Auckland service now has more than 40,000 free digital titles to read and listen to

Forget struggling to fit your stack of summer reading into the car or agonising over what books to leave at home these holidays - Auckland Libraries has added thousands of new, free electronic texts to its collection.

The public service now has more than 40,000 eBooks and eAudio book titles in its collection that can be downloaded for free on to members' devices.

Digital services manager Corin Haines said demand had surged since the library started adding to its digital collection in 2002, but momentum was slow until four years ago.

In the year to November, eBook rentals have increased by 189 per cent and yesterday, 964 of 6,000 new titles added this week were loaned.


Mr Haines said a weekly average of 330,000 hard-copy items were borrowed from the libraries.

"The physical books are still the largest amount of our collection and will be for some time to come."

But eBook borrowing had a huge exponential growth, he said. "It's becoming hugely popular."

Although most books were available in both formats, there was still a greater range in hard copy only.

"One of the challenges is it's down to what the publishers can or will make available to us, so we don't get all of the eBook content available to us in print, but we certainly are looking to grow the collection in a way that is representative and satisfies the reading needs of all the population."

Mr Haines said although digital books were cheaper, titles were always bought in addition to hard copies. From the libraries' total annual material-buying budget of more than $13.1 million just 4.8 per cent, or $628,724, was spent on buying new eBooks.

The collection's growth comes as digital books continue to thrive in New Zealand.

Publishers Association president and Auckland University Press director Sam Elworthy said eBooks had exploded over the past 12 months in New Zealand. "A year ago they were very low, probably less than 5 per cent of sales for any book for most publishers, and for some titles eBook sales are as high as 40 per cent of the total sales of the book."

Book Council chief executive Catriona Ferguson put the rising popularity down to accessibility and convenience for a wider audience.

"A lot of people are spending less money on books that they buy through their eReaders because they are cheaper, but they are buying more books.

"It's also incredibly easy ... at 2 o'clock in the morning and you finish the first book in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series, you can just download the next one without having to wait and I think that availability is fantastic," Ms Ferguson said.

A belief that eBooks, especially free rentals of them, spelled the end for hardcopy tomes was unfounded, she said. "People will read different books for different reasons at different times and they complement each other rather than sit in opposition to each other.

"People will continue to borrow books and I think that they will continue to buy books, be that in digital format or be that in hard copy, because there probably will be books you want to keep on your Kindle or Kobo or Sony eReader but there are books you'll be quite happy to return."

Paper Plus chief executive Rob Smith said booksellers chose eBooks and eReaders to complement their hardcopy collections to give customers more choice.

He believed New Zealand consumers could follow overseas patterns: "In the States they are seeing consumers are finding after being on the computer all day at work, watching TV and using all their various devices, people are going back to the paper product."

A tale of two readers

The purist - Emma Lye

Emma Lye counts Jodi Picoult, Minette Walters and Stephen King among her favourite authors. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Emma Lye counts Jodi Picoult, Minette Walters and Stephen King among her favourite authors. Photo / Sarah Ivey

No matter how fancy the screen, you won't get 22-year-old Emma Lye reading her beloved thriller crime novels from one.

The Stonefields, Auckland, resident is a self-confessed bookworm and seven bookshelves in her bedroom are not enough to house her collection - ordered alphabetically by author.

"I have more than I can count ... and there are still books all over every surface. I've tried (eReaders) before, but it just doesn't feel the same.

"I love the way books feel. With a Kindle it's electronic reading and there is no kind of personality to it. Books have their own personality, especially second-hand books ... There's something about buying a second-hand book that's had many owners before you and you can tell that someone else has loved that story by the way the pages are dog-eared."

Ms Lye has been reading for as long as she can remember and counts Jodi Picoult, Minette Walters and Stephen King among her favourite authors.

"My mum used to take us to the library for their shared-reading days and I would get 10 books out at a time."

All of her friends use eReaders, but the administration assistant says she will never convert.

"People say eReading is going to make real books obsolete but I don't think so. There's something about true books that you just can't get with digital."

The convert - Ian Lawsen

Ian Lawsen got his first eReader sent over from the US in 2007. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Ian Lawsen got his first eReader sent over from the US in 2007. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Ian Lawsen's keenness for an eReader preceded availability in New Zealand, and he had to get his first Kindle sent from a friend in the United States.

That was 2007, when Amazon did not ship Kindles here. Now, Mr Lawsen has four devices, from which he can read more than 2500 books he has downloaded from online stores.

"I started moving in a technology space for my information consumption ... and found that I didn't have to go into Whitcoulls or Borders to keep track of my authors any more.

"Now I can take 2500 books on holiday with me."

The North Shore project manager, who enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy novels, said reading on a screen was easier and more cost-effective.

"If I can't get it electronically I will read the paperback, but I try not to because the average paperback costs $30 to $35 whereas you can buy the digital for $15.

"Not only is it cheaper but you can get an instantaneous download; I don't have to wait six months for it to be shipped."

Reading from a device, such as one of his tablet computers, meant he could also flick between his emails or web browsing.

The habit was also catching on with his children, Mr Lawsen said.

"I don't think my daughter owns a book. If she wants to read a book she'll read it online on her iPad. If she can't get it on her iPad, she's not interested."

Price of reading

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

• Whitcoulls - $23.99 (paperback)
• Paper Plus - $35.00 (paperback)
• - $12.39
• (for Kindle) - $10.01
• Auckland Libraries - Free for members