Staggering Library Ebook & Audiobook Stats

In February, I published an Update on Ebooks in Libraries. Since I have ebook editions of 8 novels and 2 nonfiction books, with 7 of the novels offered as audiobooks--the 8th is currently being produced--I have a vested interest in the future of books--print, digital, and audio.

I was thrilled when Gerard Saylor, Library Director of the L. D. Fargo Public Library, commented on the post and offered to send me circulation statistics on the Overdrive ebooks from his library.

Gerard had me at hello when he said, "Romances made up 40% of the circ's last time I did a thorough look at the stats."

Gerard sent those circulation statistics on not only ebooks but also on audiobooks through Feb. 25, 2014. What an eye opener that was! The libraries in the California Library System, which I wrote about, may have difficulties, but other libraries are stepping up to the plate and serving the needs of their library users who want ebooks and audiobooks.

About Wisconsin Libraries

Gerard's library, the L. D. Fargo Public Library in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, serves about 10,000 people and includes the City of Lake Mills and the Towns of Lake Mills, Milford, and Aztalan. In Wisconsin, public libraries are locally run and funded. The state is split into several library systems which provide various services to each system's member libraries. Systems do not provide direct services to library customers. Gerard's library system, Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System (MWFLS), is a three-county system.

Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System, MWFLS, is a member of the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium, or WPLC. WPLC administers the ebook services with Overdrive which is currently their only vendor for ebooks. Other individual libraries and library systems do provide eBooks through other services like Recorded Books OneClick.

(Side note from Gerard: "I used to be on the WPLC technology committee that evaluated vendor products and no other vendors had as many titles and ease of use as Overdrive. The Committee's most recent reports are not up, but here's a link to the previous report: I liked OneClick when I used it during a trial period.")

Staggering Circulation Stats

I'm a big fan of audiobooks, but I had no idea they were so popular with library users. Gerard sent statistics from August 2005 to January 2014. I don't have the room here to publish all those stats so I'll give you a year by year snapshot so you can see the tremendous growth in circulation numbers.

Month -- Circulation: Audiobooks

August 2005 - 231
August 2006 - 3,128
August 2007 - 6,907
August 2008 - 11,955
August 2009 - 16,680

Now, still in 2009, we'll add in ebooks which made their debut in this library Nov. 1, 2009.

Month --- Audiobooks ----- Ebook

Nov. 2009 - 17,521 --------- 776
Nov. 2010 - 20,100 ------- 7,127
Nov. 2011 - 24,872 ------ 33.846
Nov. 2012 - 32,336 ------ 81,794
Nov. 2013 - 48,774 ----- 135,842
Jan. 2014 - 57,672 ----- 191,303

I was floored by these statistics, and immensely gratified as well because I have a deep and abiding respect and love for libraries. When I was growing up, the library was my idea of heaven. I could happily have spent every hour of the day and night in the public library.

Technology Challenges

As I previously reported, libraries face many challenges from setting up their internet infrastructure to the actual ebook license acquisitions. In California's case, funding for the economically beleaguered state played a big role in delaying their ebook program.

In Wisconsin, Gerard said, "There are always tech challenges. In regards to eBooks the initial problems were: 1) staff training and 2) learning how to use and upload eBooks to different devices. Integrating the titles into the library system's online catalog took some time. Getting a download link from the catalog took more time."

In Gerard's library, he reports: "Like most public libraries children and adult women checkout the bulk of materials. Over the past 25 months women checked out 2.5 more print books than men. Ebook stats cannot be broken out by age or gender."

How Easy Is It?

Unfortunately, the answer with most libraries seems to be, "Not very." But library users persevere because the rewards of checking out ebooks from a library are tremendous with the ever-growing inventory of ebooks.

I asked Gerard about the checkout process for ebooks in his library system.

"Checkout process has improved but can still be onerous and problematic. The WPLC eBook website is run through Overdrive. Customers authenticate with their library card and PIN, select titles and then checkout. Kindle downloads are usually easiest to get started. I have had trouble helping Nook users to first register with Adobe, download Adobe software, and transfer titles onto their reading device. Kindle checkouts send you to your account and you then send the library title(s) to your Kindle.

"No matter the delivery method there are usually a couple extra steps between checking the item out and loading it onto a device. Using an app does seem to solve a lot of this trouble but I have not experimented with the apps. The explanations I have heard to explain the convoluted checkout process is that publishers are afraid of pirating and require extra roadblocks."

Ebook Inventory vs. Print Book Inventory

"Overdrive primarily started as an electronic audiobook vendor. Not until 3-4 years ago did eBook demand really rise. WPLC has focused on in-demand titles. The WPLC hold to copy ratio is 5:1 (I think...) [Note from Joan: Hold to copy ratio means the number of holds--requests for the items--to the number of available items.] WPLC orders copies that are available statewide. Overdrive also offers a program called "Advantage" where individual libraries and library systems buy extra titles or copies to fill local demand. Those Advantage copies are not available statewide.

Although Gerard couldn't get the statistical reporter to breakout the availability of WPLC titles statewide, he did say that: "MWFLS and another library system share print collections. Among that shared collection are about 2,340,000 items (excluding DVD, CD, microform, etc.). Through MWFLS there are 18,212 FIC and 6174 NONFIC eBook titles."

Obtaining Ebooks

As he said before, Overdrive is their only vendor at this time. Gerard's public library system, MWFLS, had looked at different products including the aforementioned OneClick, but the major problem is that each vendor has their own lending procedure. Customers usually have to leave the library catalog and log into the vendor website and then learn a new download procedure. MWFLS recently integrated Overdrive downloads into the library catalog. Unfortunately, Gerard said when he tried that method, he received error messages.

Acquiring the ebooks, as I said before, is a problem for most libraries because ebook licensing can cost as much as or more than a print book. In Wisconsin, as in other states I imagine, libraries operate within set parameters and are required to follow spending policies.

"In Wisconsin individual public libraries must share everything with other system libraries. MWFLS has a pool of money to spend on Advantage titles through Overdrive and has been supplementing demand. An individual library cannot sign onto a separate vendor service without the headaches of trying to provide access to those titles.

My research showed that "Ownership" of the purchased books is a problem. Gerard concurred.

"A major dig I have with electronic titles is ownership. The libraries "buy" the books but ownership is determined by the vendor agreement. If a contract is not renewed will the library still own the titles? If so, how will the titles be distributed? Will the library computers hold the files? Douglas County in Colorado has dealt with this [by] directly buying from publishers and housing the titles on library computers. I just received an email on this topic from WPLC : The WPLC Open Content Committee is seeking members to expand our working group. We are exploring various platforms to house locally owned materials including self-published regional authors, local documents and materials of interest to Wisconsin public library patrons.

"A major obstacle to eBook access is the publishers. Several publishers still refuse to sell to the library market. Other publishers are [taking advantage of us] on cost and "metering." Random House will charge $83 for an eBook and Harper Collins has a 26 checkout limit. I suppose that is better than not making the titles available at all."

Calling All Libraries

If you are a librarian and want to send your stats about ebooks and audiobooks, I'd love to hear from you. Email me: Joan at JoanReeves dot com. In the subject box, put REAL LIVE PERSON--circulation stats.

Takeaway Truth

Readers and writers should not scoff at ebooks in libraries. They're there, and they're growing by huge numbers.


  1. Here is Dulles, VA area - libraries are budgeting for ebooks - in fact the Friends of the Library in Reston, VA does major book sale events and the money goes right back to buy ebooks...very popular and increasing daily.

  2. Thanks, Elaine. I think this trend is happening all over the country.

  3. Fascinating. My mother was a librarian, so I understand you love of spending time there. Sometimes I feel I grew up in hers.
    Glad audio books are circulating so well. May nudge me closer to making one.

    1. Victoria, you definitely need to make your books available as audio editions. I'll be blogging in a few days about audiobook sales. Be sure and drop by.

  4. Hi, Joan,

    I am a retired librarian myself and now a full-time writer. I don't have many e-books and no audios at all but certainly hope that will change with my newer publishers. Overdrive is certainly viable. As far as audios, I borrow them as often as print books from our local library and wish there was more of a selection. They are particularly wonderful for those who are traveling and also for the sight impaired. Joan, wishing you continued success with your writing.

    1. Hello, Jacquie! You know I'm one of your fans. Readers would really love to see ebook and audio book editions of your novels.

      I listen to a lot of audiobooks because we travel most weekends up to our place in the Hill Country. Last weekend we finished Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child. I'm glad Audible makes audiobooks so affordable.

  5. Joan, are those stats for only the Lake Mills, Wisconsin library? Can it be possible that one little library lent out 57,000 audiobooks in January?

    1. The stats are for the WPLC of which Lake Mills is part. Still, audiobook sales are increasing at a fast rate. Call the reference librarian at your local library. She'd probably be happy to tell you what their audiobook circ numbers are. I bet you'd be surprised. You can thank the iPod and Smartphones and vehicles with USB connections for the upward trend in audiobooks.

    2. That got me curious. Electronic audiobooks in January were 97, February were 119.

  6. Really interesting, Joan! Thanks for telling us about this over on IRI. I love checking out audiobooks from the library myself, and it looks like the library ebook trend is only going to grow.

    1. Hey, Amy. Yes, we can look forward to growth in ebooks and audiobooks. It's a great time to be an author.

  7. Hi Joan, Amy popping over from IRI. Thanks for sharing these stats! I had no idea!

    1. Hi, Amy Jarecki! Glad you dropped by. Yes, it's bigger than any of us dreamed.

  8. Fascinating! I've never tried to check out a digital book from the library, but I surely intend to do so now. Thank you for the great article.

    1. Hello, Cindy. Let me know about your experience when you check out an ebook. Actually, all of us who publish ebooks should be doing this.

  9. Thanks for sharing this, Joan. I used to work at a local public library in So. Cal. and we also found that romance novels were very popular in e-book form. The librarians loved them, too, because the romances were often lower in price than other genres and more readily available. It's a very exciting development, I think.

    1. Hi, Linda. I agree. Really exciting and encouraging news.

  10. Fascinating stats. I had no idea audio books were as widespread as they are, and the stats and availability keep rising.