Ever seen a movie on a store shelf and decide you want to rent it from Netflix or Redbox only to find out that it’s not available to be rented yet? That annoying situation exists due to the release windows that the movie companies have implemented to protect their sales.
The typical movie goes through a life cycle that is carefully controlled by these release windows. The movie is first released in theaters (unless it’s really bad and is released straight to DVD). Several months later, the movie becomes available on DVD and bluray. 28 or 56 days after the DVD release the movie will be rentable from Redbox, Netflix, or libraries.
The reason these release windows exist is to protect the sales of each format. You can easily see how a lot less people would be willing to pay $10 or more per ticket to go to the movie theater if they could pay $10 to own the movie on DVD or bluray. Likewise, a lot less people would pay $10 to own a movie on DVD or bluray if they could rent it for $1 from Redbox or stream it for “free” from Netflix.
These release windows are incredibly annoying for consumers but the movie companies have managed to get everyone (including libraries) to tolerate them for many years. So the question is could the same release windows be used for ebooks at public libraries?
Right now, the book publishers are deathly afraid of making their ebooks available at libraries. They think that every ebook that is borrowed for free from a library will be one less ebook that they will be able to sell. As a result, only two of the big six book publishers make their ebooks available to libraries. This results in a very limited selection of ebooks at libraries and makes for frustrated library patrons and librarians.
One way to get over the fear of lending ebooks at libraries would be to implement release windows. The book publishers would sell ebooks just like they normally do today. Once the sales of an ebook start to slow down they could then make the ebook available to libraries to loan out. This would preserve the sales of the ebook at launch and might actually result in more sales as libraries would be purchasing ebooks.
It’s unclear how long after the release of an ebook a publisher would want to wait before they make it available to libraries. The 28 and 56 days that the movie studios use for movies probably wouldn’t work. The book publishers would most likely need to experiment for each ebook to find an appropriate timeframe.
Release windows are annoying for movies and they’d probably be just as annoying for ebooks. But it’d be far less frustrating to have to wait for an ebook to be available at your library than for it to never be available.