January 27, 2022

Wall St. Journal Reports on Libraries Who are Selling Print and Ebooks

Note: The full text of the article is for subscribers only. However, if you don’t subscribe you can use the link to read the full text via the Google cache.

From the Wall Street Journal (subs only):

At least 75 of the 8,951 public-library systems in the U.S. are offering online patrons the option to buy new print copies of titles in their catalogs, and an additional three dozen are preparing to do so, according to book distributors, library officials and library-software developers.


Libraries have been quicker to sell electronic versions of books to be read on Kindles or other similar devices: Roughly 13% of public libraries across the U.S. give patrons the choice to purchase e-books on their websites if a free copy isn’t immediately available, according to OverDrive, an e-book distributor. OverDrive introduced a “Buy It Now” option for libraries last year.


We’re in the reading business,” said Anthony Marx, president and chief executive of the New York Public Library. “Our mission is free access to the world of information and ideas. If people want to buy their own books and read them, God bless, right?

But some find the idea troublesome.

“I think it’s a regrettable confusion of roles,” said Stanley Katz, director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “It’s a commercialization of what has historically been a public function. It’s suggesting that if you pay, you get better service.”


Book sales through libraries so far have been low. More than 35,000 e-book titles supplied by OverDrive are available in the catalog of the New York Public Library. Since February 2012, the library has made less than $1,000 from sales, earning 6% to 8% of each transaction as credit toward purchases from the e-book distributor.

In New Jersey, the Mount Laurel Library launched book sales in late March. Since then, patrons have made 54 purchases totaling $1,702.68, resulting in $48.84 for the library, the library said.

Read the Full Text Article (WSJ, Subs Only)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.