Ebooks at the Library: Delving into the Labyrinth

From All About Romance:

Checking out eBooks at the library has come a long way since I bought my Nook Classic. Back then, most companies did not know how to make eBook lending from the local library work, and staff members at my local B&N had to pass out detailed instructions – that were at least a page long – about how to borrow library books on your Nook. Although I’m an early adopter who managed to read eBooks on a Palm and on an eBookwise, I never got library lending to work on my Nook. Not until I gave up and got a Kindle was I able to make the lending process go smoothly. “So that’s how it’s supposed to work!”

. . . .

Formats make a difference to library users worldwide. In Canada and the UK, Kindle books cannot be borrowed from the library because the format is proprietary. Books can only be borrowed in EPUB and PDF formats. In the UK, the available lending options are Nook, Kobo, Android, and IoS. That may vary by country (and province or county.)

. . . .

Quirks in the search feature aside, wait lists are the biggest drawback to borrowing eBooks from the library. Crazy Rich Asians is the top book that comes out when you check out the Romance section at my library, and although the library has 146 copies of the eBook available, none are available right now. You can place a hold, and if you time it well, you’re in luck. On the other hand, I remember checking the wait list for The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter after Kristen gave it a great review. Whoa. It would have taken a couple of months to get the book, so I caved in and bought the eBook instead. Although it was priced higher than I normally want to pay for an eBook, it was worth it.

So… What’s up with those wait lists? Why are they so long? Many people blame the publishers. For every step forward, libraries are forced to take two steps back. Most users know that they can wait for an eBook to drop in price, but this isn’t an option for libraries, which must buy eBooks at more than list price. Librarian and blogger Jennifer Anne (@kidsilkhaze) explained the issues in a thread on Twitter.

Jennifer Anne starts by stating “So here’s the thing–I am worried that publishing is killing libraries, and that will, in turn, kill publishing.” In a nutshell, eBooks are more expensive for libraries than you think. Although libraries usually get discounts on print books, eBooks are almost always priced extra high for libraries. For example, Penguin Random House charges about $55 per copy – and then requires the library to repurchase the title every twenty-four months. HarperCollins charges list price, but the items can be checked out only twenty-six times before they must be repurchased. Hachette charges about $80 to $90 per title, but the titles don’t have to be repurchased. Macmillan charges $60 a copy for an eBook and then requires repurchase after two years or fifty-two checkouts; because of lending periods, this often means the library only gets about thirty-five checkouts per title.

On top of that, some publishers (such as Tor) embargo libraries so that they can’t lend out the eBook until the book has been out for several months. But by the time the embargo period time has passed, the libraries will probably pass on the titles, meaning that the publisher loses out on the eBook purchase.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

8 thoughts on “Ebooks at the Library: Delving into the Labyrinth”

  1. My tiny little county library never had a good selection in genre fiction paperbacks and hardcovers. Now that ebooks are here (and have been for nearly 10 years), the library has an enormous selection of genre fiction, even if the wait times are a little out there. I mean, it’s definitely better than the time I had to request an interlibrary loan and wait six months for the print book to become available.

    “Most libraries can’t afford to buy more than a few blockbuster titles. So library patrons get annoyed and stop looking for eBooks at their library, assuming that the library doesn’t care. Then library budgets get slashed (yet again) so that even fewer eBooks can be purchased. This hurts not just the libraries and their patrons, but the publishers as well – because they are pricing one of their biggest customers out of the market.”

    And this, I wonder if it’s just all anecdotal or even “this is how I imagine it is,” because again, the ebook selection is so much better even in my county’s tiny little library than the print book selection and the wait times are shorter, not longer.

    Finally, there’s mention in the article about people not checking out ebooks to save the library money, but for my county that would have the exact opposite effect, because my librarians told me (as one of the first people to start checking out my library’s ebooks) that I needed to tell everybody I knew to check out as many books as possible because the more checkouts they had, the more money they were allocated to improve the system and buy new books.

    I’m sure things aren’t that way for everyone, but before someone pays too much attention to articles like this, maybe talking to local librarians might be best.

    • It does happen, but it depends on the location. A lot of libraries, especially smaller libraries, band together in regional groups to contribute to a shared collection of ebooks that anyone from that group can check out. This is a huge benefit to you (because I am pretty confident your library would be part of one), because you are getting access to many more books than your tiny library could purchase on their own, they contribute what they can and so do all the other libraries contributing. For larger libraries, many of them have seen a massive drop in the number of titles they have been able to purchase, even with shared collections. That is where a lot of the frustration of library patrons is coming from.

      I am so glad for you and your county library, it is always good to hear positive stories because it seems like the places that are doing things well don’t make the news. Library use is increasing all over, and ebooks have made it so much easier for people to use the library even if they have trouble getting to the physical location, I just wish the publishers would remember how much libraries spend on books and bring in new readers who spend more on books.

  2. Those extra high prices wouldn’t bother me so much if I could be sure that they made their way back to the authors.

  3. Why would any publisher want to gain new readers for their product? After all, isn’t making their behemoth owners and shareholders 100% happy job #1? Who cares if you lose potential new readers for your product by price gauging? After all, making money for the overlords is the sum-zero game in today’s world. Not cultivating new consumers.

    • Why would any publisher want to gain new readers for their product?

      Because the old ones keep dying. And even if they did not, the way to keep shareholders happy is to make the business grow, not merely to preserve the status quo.

      • Normally true but the BPHs are different. They’re not publicly owned, for the most part, but rather wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign multinationals who have made it clear they are not interested in growth strategies but rather maximizing reportable short term revenue.

        More, don’t forget that trade publishing in the US is a stagnant business and has been for over two decades now. It is an industry that touts as a good thing year to year revenue “growth” lower than the inflation rate.

        There might be a causal link between those two facts. 😉

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