allen (president and CEO at the Association of American Publishers and an ex-Rhodes Scholar, as well as a Harvard Law graduate) should try and “convince publishers to spend a little less time on copyright fights with libraries, and a lot more time working with them toward well-funded national digital libraries, with, of course, fair compensation for writers, publishers and other professional content creators and in short “inspire the creation of a publisher-library complex.”

Admittedly, publishers will have legitimate questions as to how they can make a viable profit within such an arrangement but that is not a reason for discarding Mr. Rothman’s proposal outright.  Its at least worth exploring. But don’t take our word for it.  Checkout the article yourself.

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One thought on “ATG Article of the Week: Need Library E-Books to Feed Your New Gadget? Here's the Answer

  1. Many thanks for the link and the open-minded comments. The statistics are from the U.S. Labor Department, and some recent ones are at:

    Labor says: “Reading includes subscriptions for newspapers and magazines; books through book clubs; and the purchase of single-copy newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, and encyclopedias and other reference books.” That definition appears at To be technical, reading apparently isn’t under “Entertainment” as officially listed, perhaps because so much of reading is for other purposes. Also to be exact, note that the household reading figure apparently does not include textbooks, but that still shouldn’t make much difference in terms of the scope of the problem.

    I couldn’t agree more that publishers should consider such depressing news to be a wake-up call! I want to see much MORE money spent on books. The way to do this isn’t to jack up prices or otherwise give consumers less value, but rather to grow volume and work with libraries and others to expand the book market, which, as you can see, is pathetically small right now. Please note that, as author of seven books published by houses ranging from St. Martin’s and Balllantine to a tiny press in Tennessee, I am highly sensitive to the issues of fair compensation and advocate a mix of business models to encourage a diversity of content. While I am approaching the digital library issue from a public interest perspective, publishers and writers could benefit hugely. Imagine—typical households now spending several thousand a year for entertainment and just a bit over $100 for books and other reading. Outrageous. More openness to new business models—and lobbying for bigger collection budgets for libraries—could help change that. Not “disruption” but rather smugness about the status quo is the real threat to publishers of all sizes.

    Also of interest:

    –A national digital library endowment: How America’s billionaires could be modern Carnegies for real

    –A partial reproduction of the above on James Fallows’s site on

    –Dwarf-sized public e-libraries vs. abundance: Listen to veteran publishing guru Brian O’Leary and librarian Sarah Houghton

    –Toward a Library-Publisher Complex for the digital era: Where the money is for both sides

    –With so many U.S. kids in poverty, a national digital library and hardware program could be a godsend for children’s e-book publishers

    I’d love to hear from publishers, librarians, products and services vendors, and others—I’m eager to answer questions and otherwise engage in friendly dialogue and learn from others. Yes, I did follow up with a note to Tom Allen, but have yet to hear from him. I hope that he and his colleagues at the Association of American Publishers will keep open minds. I’m in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac from AAP and would be delighted to meet with him and his colleagues in person.

    David Rothman
    Cofounder and Editor-Publisher,