Feature: dispute over the lending of electronic books

Feature: dispute over the lending of electronic books

Behind a glass wall, the books then run on the belts to their destination in full view of the public. A lot has happened in the last few years with the bookshops. But another attempt to break new ground is not going well: e-book rentals.

13,000 e-books are currently on offer at the hamburger bucherhallen; they can be borrowed online and then read on so-called e-readers or smartphones. Even if many of the titles are not bestsellers, the idea is catching on.

"When we started in 2007, we were mainly targeting schoolchildren," says sven instinske, head of internet and e-service at hamburger bucherhallen. But now, many older people in particular are using the so-called onleihe. You don’t have to go to the bookstore, and you can easily adjust the type size on the electronic readers," says instinske. And all this only for a membership fee. The growth rates are remarkable. This year he expects 160,000 loans – almost twice as many as in the previous year. And if it were up to him, the bookstore would offer much more.

But this is not so easy. Some publishers are very critical of lending through bookstores. Matthias ulmer, managing partner of the eugen ulmer publishing house in stuttgart and a member of the board of the borsenverein des deutschen buchhandels, for example, fears that unrestrained lending of e-books will do massive damage to publishers. "If I have three sources in front of me – buying an e-book from a publisher, obtaining it illegally on a piracy platform or, as a third variant, obtaining it free of charge from a bookstore – it’s logical what you do," ulmer tells dpa.

Up to now, publishers have been primarily concerned with the sale, i.E. Download, of e-books. Lending books had hardly played a role until three years ago. This has changed with cloud computing, the shifting of data and activities to the web. "And it has become clear to publishers that, ultimately, with e-books more than with any other object, it is actually irrelevant whether I own the book or only have access to it," says ulmer.

"Of course, this means that we are changing our business models accordingly. We will no longer make downloading e-books the central business model, but we will organize access to e-books."There are various models for this. Ulmer thinks, for example, of film distribution by apple via itunes. There one could offer the books for 1,99 or 2,99 euro for the lending. Or a flat rate is offered to frequent readers depending on the category, e.G. For crime novels.

"But these models stand and fall with the fact that there is no competition for exactly the same free of charge."Ulmer had therefore proposed various models to the libraries. So the bookstores could offer e-books for free to certain target groups like poorer households, migrants or young people. But libraries had rejected this, saying that publishers wanted to reduce them to a "social soup cake".

At the moment, the talks between publishers and libraries are on ice. Publishers continue to work on new business models. The wholesale dealer amazon already offers its premium customers one book a month to borrow for free. Several publishers have joined forces to form the "mobile library" skoobe. So far, skoobe has 13,000 titles on offer; by the end of the year, this figure is set to rise to 20,000, which customers can borrow for a fixed monthly amount.

Skoobe managing director christian damke is relaxed about competition from bookstores. "Any legal offer is good," he says. The farms had a different target group and a different model. Skoobe is concentrating on smartphones and tablets and not on classic e-readers.

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