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Publisher Decisions Curtail E-book Offerings at the Library

If you’re an e-book borrower and can’t find your favorite titles at the Library, we feel your pain.

Several book publishers are charging libraries more for e-books and in some cases are no longer selling e-books to libraries, and we think you deserve an explanation about what’s going on.

The e-book marketplace is on fire, and print and e-book publishers are struggling to figure out how e-books fit into their business models when it comes to library lending. Some publishers decided early on not to sell e-books to libraries, and still don’t. The companies face several issues, says Collection Services Manager Lisa Sampley.

E-books are one-time sell because, technically, they last forever. Print books wear out over time and buyers like libraries replace them, she says. Publishers also want their authors to be compensated properly for their work, but how to do considering the limitless scale of library lending?

Here’s how some publishers are responding: 

  • Harper Collins limits each new e-book to 26 checkouts, after which a library must purchase a new copy of that e-book. This and many U.S. libraries no longer buy Harper Collins e-books. 
  • Penguin Books no longer sells e-books and e-audiobooks to libraries. (An individual purchaser can still buy Penguin e-books from retailers.) In addition, Penguin e-books loaned for reading on Kindles devices must be downloaded to a computer, and then transferred to the device over USB. For library patrons, this means Penguin e-books will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps. 
  • Random House is raising its e-book prices for libraries. (E-books already cost more – a print book we pay $20 for costs about $27 in e-book format.) Raising costs will put a squeeze on the Library’s budget -- $1.5 million of the $1.6 million “collections” budget must cover the district’s entire print, audiovisual and electronics purchases. 

What does this mean for the Library’s e-book collection? Lisa is optimistic, especially if library patrons continue their letter-writing campaign to e-book publishers.

“As soon as publishers get a handle on how to adapt in this market, they will figure out strategies to sell to this (library) market,” she says. “But it would be great if all of them could get together and decide on a standard way to sell to public libraries.”

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