We've talked before about the degree to which we use libraries, and our reasons for doing so. These can be altruistic: helping to keep the library open for others for whom buying books is not an option; practical: books we wish to read or consult may not be readily available in the shops, or we may lack space to shelve them at home; a matter of preference: we may want to try a book first and see whether it is one we'd like to own as well as to read. All this is variously admirable, sensible and understandable, and I wouldn't presume to challenge it.
However, I've seen two writers commenting recently on the 'borrowing rather than buying' trend for the simple reason that it affects not just their income - though I'm told that there is little difference between their royalty on a heavily discounted paperback and what they'd get through the PLR scheme - but more importantly, their future career. Publishers, I learn, pay no heed to the number of times a book is borrowed from a library, all they are concerned with are the weekly sales that book achieves. If those are not high enough, they are less likely to take the author's next book, even though thousands may have read the previous one by borrowing it and it has had great appeal, to the point where readers are contacting the writer in droves and clamouring for their next.
Closer to home, as I mentioned the other day, Bloomsbury are reportedly considering publishing the second of Joyce Dennys' Henrietta books, but that will depend on good sales of Henrietta's War - that's sales, not loans. Put bluntly, if we want the second book* we shall have to buy** the first.
I have no axe to grind here, I'm not an author nor am I a bookseller, I use libraries and I buy books from all sources, but I am very interested in how the publishing industry works, in the market forces which drive it and in how that affects what we the consumers are offered to read. Given the current economic climate it is obvious that we might prefer or be obliged to borrow rather than buy a book, but it's worth considering how that can and does suppress sales, the consequences of which may never have occurred to us. By what means we acquire our reading matter becomes then, in terms of conscience, a question of balance.
*And to illustrate the point, this out of print book is not available in any of the City of Edinburgh libraries, and comes at a hefty price secondhand.
**I'm talking here about sales of new books, of course, as purchases from the charity shop, etc. don't count.