From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:
As we continue to stay home as much as possible, even the most die-hard “give me paper or give me death” readers have been dipping their toe into the ebook waters. And they’re discovering what long-time users have known forever.
Good news! You can get ebooks from your library!
But (bad news) only if you’re willing to wait for-EVER for the most popular titles.
Even for some of the less popular titles, wait times are much longer for ebooks than their print versions, and it’s just gotten worse as ebook popularity has dramatically increased this spring and summer.
Which leads to the following questions:
Why do you have to wait for an ebook at all?!
Why doesn’t my library just buy more copies?!
And the conclusion I’ve come to for both questions is: I think most publishers hate libraries.
I wish I were kidding.
When libraries and publishers entered the ebook landscape, they went with a model they knew and understood: they licensed library ebooks with a one copy/one user. While some other models have come out since then (such as cost-per-circ, where the library pays every time someone checks a book out, which you see with services like Hoopla) one copy/one user remains the most common way ebooks are sold for lending. However many licenses a library buys is how many people can read a book at a time.
So why doesn’t the library just buy more copies?
Because ebooks for libraries are really, really, really expensive.
And then we don’t even get to keep them. Librarians pay wholesale for print books that can remain in circulation for literal decades, but ebooks are very different in terms of access and in terms of cost.
. . . .
So I started a project where every week I shared what was on the best seller list and how much those books cost. I shared specifically how much the library would spend to buy those titles in a paper book or an ebook and how much those same books (paper and ebook) would cost for a regular person.
. . . .
First, let’s look at averages for print, digital book, and digital audio.
On average, the Suggested Retail Price for a print book (aka the price that’s printed on the cover) was $24.78.
On average again, Amazon would sell you (a reading consumer) a paper copy of that print book for $16.77.
Your library could buy a print copy from their vendors for $14.14.
Looking for digital?
You could buy that same book on average for $12.77 on your Kindle.
The library had to pay an average of $45.75.
YES WE HAD TO PAY THAT MUCH. 3.5 TIMES MORE THAN YOU DID.
On average, this means that we (libraries) can buy 3 print copies for every single ebook license, and still have some money left over.
$14.14 + $14.14 + $14.14 = $42.42 for 3 print books in circulation
$45.75 for a single license of an ebook.
And then there’s audio.
If you’re curious, the average price to buy the book on Audible was $27.28, but for libraries to get it in digital audio? $69.76.
. . . .
Of the popular titles included in this dataset:
- 44.3% of digital library books were between $50.00 and $59.99.
- 19.4% of digital library books were between $60.00 and $69.99.
- 18.2% of digital library books were between $20.00 and $29.99.
In other words:
64% of ebooks cost over $50 for libraries, but none of the titles included in this data set are that much for anyone else.
99% of Kindle books cost $19.99 or less, but only about 13% of library ebooks do.
. . . .
Pour yourself another drink, because it gets worse when the usable lifespan of these purchases is examined against the price per item.
. . . .
86% of the ebooks from that list have to be repurchased on a regular basis, most commonly after 24 months, even if the book is never checked out.
This is why libraries can be reluctant to take an ebook chance on an unknown author.
When libraries buy the ebook, the terms of purchase are actually a lease. The publisher will take the book back after 24 months. If libraries want to still have that ebook available for checkout, they need to buy it again.
Publishers do this because, once again, they’re working off the print model, and print books don’t last forever. They get eaten by the dog or dropped in the tub or coffee gets spilled on them or after it’s been checked out a million times, it just wears out. And if people still want it, we’ll buy another copy.
But…(and this is a big but)
Remember how much libraries pay for print? ($14.14 on average, see above?)
How they pay even less than the average Amazon price?
The average price of an ebook that has to be repurchased is $49.48.
Wait, isn’t that higher than the average price of library ebooks?
YES IT IS.
The more expensive a book is, the more likely we have to rebuy it on a regular basis.
Only 1% of the books that cost over $50 don’t have to be regularly repurchased.
I know it doesn’t make sense.
Prices and terms for digital books are set by the publisher, and most publishers have broad rules that apply to all of their books.
And some very large publishers *cough* Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and Hachette *cough* have set high prices for books that expire quickly.
Why would they do this? Because they can. If libraries want to provide what our users want, we’ll pay their prices on their terms, no matter how ludicrous, because what choice do we have?
. . . .
Some publishers refuse to sell digital formats to libraries.
Major side-eye to every single Amazon imprint and company, which includes Lake Union, Audible, and more. All of those wonderful Audible exclusive audio books? Are Audible exclusive, which means libraries cannot acquire them.
Some self-published authors don’t make their stuff available on OverDrive, and if they’re part of Kindle Unlimited, they’re not allowed to.
How big of a problem is this?
Libraries were unable to buy 1.5% of this year’s bestsellers in ebook.
It’s worse for audio–libraries were unable to buy 15% of this year’s bestsellers in eaudio.
. . . .
If libraries have to pay that much money for an ebook and can only keep it for 24 months, they’re going to concentrate purchasing power on titles they know will circulate heavily, to get the most bang for the limited buck. Which means lots of blockbuster sure-bets, and less midlist or new authors.
For romance readers, fans of Avon and Harlequin are in luck, because they’re both HarperCollins imprints. HarperCollins charges Suggested Retail Price and libraries can keep the ebook for 26 checkouts. As with most romance publishers in mass market paperback, most of their ebook titles are $7.99 and libraries can keep them until they use up all 26 checkouts. While it’s still not as good as print (which libraries would pay less money for and which usually last far longer than 26 checkouts) it’s still the best pricing offered by any of the major traditional publishers.
But St. Martins is Macmillan, and Macmillan charges $60 for new ebooks (regardless of Suggested Retail Price) and their ebooks expire after 24 months, even if no one checked it out. Berkley is Penguin Random House, and they charge $55 for new ebooks that libraries can only keep for 24 months.
That can be really hard math to justify! With our vendor discount, libraries usually pay $4.95 for a mass market paperback with a Suggested Retail Price of $7.99, so they can buy a full dozen print copies for the same price of a single ebook (and that ebook expires after 24 months)
Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and thanks to DM for the tip.
PG will note that the digital vendor his library uses is perfectly capable of proving any publisher with anonymized data reporting how many people checked out an ebook, how many people returned the ebook without reading it, how many people read part of the ebook (and how many pages they read) but returned the ebook without finishing it and how many people read the entire ebook.
PG is disappointed that Amazon won’t provide a simple path for indie authors to make their ebooks available to libraries at a price set by the author. Just like perma-free, ebooks in libraries can be a superb way for readers to discover new authors and books, helping authors and Amazon sell more.
PG will note that the digital vendor his library uses sends him to Amazon to download a library ebook which, on the book’s regular Amazon product page where the Add to Cart button is replaced by a Borrow button which he clicks to send the ebook to his selected reading device. So it would appear that much, if not most, of the plumbing is in place for indie authors to make their ebooks available to libraries.
Visitors to TPV can feel free to harass KDP and anyone else at Amazon to urge them to allow library purchase of KDP ebooks for lending by the libraries. Amazon could even require a minimum license price for library loans of indie ebooks if it felt library borrowing would eat into Amazon’s revenue stream from ebooks in some way.
If PG were in command of Amazon’s indie library sales initiative, he would be inclined to redesign the landing page where a library patron came to borrow an ebook to show other books by the same author, perhaps some Also-boughts or Also-borrows and an opportunity for the borrower to voluntarily link her/his Amazon account so Amazon could understand even more about the borrower’s interests.