“eBooks are still selling well and we will see a surge in eBook downloads over Christmas as people unwrap their new readers.”
Jon Howells, press officer for Waterstone’s.
Earlier this year website figures for Waterstone’s showed eBooks were selling four times as fast as hardbacks. This Christmas book fans could find a parcel with a different shape waiting for them underneath the tree. eBook readers are becoming popular amongst book fans. Books can be downloaded instantly on these portable devices.
The challenge to meet digital demand
Publishers have reacted to digital demand by creating and commercialising online content. Parthian Books, based in Cardigan, has been selling books since 1993. Last October it started releasing eBooks and now sells the work of 30 Welsh authors online. “At the moment we’re trying to get our files to as many different places as possible, from iBook and Kobo to Amazon,” said Claire Houguez, marketing officer for Parthian Books.
But in some areas of England the availability of online resources has been used to justify library cuts, causing librarians to join the public sector strikes on Nov 30. For those like Dr Anthony Mandal, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, this is concerning. “We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we will be bequeathing to future generations,” he said. “There should be no price and no restriction on access to the cultural capital of a society.”
Library cuts across Britain
Digital investment for public libraries in Wales
Welsh libraries are using the internet to engage with the public. Since the introduction of a new eBook loan system in August, library users can access facilities at home and outside of opening times. This pilot programme will last a year. It is funded by 12 Welsh library authorities and the Welsh government through cyMAL.
Members can download up to four eBooks onto their computers or eReaders. The loans last for three weeks before they are automatically wiped. So far people can choose from over 4,000 titles, 60 per cent of this is fiction, 15 per cent is for children and the rest is non-fiction.
“This is something people have looking and waiting for,” said Elspeth Morris, operational manager for libraries in Cardiff. “The supplier puts up what they have available but we’re still hoping it’s a good choice of books.”
Leah Hayes, from Port Talbot library, was one of the first to use the new system. “It encourages people to use our services,” she said. “Some people have joined the library via the internet after the scheme was introduced, they may have never stepped into a library before.”
Leah Hayes on the popularity of eBooks
Online archives, digitisation at Cardiff University
At Cardiff University’s department for special collections and archives (SCHOLAR) digitisation has also become important. Last year the university contributed £500,000 to the re-housing of 14,000 items in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection at its Arts and Social Studies Library. By scanning pages from collections like these and publishing them online the team can bring them to a wider audience.
The scanning process is a lengthy one, it takes time and expertise and needs funding.“It is difficult at the moment because the university sector does require access to a lot of current information,” said Peter Keelan, head of special archives at Cardiff University. “Our budget goes to paying commercial publishers to gain access to major databases. We have to find additional resources if we want to digitise our materials in house.”
Robert Darnton on the monopoly of academic journal publishers
Robert Darnton, director at Harvard University Library, is one person who is trying to find a solution to this. Last week he spoke in Cardiff about the creation of the Digitial Public Library of America. If librarians pool their resources they could bypass paying for expensive subscriptions and have more money for further digitisation.
“Research libraries everywhere have been digitising their special collections, ” said Professor Darnton. “What we need to do is to find a way to make all these special collections interoperable and easily accessible to users.”
The message from librarians is that the rise of e-books does not replace library services. Shoppers may be spending on eBooks and eReaders this Christmas. But with libraries providing this as part of their service, access to information will remain fair and free.