During the Readmagine conference in 2022 took place a session focused on the impact of e-lending on the market of ebooks in some countries and the solutions that the platforms could offer with some different business models as intermediators between libraries and content owners.
Erico Turrin -Deputy director of the European Federation of Publishers (FEP)- presented the main results of the study that FEP commissioned to GFK in order to understand the impact from the perspective or the publishing sector of the lending of electronic books. This research is focused on the Swedish, French and Italian market, along the lines of a similar survey already conducted in Germany by the same company.
The survey, Turrin explained, is triggered by some concerned among publishers about the balance between different needs and services, such as copyright protection and the maximum achievable flow of books to guarantee people’s right to information and education. The first main figures shared by Turrin were the following ones: taking 100 people in each nation as library users, in Sweden 60% of these borrow only printed books or CDs, 19.2% only e-books and digital audio books, 20.9% both printed books or CDs as well as e-books and audio books. In the case of Italy, users of physical media (printed books and CDs) rise to 72.7%, 15.6% for only digital, 11.7% for both. In Francia, lastly, 76.9% borrows only physical media, 11.2% only digital, 11.9% both media. Particularly in Sweden, a country where e-book lending is much more advance, digital lending has a very high user share.
But who are these users? If we compare average income and education of the population with that of e-lending users, GFK shows that those who borrow books and audio books in digital format are on average more educated and wealthier than average population. These data, Turrin said, that conflicts with the idea that libraries are mainly for encouraging reading among groups of the population that would not otherwise have access to books. In Sweden, for example, 32% of the population has an income of over 4,000 euro and 37% of e-lending users. In France, 14% against 15%, in Italy 8% against 9%. If half of the Italian population has an income of below 2,000 euro, for e-lending users the percentage drops to 46%. Similar data is found on education levels.
A separate inquiry, lastly, poses the question of the risk of market cannibalization due to e-lending. If we ask who uses this way of reading books how it has influenced the purchase of printed books and CDs on the one hand, and digital books or audio books on the other, the results show that in the case of Sweden, 45% of users no longer buy or buy fewer physical books than before, while 30% does no longer buy or buys fewer digital books than before. Corresponding proportions for France are 36% (physical books) and 20% (digital books), for Italy 37% and 18%, for Germany (45% and 46%). The fact should be underlined that in Sweden 16% of respondents has never bought e-books (In France only 13%, in Italy 3%), a figure which, as Turrin suggested, might be the consequence of the early e-lending service implementation in Sweeden and “some people never felt the need to actually by e-books because library services were very good and present since the very beginning”.
According to Turrin’s explanations there could be a migration from print to digital because of the influence of lending services, since the people get the taste of reading in digital.
In Germany the percentage of those who buy fewer print books due to e-lending is even higher than the corresponding percentage for e-books and digital audiobooks, which leads to the idea that the replacement effect take place with the spread of e-lending. Turrin explained that this is a great concern among German publishers and authors and it is the reason why they are cooperating to make that e-lending services are beneficial to everyone.
Taking into account all the remarks explained by Turrin, the main conclusions from the results of this study are that the e-lending is prevalent especially among the high-income and highly educated groups of the population, and has a significantly negative impact on the purchasing not only of e-books, but of printed books in particular.
Enrico Turrin got a degree in Economics at the University Luigi Bocconi in Milan in 2000 and a master’s degree in International Affairs at the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Milan, in 2001. After internships at the Italian Embassy in Madrid and at the United Nation’s Global Programme against Money Laundering in Vienna, in 2002 he became Project Manager in the Training Area at ISPI and lecturer of International Organisations. From 2005 to 2008 he worked as an external expert and lecturer for ISPI and for a project by the Italian Foreign Ministry in the field of Cooperation. In 2008 he was hired as an economist by FEP, where he has been involved in the ARROW, ARROW plus, TISP and Ambrosia projects, and is currently working in the Aldus network and in the ASAP project. He is Deputy Director of FEP since 2012.