Book-borrowing from libraries costs the publishing industry up to HK$105 million a year in potential sales, according to a group lobbying for royalties to be paid on borrowed books.
The claim by the Hong Kong Public Lending Right Alliance follows a survey in which up to 65 per cent of public library users said they would not buy books if they could be borrowed from libraries.
The alliance, supported by almost 450 local authors, is seeking a public lending law under which royalties of up to HK$8 would be paid for each borrowing.
"The government said the lending services could promote the books among readers and have a positive impact on the selling of books," alliance chairman Derek Lee Wai-wing said yesterday. "But the findings have proven that the public library services have satisfied the need of most readers and lowered their appetite for buying books."
In the survey, commissioned by the alliance, about 20 per cent of respondents said they would buy a book after borrowing it because they liked it and of these just 1.7 per cent said they would do so frequently.
Authors' public lending rights have been recognised in at least 41 countries. If the local authors succeed in their campaign, Hong Kong will become the first region in Asia to adopt such a system.
Kenneth Hwang King-tin, who has published 31 books, said publishers now tended only to publish books by famous authors because it is expensive to put new books on shelves in bookstores which are suffering from high rents.
"With the lending right, publishers will be more willing to take the risk and support new authors, instead of just focusing on celebrities' photo books, recipes or financial books," Hwang said.
The alliance has previously proposed charging HK$3 to HK$8 each time a book is borrowed. The first 200 borrowings would be free and the charge would stop if a book had been borrowed over 8,000 times, according to the plan.
The Home Affairs Department said guidelines issued by the International Federation of Library Associations did not require the adoption of a public-lending-right system and it followed the principle of freedom of access to information and free access to public libraries.