“What Will it Take to Get You Into this Leased Book Today, Ma’am?”

When you buy a print book you own it; when you buy an ebook you are licensing it. Might this eventually become one of the key decision factors when selecting a book?


Let’s think about cars. How many more new cars do you suppose are on the road because they are available to lease at lower monthly prices than if they were only available to buy? It looks like during difficult economic times somewhere between 50-60% of all car acquisitions are leases in the U.S., and this number declines as conditions improve. Clearly the availability of the leasing option puts more cars on the road and keeps cash flowing for the companies that invest in making cars and trucks.

For books, we already have good information from the AAP and others indicating that ebooks are extending the market reach of publishers and authors. I never thought I would say this, but I actually find print books to feel a bit dated now when I wander through a bookstore. Reading on a tablet feels more advanced from an evolutionary perspective. This from someone who has worked in bookstores and publishers and cherishes many of my old books, including my grandmother’s first edition complete set of Proust in French.

I am very happy to “own” that Proust collection. I “inherited” it. Quite a meaningful gift. There is weight behind the collection; I can feel my grandmother’s hands on the pages, and my mother’s. I imagine them chuckling at the Baron de Charlus in the same sections that appeal to me. When my mother was dying, she asked me what I wanted of her personal effects and I said her old books. They are like a fine antique chair in our home, but better. 

On the other hand, there are many books I do not need to own and leasing them is just fine. Preferable. So when a publisher leases me a new novel for $9.95 I feel that makes sense. I can choose to pay $29.95 in hardcover if I want to own it. But as with software, licensing is just fine for most content and the lower licensing price means I will engage with content I might otherwise not. I expect as digital/print volumes continue to shift, publishers will be able to charge $40 for a well-done hardcover for those who want to own and cherish the title.

Ebook licensing via libraries will continue to be important for spreading knowledge to those who might be denied. The major publishers are coming together around a licensing model where a library pays a price to license an ebook 26 times before they need to pay for it again. The license will close down the edition, same as done with trial software. My former software colleagues would say: “Hey, simple, it’s just code.” (Hopefully the person who borrows the ebook does not find out the hard way at home the license has expired. Not sure how that will work.)

I am very optimistic about these changing business models and what they will mean for reading. Licensing ebooks should open up access and also earn authors more than they are paid now.  With print, the author only gets paid the first time a book changes hands. Do you really think the street people selling “Piracy and Its Discontents” out front of the city bookstore care that the author is not being paid each time the book changes hands? 

When I sell my used car…the one I own, I get paid.

So let’s see how many more readers we can bring into the fold as the digital age improves our lives in so many ways. Open minds will make it happen.

— Caleb

p.s. if you want to Share this post, please click the Share button below and select the outlet you prefer. Thanks.


6 thoughts on ““What Will it Take to Get You Into this Leased Book Today, Ma’am?”

  1. And, your leased book may be summarily removed from your reading device without notice as Amazon did with an edition of Animal Farm some years age. I like e-books, but the political implications are obvious enough.

  2. There is no doubt software and its glitches are best for transitory tools and content. Because of its rapidly changing nature, which has both pros and cons, the person leasing the content must decide at time of acquisition that they doubt they want to own the title in question. I rent an apartment and the landlord can notify me at end of lease I must move. This is why buying a print edition will still make sense for certain titles. But my observation of print book owners over the past ten years is they are giving away many of their books to streamline. Same as with the old LPs. Content anytime anywhere is just too powerful. To sell our home with so many rooms with built-in bookshelves we had to remove most of the books and stage with non-book items. Sort of like “book” stores where half the floor space is for cards and magazines. Thanks for your post.

  3. I love the way you go outside the industry to come up with challenging thinking. I am not quite sure what the poster means about “political implications,” but I will assume censorship. But haven’t we always persecuted/censored people for what they read? For the clothes they wear? For the church they attend or do not? Just because something becomes digital does not change the nature of humans. Does it?

  4. You did not quite say it but I also think you mean one could lease an ebook and take it for a “test drive” before buying it in print later to own and shelve it. To possess. I have enjoyed your posts and this is the first time I have commented, but I do look forward to your observations. Thanks.

  5. You did not quite say it but I also think you mean one could lease an ebook and take it for a “test drive” before buying it in print later to own and shelve it. To possess. I have enjoyed your posts and this is the first time I have commented, but I do look forward to your observations. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *