E-Books, Audio Books Growing More Popular

Sunday, February 17, 2013
Marilyn Danko prefers paper books, but in some circumstances the digital versions win out.

“In the middle of the night, you don’t need to fumble around for a light,” she said, and traveling with an iPad is a lot more convenient than lugging a bag full of books.

Danko was one of a dozen people at an e-book workshop at Howe Library in Hanover earlier this month. Like most public libraries in New Hampshire and Vermont, the Howe belongs to the state consortium that provides access to thousands of audio books and e-books. Patrons log in online using their library card numbers and borrow what they like, and the materials automatically check themselves back in after a certain time period.

The Green Mountain Library and New Hampshire Downloadable Books consortia started in 2007 and 2006, respectively, with a handful of members. Since then, borrowing has taken off.

The New Hampshire consortium, a service offered by the state library, owns about 6,300 e-books and 6,400 audio books. Since 2007, audio book lending has more than tripled, from 51,670 to 188,325 in 2012. Since 2010, the year it began to offer e-books, e-book circulation grew from 16,733 to 232,615.

“That came about when Nooks and Kindles were being sold for $69,” said New Hampshire State Librarian Michael York.

Vermont’s consortium offers about 2,600 e-books and 2,800 audiobooks through Listen Up! Vermont.

Audio and e-book usage “is neck and neck,” said outgoing president Mary Danko, who is not related to Marilyn Danko. “A lot of people listen to audio books in the car when they commute.”

York, who has worked in libraries for 40 years, doesn’t see the increase in e-reading as a death knell for paper books.

“The printed book has done very well for us” for more than 500 years, he said. “We are going to be using books printed on paper for a long time.”

But he sees the popularity of e-books as part of a natural progression.

In this age of sophisticated financial software, “I think you’d be hard pressed to find an accountant who uses a standard paper ledger,” he said.

Compared with their paper brethren, digital books offer “a more efficient reading experience,” he said. “If you are reading along and come across a word you don’t know, a dictionary page comes up and gives you the meaning.”

And they’re still evolving.

“In some cases, you will be able to get a YouTube video with original footage” related to the subject matter, he said. “There are a lot of enhancements that will come.”

Vermont libraries pay about $100 to $2,500 a year to join the consortium, depending on their number of registered borrowers and usage rates, Danko said. “We were very, very committed to making it affordable for even smallest libraries,” some of which have only have 300 or 400 patrons.

Depending on the size of its community, a New Hampshire library pays between about $400 and $4,000 annually. Next year, the prices will be adjusted to include circulation numbers, York said.

The cost of a digital book for consortia is two to five times that of a print book, and like paper books, e-books can be checked out by only one person at a time. So when it comes to popular titles, libraries find themselves in a familiar bind — how to meet a short-term need in an affordable way.

“We have 24 copies of Fifty Shades of Grey,” York said. At one point, the erotic romance had 680 reserves, so making the rounds “is going to take a while.”

The same thing can be true with print books, York said, citing The Da Vinci Code by New Hampshire author Dan Brown.

“Every library in New Hampshire needed multiple copies, and they needed those multiple copies for about six months,” he said. “After that, we were selling those at a buck apiece in traditional book sales.”

As in the past, those who really need or want to read a popular book, and can afford it, will buy it, York said. “Others will wait.”

— Aimee Caruso