Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 30, 2012

Ebooks popular at libraries

TRAVERSE CITY — Get an iPad, Kindle, Nook or Kobo for Christmas?

You can borrow free ebooks at the Traverse City Area District Library without leaving home, and you don't have to worry about returning them on time. They just digitally disappear.

Borrowers are getting more comfortable with downloading digital books and audiobooks. TADL patrons downloaded about 25,500 selections so far this year, up 178 percent from 2011, said Kristen Talaga, TADL's marketing and communications director.

The number of downloads is still dwarfed by 1.2 million checkouts of audio, print books, and video, but digital checkouts are skyrocketing, said Brice Bush, a TADL reference librarian, who leads ebook workshops,

Be prepared for a little frustration, though. A lot of print books aren't available in ebook form. The library offers only about 2,000 downloadable audiobooks and ebooks compared to 300,000 print books, Bush said.

Publishers sell a small fraction of ebook titles to libraries with tough restrictions and high price tags. That's because they consider each ebook downloaded from the library a lost sale, Bush said.

"From what I've read, they believe that if the effort is the same to download a book from the library compared to buying an ebook, you're going to borrow it, not buy it," Bush said. "On the other hand, a Pew Research Center study says that people who like to buy books will continue to buy books."

Libraries must pay $80 to $250 for each ebook title, compared to roughly $26 for a print book. The library can only allow 26 downloads of each ebook and only one download at a time, Bush said.

Libraries also aren't allowed to buy an ebook until three months to even a year after the print book's debut. In contrast, the library typically gets a new release print book the same day it hits bookstores, Bush said.

The restrictions have caused some frustration with library patrons. Many people, for example, were asking for the biography of Steve Jobs, which isn't available because Simon & Schuster won't sell ebooks to libraries, Bush said.

Popular ebooks include the novels "Shades of Grey" and "Gone Girl," both with long waiting lists.

Checking out a book feels like shopping on the Internet. Patrons go to the TADL website and add their selection to a checkout basket. Once that's done, the patron is routed to either the Amazon website or Adobe website. Normally books are automatically downloaded with a wifi connection, but sometimes a USB cord is required, Bush said.

Ebooks are only offered to patrons living in TADL's taxing district, including Grand Traverse County, and Almira, Inland and Elmwood townships. All other patrons can find an ebook collection by using Google to find two different library consortiums: Up North Digital Collection or Great Lakes Digital Libraries.

Hands-on workshops are scheduled in the library's meeting room on Jan. 3 at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and Feb. 6 at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m.

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