When I visit my local library and look for a specific book, I might be lucky and it’s on the shelf, if I am less lucky it’s not at my local library, but is available from another library. If I am unlucky then someone else has borrowed it and though I can out in a reservation, I have to wait until it is returned.
This is one of the disadvantages of having just a single copy of a printed book. Of course one of the advantages of the digital ebook is that it would be possible to make and lend it to as many people who wanted it… or so you would have thought.
My local library service, LibrariesWest have recently launched an ebook lending library. It uses Adobe Digital Editions so works fine with the Bluefire Reader app on the iPad, so no need to worry about having a proprietary ebook reader.
However I was a little taken aback when I looked at the range of books available to find that most of them were out on loan!
I couldn’t actually download a digital version of the book I wanted as it was on loan to somebody else. Now the reality isn’t that the digital file is on someone else’s computer and not available, no of course this is a DRM limitation placed on the library service by the publishers.
The publishers have taken the traditional business model they have used with libraries before with printed books and applied it to digital ebooks.
So if someone “borrows” an ebook, then it is not available to anyone else. This isn’t a technical restriction, it’s a business choice.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the business model only allows the books to be borrowed for a certain number of times before it “wears out”.
I am sure that LibrariesWest could spend a lot more money and have ebooks that can be borrowed by multiple users all at the same time.
What this does tell us, is that we are still at the start of the ebook lending model and at this stage publishers are trying to duplicate a traditional business model in the online world. As with a lot of other traditional business models, this will change at some point in the future.