In case it’s been awhile since you stepped foot inside a library, here’s how those buildings stocking hundreds and thousands of well-known book titles work. Libraries purchase books from publishers and these books are then “rented” out to card-carrying library members. In addition to hardcopy and paperbacks, libraries these days also rent out eBooks.
People who have e-readers can rent eBooks from certain libraries throughout the world. As is the case with a regular book, borrowing an eBook from a library is a great way to save some cash, since library members don’t have to purchase a book that will only be read once from a bookstore. Seemingly, eBook loans make a lot of sense for both libraries and consumers – there’s just one problem. Publishers are making it very expensive for libraries to purchase eBooks.
The Cost of Buying an eBook
When eBooks first came out, libraries were purchasing these books without much trouble at all. Then, something strange happened – publishers began limiting purchase times and driving up the cost of eBook prices. In fact, the biggest publishers on the planet (Harper Collins, Hachette, Macmillan) only sell eBooks to libraries if the library purchasing an eBook agrees upon an expiry date. For example, a library might purchase an eBook from Macmillan, but that eBook would only be available for a few months. After that time, those books that have a time limit will expire, and libraries will have to pay for the same book once again.
Random House was one of the few publishers that did not sell eBooks with conditions attached. Now, Random House has decided to raise the cost of eBooks (when sold to libraries) by up to 300%. This means that some eBooks are costing libraries up to $100 to purchase. As you might have guessed, there’s something very wrong with this picture.
Why Publishers are Raising Prices
I’m not certain I agree with this logic, but publishers are claiming that selling eBooks to libraries is not cost-effective. Why? One eBook can be loaned to hundreds (if not thousands) of people, never get lost, never get damaged, and always be available for eternity. This, it seems, costs publishers money. After all, libraries that purchase physical books have to re-order books when they become lost or damaged. But, then there’s the other side of this tricky coin.
Publishers do, in fact, greatly benefit from selling eBooks to libraries. For one, a book is instantly available to thousands of readers the moment it is released (exposure at its best). Another way that publishers benefit is through saving money when it comes to printing, binding, and physically shipping out books to libraries (a huge cost advantage). As you can see, there are reasons why publishers might feel inclined to raise the cost of eBooks, but, at the same time, these same multi-billion dollar companies are saving money just by skipping the whole printing and shipping part. In the end, libraries (not corporations) are likely to lose this technology battle – and that will be a very sad day.