The UK government will consider paying writers each time their ebooks and audio books are borrowed from public libraries - just like scribes are recompensed when their dead-tree tomes are loaned.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey announced a decision will be made after a formal review concluded libraries must stock digital titles or become "increasingly irrelevant". It's hoped that by paying novelists and poets for ebook loans, their publishers will offer the electronic works to libraries, and that this will entice Brits back into public libraries.
But the same review - carried out by a publisher - also recommended that ebooks "deteriorate" just like paper titles, forcing Blighty to buy new copies as they would with dead-tree-printed stock.
The government said the "challenging economic climate" had stopped it from including ebooks and audio books in its Public Lending Right programme, which pays out millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash each year to copyright holders whose material is available from public libraries.
But now we're told the administration will "consider commending the appropriate [ebook and audio book lending] provisions of the Digital Economy Act 2010".
"E-lending represents one of many technological developments that can help libraries meet the increasingly high expectations of their membership," Vaizey said.
The ebook borrowing review was overseen by publisher William Sieghart and investigated concerns by writers, booksellers and media giants that digital lending would encourage people to never buy books again.
"Publishers have been collectively nervous of applying the same model for selling digital books as for their printed counterparts, when it comes to selling to libraries," the independent panel concluded in its review.
"This is because of their concerns about remote downloading, where a library member downloads a book on to a digital device via the internet, avoiding the need for a visit to the library at all… publishers and booksellers fear that it would be too easy to borrow a book for free. So easy in fact, that the borrower might never need to buy another book."
However, the review pointed out that loaning out ebooks in the same way as printed books should no more stop people from buying new books than it does now. Rules such as only lending one ebook to one reader at a time for a limited time would "eradicate concerns about impact on revenue", the review stated.
The panel also recommended that digital copies of books should "deteriorate" so publishers can fake them getting worn out and force libraries to buy them again.
"Their printed counterparts naturally deteriorate, forcing popular books to be repurchased. This principle therefore should be applied to digital books; otherwise publishers would be unfairly discriminated against," the review said.
Ebooks aren't about to suddenly show up in all British libraries despite the recommendations: the review suggested that publishers, booksellers and libraries should run a trial so they can figure out a smooth national rollout for 2014. ®