An American in Paris

March 28, 2014

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of talking about US library ebook lending at the Salon du Livre—the Paris Book Fair. Representing ALA, I served on the panel “La Diffusion du Livre Numérique dans les Bibliothèques aux USA: Points de Vue des Acteurs” (Dissemination of Digital Book Libraries in the USA: Views of the Stakeholders) with Johanna Brinton of OverDrive and Maja Thomas, a former senior vice president at Hachette Book Group. Florent Palluault, an official at the French Ministry of Culture and Communications, moderated the session. An additional session focused on the library ebook situation in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Both sessions were sponsored and organized by the French Ministry.

The ebook market in France is much smaller than in the United States, by roughly an order of magnitude. This contrast was clear as I walked down every aisle of the fair—I encountered only a handful of ebook vendors and saw little presence from technology companies in general. This was very different from my experience at the 2013 Book Expo America in New York City. Given the state of the French ebook market overall, it is not surprising to learn that the French library ebook evolution is in its infancy. However, I did see keen interest from the full amphitheater, with librarians comprising about 20% of the attendees (I asked, and said it was “magnifique” in response to the good showing).

My remarks (PowerPoint slides) centered around ALA’s activities and experiences during the past few years. Our fundamental and current strategy is direct engagement with publishers and other players in the reading ecosystem. I recounted the dark days of 2011 and 2012, the improvements in 2013, and the lessons learned along the way. The questions were wide-ranging, from detailed queries about ebook distributor platforms (glad that a representative from OverDrive was present) to addressing the library ebook lending issue via legislative means.

The Ministry is taking a great interest in the library ebook issue. In addition to featuring the issue at this fair, the Ministry established last fall a working group of key stakeholders and is hopeful for expeditious work and progress.

After the conclusion of the fair, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ministry (just around the corner from the Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries). I met with several officials, including Nicolas Georges, director of books and reading. We had a substantive and vigorous discussion about the current state and directions of the US library ebook market, and possible insights that might be useful to France in its strategy and planning as ebook lending develops. I’m hopeful that we’ll maintain a good relationship with the French and advise them as we can.

“Merci beaucoup” to the French Ministry of Culture and Communications for the opportunity to speak at the fair and to learn about library ebook developments and thinking in France, as well as in the United Kingdom and Germany. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Pauline Le Goff-Janton for organizing the conference, providing advice on content matters, and working to ensure a smooth experience overall. 

ALAN S. INOUYE is director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and program manager of the ALA Digital Content Initiative.