Audiobooks again lead the way as digital library lending reaches new high

Public library lending of digital books hit a new high in 2019 of 326 million ebooks, audiobooks and digital magazines — a 20% overall rise compared with the previous year.

The increase was led by a 30% growth in audiobook lending which outpaced ebooks for the sixth consecutive year and by added investment in digital content.

A record 73 public library systems in five countries loaned over one million digital books in 2019. Toronto was the number one library in the world with 6.6 million digital book loans, which is an all-time high for any library. Los Angeles became the number one US library for the first time with 5.9 million loans and Singapore was the top digital library outside North America with 4.2 million loans.

The fastest-growing US digital library in the OverDrive global network was Sonoma in California, which saw their collection usage increase by 214%, in part by consolidating ebooks from other platforms. Berlin in Germany was one of the fastest growing outside of the US with a rise of 184% due to increased investment.

The figures come from library distribution platform OverDrive, which was sold off by Kobo owner Rakuten to investment firm KKR over Christmas in a $780 million deal.


2019 digital book lending records from the OverDrive global network include:

  • Total digital checkouts from libraries and schools: 326 million (+20% over 2018)
  • Ebooks borrowed: 211 million (+15%)
  • Audiobooks borrowed: 114 million (+30%)
  • Ebook and audiobook holds/waitlisted: 129 million (+21%)
  • Children/Young Adult genre checkouts: 59 million (+27%)
  • 73 public library systems around the world (+12%) with over one million digital book checkouts, including 22 over two million checkouts, five over three million, four over four million, five over five million and one over six million
  • New public library (digital) users: six million (+12%)

The top titles for lending were fairly predictable and reflected the general best-sellers’ lists. That would appear to show the flaws in publisher Macmillan’s rationale behind banning digital book sales to libraries during book launch periods.

The publisher claims digital library lending harms retail sales of their books. The firm had one title in the top five most popular ebooks with Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, which is published by Macmillan imprint Flatiron Books.

Many public libraries are now boycotting buying Macmillan titles after it limited library purchases to one copy of a new ebook for the first eight weeks following release, with further copies after that for just two years of access at a considerably higher cost.

Most popular ebooks borrowed from libraries in 2019:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. Educated by Tara Westover
  4. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
  5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Most popular audiobooks borrowed from libraries in 2019:

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  3. Educated by Tara Westover
  4. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J K Rowling

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