Not so fast. I know I am going heretic here, but there are a number of reasons to doubt the library establishment's interpretation of their patrons. First and foremost, they are looking at the wrong industry and the wrong demographic. I find it ironic that at about the same time the Pew report was released and the library world began celebrating that a more critical discussion was happening in the only mature digital market available: the music industry. While most of the library establishment is probably deeply unaware of Emily White's blog post at NPR's All Songs Considered, the blog post hit the music industry like a ton of bricks. In her blog post White admitted that as a 21 year old college student she never purchased her music in the first place. And that blog post may have more value to librarians, publishers, and authors than either the Pew report or the Patron Profiles. Because it comes from the only digital market that seems to have begun to settle into equilibrium. All other digital markets are still in the upheaval stage that accompanies major industrial and cultural transitions. It is foolish to extrapolate or forecast when something is still as new as ebooks, because we dont know if the growth curves or consumption curves will stay the same, settle back down, or land somewhere else entirely. But we do have over 10 years of data on the music industry, and as David Lowery notes in his "Letter to Emily White", that data does not tell a good story. Music revenues have tanked because millennials do not pay for content they can get for free. And it is millennials who will become the dominant book market in the very near future.
Extrapolating from the Pew report or Patron Profiles must be done with a very big caveat. Back when I started touring and speaking the country about ebooks, many of my audience would point to early surveys about user preferences for print books (especially for textbooks) and ask me if I was overstating the case for the ebook dominance I saw coming. My reply was always the same. You can find those kind of outliers for any new product, because the product is in a developmental stage. Whether it was cell phones, CDs, VHS, or DVDs, there are user surveys that suggested those products would not succeed. But that is because they were being done on the front end of that product's life cycle- NOT because of any inherent weakness in the product or because consumers were going to behave the same.
What is missing from both the Pew report and Patron Profiles is this type of scholarly, market consideration of the music industry and Emily White's demographic. It is very difficult to see her demographic wanting to pay for much of their content when they have been conditioned to pay for hardware to get the content for free. Moreover as Mike Shatzkin suggests, the Pew report will most likely be interpreted by the publishing industry as confirmation that they are doing the right thing by withholding new ereleases from libraries. Librarians must realize that the ebook market is too new to extrapolate too much from. As I and others have argued, ebooks are commodities, which means that they are inherently fungible. In other words consumers don't care about where they get their commodities from, just as long as they get them.
Librarians desperately need to expand the scope of their data collection and consideration, as well as learn to think outside their boxes. I still think library patrons are "Power Patrons" but we need to realize that the power may need to be utilized differently than it traditionally has been. Because the ebook market will continue to evolve and may look nothing like what we currently see.
*As far as I can see, the methodology of the Pew report was careful and well done, but I cannot find if and where the report refines the data to generations, which is the most important piece of data I want. Instead, the entire report goes with the "16 or older" grouping, which is not what we need from this. I have not had time to fully examine the report, and am hoping to find this breakdown and see if it suggests any generational differences. The Pew website breaks down the demographics a little bit: