Paperless books gain popularity, find place at libraries

Bound books are not yet a thing of the past.

But people with technological savvy are increasingly reading reference books on a computer screen and listening to Shakespeare via headphones.

The Chula Vista Public Library and other public, academic and corporate libraries around San Diego County are tapping into this phenomenon by building a database full of popular titles that can be downloaded to computers and portable listening devices.

"We're definitely offering more opportunities for people who like to do things online," said Jeri Gulbransen, communications manager for Chula Vista.

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Library card holders have free access to 467 eBooks and 1,377 eAudiobooks, which can be downloaded to a computer or an MP3 player as full text or digital audio....

Using the Internet, someone vacationing in Thailand and someone sitting at their computer in Chula Vista can both download a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" simultaneously. This eliminates complaints people often voice about library waiting lists for popular titles in hard copy.

The Chula Vista Library's current annual cost for its eBook and eAudiobook subscription is $14,400, which comes from the library budget in the city's general fund. The subscription is continually updated based on which titles are being used and the demand for best sellers.

Gulbransen said the subscription cost breaks down to about 56 cents a title. That is significantly cheaper than the cost of hard copies, which incur staff costs for checking in and out, labeling and reshelfing.

I'm assuming he's getting the low cost per title based on the number of checkouts (over 25,000?) not the actual number of titles and that's around 14 circs per title? I just put a hold on the latest James Patterson book today (I think it was Patterson). The book hasn't been released yet and there's a waiting list of over 400 people. There will be a lot of copies bought by the entire consortium but there will still be more then 14 circs per title within a 12 month time span. I'm not knocking the system I just don't think its as cost effective as he's making it sound. And if it was a Patterson book and authors as popular as Patterson that was contracted to get, instead of stuff like Pride and Prejudice, I'm willing to bet the bill would be a lot higher.

What's interesting here is that the library's "e"collection is mostly [e]audiobooks, not ebooks. I'd suggest that [e]audiobooks don't face the same adoption issues as ebooks because there's no particular "audibility" advantage to CD-based or cassette-based audiobooks (and maybe a disadvantage to CD-based, depending on the player). I wouldn't be surprised if MP3/downloadable audiobooks threaten CD or cassette audiobooks a whole heck of a lot more than ebooks threaten print books.