Impact of Libraries on Book Publishing

Impact of Libraries on Book Publishing

  • During 2019, US library users saved more money than the publishing industry earned.
  • In total, libraries save US citizens 3.5 times the earnings of American trade publishers.
  • It is estimated that 90% of library books in circulation are trade books.
  • Each library book is borrowed around 8 times during the course of a year.
  • On average, a library book lasts between 5 – 10 years.
  • Each library book could be checked out between 40 – 80 times during its lifetime.
  • Since the 1960s, US book borrowing per capita has doubled.
  • It is estimated that libraries account for 1.3% of trade market book sales.
  • 129 library systems each reached upwards of 1 million digital checkouts through OverDrive as of 2022.
  • Using the platform, 555 million ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines and other digital items were checked-out by readers during the year.

Library circulation by format

Public libraries continue to serve as important social institutions for residents to access physical and digital publications free-of-charge. Through the use of new technology platforms, libraries have begun increasing their numbers of ebook and audiobook titles available to check-out.

  • As of 2018, books across all formats made up 71% of items in library circulation.
    • Hardback and paperback books alone made up 57%. 
    • Ebooks made up 9% whilst Audiobooks made up 5%.
  • Remaining audio, video and other items made up 29%.
  • Over the given five-year period, books across all formats increased in library circulation by 2%.
(excluding audiobooks)

A graph is given below to show library circulation by format:

Library uses in the United States

As of 2019, there were 174.23 million borrowers across the US, the highest number ever recorded for the country. To accommodate this high number of visitors, libraries continue to evolve to suit their needs by providing assistance, resources and spaces.

  • For both of the given years, borrowing print books was the most common reason for people to use the library. 
  • In 2012 this accounted for 73%, but dropped to 66% by 2015.
  • As of 2015, the second most common reason was to read, study or use multimedia at 53%.
  • This showed an increase of 4% since 2012.
  • 42% of library users wanted to ask for help from a librarian, a drop of 8% since 2012.
Borrow print books73%66%– 7%
Read/study/use multimedia49%53%+ 4%
Ask for librarian assistance50%42%– 8%
Attend class/program/lecture21%17%– 4%
Attend meeting23%16%– 7%

A graph is given below to show library uses in the United States:

Relationship between libraries and book publishers

The relationship between libraries and book publishers is strained, a trend that has worsened since the introduction of digital technologies. Whereas book publishers aim to increase profits by finding new ways to produce revenue, libraries are seen as a barrier, sharing book copies multiple times.

Conversely, libraries are struggling to provide the service they once did, as increasing digital prices from publishers means less copies can be purchased, leading to long waiting lists. Libraries also increasingly feel they have little leverage over new publisher pricing models.


  • Libraries are able to purchase print books at varying discounted prices depending on the publisher.
  • Libraries only need to purchase one copy of a book for it to enter circulation, where it can be checked out multiple times.
  • By selling one $13.95 paperback novel to a library, a publisher could lose around $550 if the copy lasts for 5 years.
  • However, physical copies can last even longer than this, affecting the revenue of publishing companies further.

Digital copies

  • As of 2010, many publishers refused to sell ebooks to libraries.
  • Although the availability of ebooks in libraries has since increased, they are required to pay more for this content than the general public.
  • In total, the price increase can be up to five-times greater for libraries.
  • Publishers introduced digital licenses (eg: 26 or 52 borrows) to limit how long libraries can use digital content.
  • Once the license expires, the library must purchase a new full price license.
  • As digital copies do not deteriorate, license purchases act as a new source of revenue for publishers.

Covid-19 effect on library trends

  • During Covid lockdowns, access to libraries was highly limited. 
  • However across the US, many libraries reported a boost in digital lending caused by an inability to borrow physical book copies.
  • Many readers were moved to read ebooks for the first time and digital lending from libraries provided them the opportunity to do so.
  • Although many library workers were anticipating a drop in ebook readership as lockdowns came to an end, digital book copies still remain hugely popular.

Impact of Libraries on Book Publishing FAQ

Do libraries buy self-published books?

  • Libraries buy self-published books in addition to books from publishers of all sizes.
  • 92% of librarians regularly make purchases from small-presses and self-published authors.

What do libraries do with old books?

  • If the books are no longer in a readable state, they are recycled in a move to be more environmentally friendly.
  • However, if the books are still of a decent quality, they can be either donated to other organizations, given to Friends of Library groups or sold on the library’s behalf by other companies.

What is the OverDrive platform?

  • OverDrive is the largest digital content catalog available globally, featuring ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines and other virtual publications.
  • The company partners with more than 88,000 public libraries to provide access to its platform.
  • The platform is also present in K-12 schools, colleges, universities and corporations spanning 109 countries.