E-book industry in transitional period

You might call this a "feeling out period" between libraries and book publishers. Only two of seven major book publishers have made e-books widely available to libraries. And lately, getting an e-book from the library has become even more difficult.

An early morning crowd gathers inside the Digital Bookmobile in Vallejo. The huge trailer is on national tour to answer questions about e-books and tablets.

"They're huge and growing by leaps and bounds. We noticed a big increase in use after the December holidays when many people received gifts of eReaders and tablets," said Laura Lent from the San Francisco Public Library.

There was a lot of hoopla over the release of the final Harry Potter book back in 2007. The books just became available as an e-book this month at libraries, but more recent titles may be harder to find.

"I think it's a challenge. The availability of titles is a challenge if you're going to get them through the library," said Jon Torkelson from the Lincoln Public Library.

A survey of major publishers found with just a few exceptions, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, and Scholastic refuse to sell most of their e-book titles to libraries. Penguin terminated its contract with an e-book distributor in February and Hatchette currently releases only those books published before April 2010. The only major publishers to make their e-books widely available through libraries are Harper Collins and Random House.

"They see them as a source of greatly increasing revenue to the general public, but they are worried about piracy," said Lent.

OverDrive is a major distributor of e-books and sponsor of the Digital Bookmobile national tour.

"The restrictions just vary by the different publishers and it's really just trying to figure out the best way to distribute the content," said Dan Conochan form the Digital Bookmobile.

The San Francisco Public Library began lending out popular titles on e-books three years ago. Right now about 3.5 percent of the books checked out in San Francisco are e-books. Usage has tripled in the past year.

"Every day from the public library about 1,000 e-books and e-audio books are being checked out and about 29,000 print books and print media are being checked out," said Lent.

Libraries see those numbers increasing with younger readers being among the early adopters. Libraries continue to work to try to get the publishers on board.

"We're in the very beginning stages of this process. We're just trying to make it as easy as possible," said Conochan.

We contacted each of the publishers mentioned in our story. Penguin says it will continue its ongoing talks to work out the right model. Simon & Schuster is in search of a business model it feels comfortable with. Harper Collins has found success limiting the number of times an e-book can be checked out before a library needs to relicense it. Scholastic, which specializes in children's books, makes its e-books available through schools. The other publishers did not respond to our inquiries.

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