Hundreds of libraries across the UK have embraced the digital revolution by offering users access to free ebooks.
These are electronic versions of printed titles that can be borrowed by downloading them to your reading device.
But already they have hit one big snag. Amazon isn’t playing ball. And as the online giant’s Kindle device makes up almost 9 out of 10 ereaders sold, it means most people will be unable to take advantage of free library borrowing.
A blow to both users and libraries themselves who are desperate to stay relevant and dodge the looming Town Hall massacre of services.
In Wirral, downloads of ebooks from libraries are averaging over 800 a month although this could soar in Kindle was usable.
A spokeperson for Wirral Libraries said: “Amazon will not allow this outside the US. We are aware that Kindles are very popular but this is outside our control.”
One imagines this is a commercial decision although it smacks of the mistake made by music and film industry types a decade ago when they tried to make it expensive to get hold of digital content.
The other problem is that publishing houses are not keen to see an ebook giveaway either. So much so, that one of the biggest, Penguin, has decided to block libraries from using its ebooks at all, quoting ‘security’ issues.’
In 2011 Penguin’s ebook sales rocketed 106% generating revenues of £126m. Top authors included Jamie Oliver and Dawn French so if you are a fan and also have a Kindle – looks like you will have had to buy their books.
Don’t worry though, Amazon is about to face major league competition. American bookseller Barnes and Noble is brining its Nook Touch and Glowlight readers to the UK in the next few weeks at Currys and PC World. They will be priced from £80, offer a bigger selection of books than Amazon with 2.5m titles.
What’s more they work with Overdrive Media, the company that provides ebook and audiobook services for all UK public libraries.
On its website, Overdrive lists devices that are compatible with its system such as Kobo touch at £79 and Sony reader at £129 but sales of these brands are still at the low end of the spectrum.
For the more techno minded, ebooks can be borrowed and burned to CD and then transferred to a smartphone. Books care also found in ipad and iphone format.Iphones.
Using the Overdrive system, borrowers can download the software for free and choose a book to read or listen to from their local library’s website. It then opens up in your Overdrive folder and can then be downloaded.
Overdrive say these issues are being addressed. The next generation of services is aimed at enabling all ebooks to be read on any web browser – whether on your computer or any other device. But the Kindle question has not gone away. Overdrive’s director of marketing David Burleigh said: “The goal is to be able to read a book on any device with a modern browser but until we test it across the board we can’t say for certain.
“We have more than 800,000 titles in our catalogue and more than 100,000 checkouts.
“We are very excited to introduce the next generation suite of services primarily to improve the usability of the service.
“We continue to advocate for libraries the acquisition of the most liberal digital rights and increased compatibility with more devices.”
Amazon press office has so far failed to comment despite being contacted several times.