The quick ebook fix vs library loans

How good are ebooks for instant gratification?

Want to read a book now, right now, rather than heading to a bricks and mortar bookshop or library, or waiting till Christmas on the off chance that someone will buy it for you? Download an ebook.

I loved libraries as a child, but in recent years have found my impatience to read the latest/newest/most popular book when I want to read it means they’re not much use to me.

When I heard that my local library service here in the ACT was offering ebooks, I saw the potential for dramatic savings.

I popped into the Kingston library and joined. With library card (and its magic numbers) in tow, I signed up online for Libraries ACT’s digital service.

The range is small. Few publishers have signed up – probably because they’re concerned that people will stop buying their ebooks if they can simply borrow them digitally instead.

The first book I tried to borrow, Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee, was available for ebook loan. But there was a waiting list of 35 people ahead of me. I’ve wanted to read this book for quite some time – it’s won so many awards and I expect it will be an uplifting tale with plenty to remind us of how lucky we are – so I figured I’d wait.

Publishers could in theory make their books available to every potential library borrower instantly. They choose to impose digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on each title so that it can only be shared with a certain number of readers at any one time, and/or for a certain amount of time. The library runs this warning on its ebook pages: “Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period.”

Some three months later, in the middle of a massive deadline week for the magazine I work on AND for the class I teach at uni, I received an email to let me know it was my turn at last. If I logged on within five days, I could download The Happiest Refugee and read it on my iPhone or iPad instantly.

I read the email then went back to more urgent tasks. On Saturday morning, I remembered, hunted down the email, and clicked on the link that would take me to the book.

Noooooo! I’d taken longer than five days, and had the option of forgetting all about it, or moving back to the bottom of the waiting list. There are still a couple of dozen ahead of me, and I’ve decided to buy it from Booku instead so I can read it over the summer.

Another book I’ve been meaning to read for ages, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, had a shorter waiting list. My name reached the top after only a month-long wait. I downloaded it immediately to avoid any risk of missing out again, and was reading within a couple of minutes. Now I can’t stop.

If you haven’t read The Kite Runner, join the 20 million or so who have bought a copy to date and make some time to do so soon. Like the Happiest Refugee, it is moving and devastating yet inspirational. I can’t stop thinking about it. Vividly drawn scenes are replaying themselves in my mind constantly. I’m grappling with issues raised each time I put it down (well, put down the Sony Reader upon which I’m immersing myself in the experience). You can buy it instantly here for $10.18, and at that price, why wouldn’t you?