Hold On, eBooks Cost HOW Much? The Inconvenient Truth About Library eCollections

A little girl with glasses and a red skirt reading a big book in the libraryJennie Rothschild is a collection development librarian at a public library outside of DC. She talks about books for fun and for work all over social media and in places like Booklist and Library Journal. She’s also been on several award committees, including ALA’s Margaret A. Edwards award and the CYBILS. When she’s not reading or shouting about ebook pricing, she likes to knit, watch Mike Schur shows, and work on her definitive rankings of the best boxed wines. Jennie misses getting lunch with friends and browsing bookstores. She’s just finished reading Women in Black by Madeleine St John. She tweets @kidsilkhaze.


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:

  1. Why do you have to wait for an ebook at all?!
  2. 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.

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.

I’m a collection development librarian (aka, the person who buys the books for the library) and I realize that people know that libraries pay different prices, but last spring I tweeted out actual numbers, and it’s the closest to viral I’ve ever gotten. People knew it was bad, but not THAT bad.

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. I kept the thread going for a year, and now I have data to play with.*

You may want to pour yourself a drink…

Show Spoiler

clip of a woman in a plaid coat and a burgundy newsboy hat taking a sip of what looks like cognac out of an absolutely massive snifter bigger than her entire head

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
vs.
$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.

It’s graph time!

A graph showing Average ebook prices between 0 and 80 dollars. In Print, Suggested retail is $24.78, Amazon print is $16.77, and library print price is $14.14. For ebook, Amazon charges $12.77 while libraries pay $45.75 average per ebook. In eaudio consumers at Amazon pay $27.28 per copy while libraries pay $69.76 for eaudio lending copies

And that’s not some wonky prices skewing the averages.

Check out these sweet pie charts:

A pie chart of price distribution for Kindle Books .6 percent were 20-29.99 represented in yellow, 22.3 percent were between 0 and 9.99 and 77 percent were between 10 and 19.99

 

  • 77% of the Kindle books tracked for the purpose of this survey are priced for consumers between $10.00 and $19.99.
  • 22.3% of Kindle books for consumers are between $0.00 and $9.99
  • .6% of Kindle books for consumers are $20.00 and $29.99.

So more than 3/4ths of popular titles in this data set were between $10 and $19.99.

That’s for you, the individual consumers.

Let’s look at library prices for ebooks.

Pie chart showing price distribution for library ebooks - 1 percent are 70 dollars or more, 5.3 percent are between 0 and 9.99, 7.8 percent are between 10 and 19.99, 18.2 percent cost between 20 and 29.99, 2.2 percent cost between 39 and 39.99, 1.8 percent are 40 to 49.99 and a full 44.3 percent of ebooks cost libraries between 50 and 59.99

Ebook library licenses are a very, very different story.

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.

So while wholesale prices for print acquisitions for libraries are usually lower on average, prices for ebook licenses are substantially more.

Pour yourself another drink, because it gets worse when the usable lifespan of these purchases is examined against the price per item.

Show Spoiler

Kitty Forman pours tequila into a blender

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?

Remember that sweet pie chart from 3 paragraphs ago examining Price Distribution for Print Ebooks for libraries? Let’s grey out all the parts that represent books that will need to be regularly repurchased.

I’ll try not to cry.

The same pie chart showing price breakdown but with more than 80% of the total chart greyed out representing books that come with limited term lease licenses that require libraries to repurchase the book

All of the greyed areas: ebooks that need to be repurchased because they are sold to libraries under a limited license.

And of course, this assumes that libraries can even get the digital version of a book!

(At this point, my liver can’t take another drink, so I’m switching to ice cream.)

Show Spoiler

a very very large ice cream sundae of probably fifty scoops of ice cream with toppings like whole cookies whole cones m&ms and sprinkles

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.

This is literally the reason why your library doesn’t have Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts on eaudio. Or the new Sarah J. Mass: the publishers refuse to sell them to libraries. (This does not include books where the publisher opted not to do a digital format–these numbers are just for items individual consumers can buy, but libraries cannot.)

And all of this has huge ramifications for the library, but also publishers (and readers) in general.

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)

$4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 + $4.95 = $59.40 for 12 print books
vs.
$60 for a single ebook license that expires in 24 months

In many ways, a lot of the big publishers are pricing themselves out of the library ebook market, with terrible consequences for libraries.

Libraries have long struggled to find the right balance between user demand for ebooks and tight budgets, and COVID-19 just made it a whole lot harder. The economic impact of the pandemic is also going to hit local governments, which fund libraries, very hard.

At the same time, demand for ebooks has skyrocketed. Anecdotally, I know many libraries have seen this demand start to trend down a bit, but most of us who buy digital books for libraries are not expecting levels to ever drop back to where they were pre-pandemic.

So what does this mean?

With shrinking budgets and outrageous prices, libraries are unable to provide all the ebooks users want, or to get a good handle on wait times.

As a result, users see the library as being out-of-touch with reader needs, so they don’t fight for more funding.

So funding gets cut more, so libraries can provide even less and are seen as even more out-of-touch and the cycle continues.

Show Spoiler

Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld pouring chocolate sauce from the bottle into a gallon of ice cream looking very sad

So, what can library users do?

Don’t stop reading ebooks.
And don’t feel guilty about reading them.
Don’t yell at authors if their publishers have bad terms.
Do contact publishing house executives about their bad terms. 
Do be patient with your library if the wait times are forever or if they don’t have every book you want.
Be nice to your very stressed out librarian.
Most of all: do advocate for your local library when budget season rolls around.

Find out who is your library’s funding body (this varies by location, so you may need to ask the library) and tell them how much you value your library. Tell your neighbors and friends how much you value the library and ask them to also champion the library’s budget.

EveryLibrary is a nonprofit that lobbies for libraries across the country–help them with their efforts and let them know if your library needs their help.

Libraries are used to trying to get the most value possible out of every dollar, but sometimes they just need more dollars.

Also, after all that, I’m out of bourbon and ice cream. Please fetch me my smelling salts.

Show Spoiler

Dowager Countess of Grantham saying we will all need our smelling salts in a minute

*Here’s the nerdy fine-print methodology section about my data set: I looked at the following New York Times Bestseller lists: Hardcover Fiction, Hardcover Nonfiction, Combined e/print Fiction, Combined e/Print Nonfiction. I also looked at adult titles that appeared in the Top 30 of the USA Today Bestseller list. Each title is only counted once, so even though Becoming by Michelle Obama was on multiple lists every single week in the past year, it’s only represented once. Also, this was an evolving project, so I started with the NYT lists on 7/25/2019, the USA Today list on 8/11/19 and started looking at audio book pricing on 11/6/2019. The data includes information about 645 titles, 381 of those also have audio data.

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kit says:

    I’m not sure if something similar happens in the UK but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Our library budgets just seen to get slashed every year and they only seem to be able to buy the latest books. They also sell off any books sometimes after only a certain amount of time. You can donate books to the library but they have to meet a certain criteria and they won’t always end up on the shelves. My mother once donated over seven Julia Quinn novels (good quality, careful lady owner) only to find them all for sale a few weeks later. She wasn’t happy about that. It’s been a while since I borrowed a physical book as the fast turnover means it’s impossible to get the first book in any series. However, I borrow magazines and will borrow audiobooks when my Kindle Unlimited stops at the end of this month.

  2. 2
    kkw says:

    Such a fascinating article, thanks!
    I read a book most days, and couldn’t possibly afford to buy them. I don’t know what I would do without libraries. I felt guilty about costing them so much, I had heard they were screwed on ebook pricing, but I have always heard that the more books they circulate the better for their funding so I just carried on…but those prices are outrageous!
    Is there any point in boycotting certain imprints?
    I have had really good luck with recommending ebooks, so I would suspect that feature isn’t beingused much. I hope it is helpful for librarians to be able to prove it’s worth taking the risk on a lesser known book/author. But idk, perhaps that’s something I should limit? I don’t want them stuck with expensive books no one else wants, and I wouldn’t want other people not to get their recommendations because I make too many.

  3. 3
    R E G says:

    Do libraries get some kind of a discount if they buy ebooks of an author’s entire backlist? My local library will suddenly have 27 books by some author I have never heard of.

    That’s great if the author becomes a new favourite, but occasionally I have wondered how they ever got 27 books published.

    Are libraries paying for ebooks available for free to the general public?

    Thanks for the interesting article. I knew libraries were being wildly overcharged. It’s nice to understand the details.

  4. 4
    Carrie G says:

    This is just so sad and frustrating. I homeschooled 5 children and the library was how I obtained the many of my resources, especially for the elementary years. We used a literature based curriculum and I couldn’t have afforded to buy the dozens of books we read a year.

    I am blessed to live in a county that has prioritized libraries, even though it’s not the the richest county around. Over the past 15 years they have build new regional full-service libraries, and are about to reopen a brand new main library complete with recording studios and a Makerlab, which is a place to teach and learn new technology, and will have a state of the art 3D printer.

    I haven’t been using the library since it reopened recently. I need to get back to it. I hear circulation numbers are important for continued support from the local governments. We support the library through book donations, but it looks like it’s time to get on board for some sort of monetary support.

    Is there any way to share this article to social media? I hope the author does that. I know my friends are huge library supporters, and this information should be widely circulated.

  5. 5
    Escapeologist says:

    Back when I worked for big corporate, they matched employee charitable donations. The local library was listed as an organization one could support.

  6. 6
    Sarah C. says:

    How does Hoopla factor in to these costs? My library uses both.

  7. 7
    Teev says:

    I would be less frustrated by this if I thought the authors were making good money off those mark-ups. I somehow doubt it but don’t actually know how it works. Does anyone here know?

  8. 8
    Saby says:

    Canadian public libraries have a great resource for this: https://econtentforlibraries.org/

    It’s an extra problem here because even some titles available in the US aren’t available in Canada because licensing, and also currency exchange woes.

  9. 9
    Nialla says:

    @R E G:

    Usually when you see a lot from the same author added, the vendor is having some sort of sale, possibly with a side order of requests from patrons.

    Are libraries paying for ebooks available for free to the general public? Yes. Sorta. If it’s through Overdrive, there’s a fee for a properly formatted (hopefully) copy. Generally under $5, but some titles that are currently in the spotlight due to film or TV adaptations might be higher priced. My library’s main catalog automatically adds titles from our Overdrive collection, as well as stuff from Gutenberg and LibriVox. If you’re looking for a title in the public domain and it’s checked out in Overdrive, it’s probably available for free to keep from the other sources, but you have to use the main library catalog to see them.

    @kkw:

    Libraries have had some success with boycotting vendors, but it’s like whack-a-mole. I’m not sure how much a consumer led boycott would affect publishers.

    Librarians love recommendations. We might not have the funds to get them all, but we generally prioritize requests because that generally means a guaranteed checkout.

    My library is tiny, and one of 70+ pooling their funds to access Overdrive. It’s cheaper per library this way, but increases the wait times. If you can donate, ask the library if they can put it towards their digital collection. Mine can, but we’re so tiny that I’m the one who makes that call, other libraries may have to deal with more bureaucracy.

    This next year is going to difficult for everyone budget wise, and libraries are no different. Donate if you can, but it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Ask your library what they need. You might have something beyond the usual books/audio/video that could be used if they have a “library of things” collection. I’d love for someone to donate a guitar to our collection, but we’ve also got smaller things on the wish list, such as kits to checkout to learn how to tell time or count money.

    I know a lot of people are clearing out used stuff to donate, but ask your library before taking tons of boxes. We normally have a sale every year, but that’s probably not going to happen, so we’re going to run out of space really quickly. I’ve also heard used book stores are also having problems being overwhelmed with donations, without as many people coming in to buy stuff.

  10. 10
    Jennie Rothschild says:

    I’m going to try and answer questions periodically–

    Kit–there is so much that goes into donated books, it could be its own blog post! I know it’s always disappointing when donated books end up in the booksale, but libraries depend so much on the money those sales bring in.

    kkw–If you library needs you to limit how many books you’re suggesting, they’ll tell you. We can’t buy everything patrons suggest, but they are still really helpful!

    R E G– we usually don’t get a discount when buying a huge backlist. When something like that happens it’s often because they went on sale. It all depends on the publisher, but usually sale prices and timing for libraries is very different than it is for the general public. I have seen more than one ebook that was being given away for free, but libraries were still being charged $60 for a 24-month license.

    Sarah C–Hoopla is a cost-per-circ model, where the library pays every time something is checked out. How much they pay depends on the item and publisher, but most prices are between $.34-$3.99/check out.

  11. 11
    Caro Kinkead says:

    And I’m now going to go check and see what prices are set for my books for Hoopla and Overdrive. I’m self-published and to get only a tiny royalty to get my books into libraries.

  12. 12
    Carrie G says:

    @Nialla
    “We normally have a sale every year, but that’s probably not going to happen, so we’re going to run out of space really quickly.”

    This is the reason we’ve diverted our used book donations to Better World Books this year. They sell books online and donate thousands of books. They have drop boxes in some areas of the country, which makes donations easy.

  13. 13
    Nialla says:

    @Carrie G

    We’ve tried BWB in the past without much success. I think it’s because a lot of our books are in good shape, but older titles. BWB doesn’t make as much on them, so we don’t make much if anything.

    We are looking into having an ongoing “not a book sale”. If we do anything beyond a two-day book sale twice a year, that brings in sales tax. We don’t have a Friends group that could be tax exempt (we’ve tried, several times). We’re looking at setting aside some shelf space for recent titles to sell for “suggested donation” amounts. Our stuff is usually $1/title, so anything above that is good, even though it’s not as much as a full room for sale. If it’s strictly as a donation amount, there’s no tax.

  14. 14
    Nialla says:

    @Caro Kinkead

    I see two of your titles, The Accidental Viscountess and Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness, listed in Overdrive’s Marketplace at $5.99 each.

  15. 15
    Cynthia Sax says:

    (whispers) Also patrons could read more Indie eBooks and librarians could promote more Indie ebooks.

    I price my Indie eBooks (all my cyborg and alien romances) the same as retail on Overdrive (except for titles priced under $1.99 – $1.99 is the minimum price Overdrive will accept).

    I know many Indie writers who do the same.

    I don’t force libraries to rebuy my eBooks (which is why some of my eBooks that have been out of bookstores for years can still be found in libraries).

    I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for libraries and librarians.
    I owe them so very much.

  16. 16
    JTReader says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a heavy library ebook user and have always been curious about what goes on behind the scenes to determine what books (and how many) the library acquires. Those prices seem outrageous. Aren’t libraries big clients for the publishers? Do they have any negotiating power?

  17. 17
    M. says:

    I’m wondering how much Kindle Unlimited affects library prices. For $10/month, kindle unlimited members have access to many titles. It doesn’t seem like there is ever a wait period, as long as you haven’t checked out your max number. Many KU titles are indie or less well known but there are still quite a few popular authors and titles in there. I’d be curious to see the effects of KU on this.

  18. 18
    Anne-Maree says:

    WORSE in Australia they don’t pay author royalties on ebooks and audiobooks at libraries.

  19. 19
    Kris Bock says:

    Addressing the question of whether authors get a bigger payout for the higher prices, I’d say no. I have a middle grade novel that has been in hardback for 20 years (The Well of Sacrifice, written as Chris Eboch) and the most I get for any sale, print or ebook, library or otherwise, is $1.70 per copy. I might get less if it was a book sale or otherwise discounted.

    On top of that, the majority of traditionally published books never earn out their advance so the author doesn’t get royalties even if they would theoretically get a higher rate for library sales.

  20. 20
    Nicolette says:

    Ah. I wanted to nudge some MLM romance titles into my library for those who couldn’t pay. But still, thank you for sharing this article.

    I just didn’t know this was the case.

    I’ll drink with you, article writer. ~-_-~

  21. 21
    Jennie Rothschild says:

    Cynthia–yes! Libraries need to be much better about indie books. I greatly appreciate the indie authors who price their books affordably–I’m much more likely to take a chance on them than a debut or midlist author from one of more expensive traditional publishers. BUT, that won’t solve everything because we can’t go all-indie all-the-time. The big 5 are, well, big, and control a huge chunk of the market, so we still need to buy a lot of their titles because our users want to read them.

    M–the big issue with KU is the restrictions. Traditional publishers have some different negotiations when putting their titles on KU, but self-published authors who join KU are restricted from making their ebooks available on any other digital platform, which means libraries aren’t even allowed to buy them.

    Nicolette–still ask your library for those titles! It’s always worth asking! This article isn’t meant to get people to stop reading ebooks or stop asking for more, it’s just to explain some of the behind-the-scenes math so people won’t hopefully be as sad if the library can’t buy the book you recommend or if the hold times are really long.

  22. 22
    Noel Stark says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been a staunch supporter of libraries in Canada and the States but this article fires me up to take more action.

  23. 23
    Rosario Garza says:

    Preach it, sister! Yes, as a retired librarian I am very familiar with the struggles that libraries face when it comes to collection development. The publishers are GREEDY, plain & simple.

  24. 24
    Monique Flasch says:

    Bravo. Excellent explanation. Great job. As a fellow librarian, I salute you!
    Best!

  25. 25
    Kate says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a librarian at a small library. I agree with you that publishers hate libraries. It’s frustrating. After all libraries are the gateway drug for publishers. I have seen so many patrons who try out a new author at a library, fall in love and then start purchasing for themselves as they don’t want to wait. The same is true for trying out a new technology like audiobooks. Now with ebooks and eaudio, publishers have librarian promoting this new format at no cost to them. We walk patrons through the steps to download books and then the patrons are purchasing for themselves.

    As for book donations, we have limited space, so a donation only goes on the shelf if there is a waiting list or we need to replace a something that has vanished. Otherwise (and then only if it’s in good shape and fairly recent) they go to the book sale. Like many libraries we have had to halt even that because of the recent plague.

    One bright note was the library boycott of Macmillan ebooks when they refused to allow libraries to get new releases. Enough library systems stopped purchasing from Macmillan and they relented. A small victory, but when we gather together we have strength.

  26. 26
    Claudia Martinez says:

    I’ve worked in about 6 small to medium sized libraries now, and none would buy replacements for last year’s best seller. Those always come from donations in “like new” condition.
    Also, a mass market paperbacks is not going to last through 26 circs. The good bits would be falling out long before that.

  27. 27

    […] to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and thanks to DM for the […]

  28. 28
    Evelyn Hershkowitz says:

    Are you aware of CPC in Overdrive. It has saved my library so much money. Most books you can buy for $5.50 under the cost per circ model, so 10 patrons can get the book for the cost of 1 copy.

  29. 29
    Pam Matthews says:

    Thank you for this. Just got a request for a 100 book “classroom set” of ebooks. Seems easy…in practice, nope.

    I am checking to see about some SU and CPC possibilities…but of course not all publishers are willing to go down those paths.

    Anyway, I’ve shared this on our intranet, Linked In, and on my personal Facebook page.

  30. 30

    […] “The inconvenient truth about library eCollections”. […]

  31. 31

    […] Hold On, eBooks Cost HOW Much? The Inconvenient Truth About Library eCollections […]

  32. 32
    Liz M says:

    If we’re going to call out specific mainstream publishers, it should be said that Simon & Schuster and Blackstone Audio have the most egregious pricing by far (for expiring content, naturally.) I simply won’t buy it beyond a certain price point, however much our library customers would like to see it in the collection. As long as we keep caving to the price gouging it will continue.

    But as far as waiting LONGER for ebooks, I’m not sure this is always true. Physical copies spend a lot of time in transit between library branches and sitting oh holds shelves. I think the ebook wait feels long because we are all accustomed to getting our electronic entertainment instantly on demand. People don’t understand why they should wait at all for an e-book.

  33. 33
    KariH says:

    Public Librarian / Manager. I’ve been moving ebooks and eAudio on and off my holds list recently if they are more than a 7 week wait. Ive seen 6 month projected waits for books that are not o. A pre-pub schedule. As publicly funded institutions it is really hard to get political buy in for boycotts, too many government agencies wont take the time to thoroughly explain to their constituents why fighting the Big 5 now with all the attendent discomfort will lead to a better access outcome later.

  34. 34
    Stacey Irish says:

    Fellow librarian, here. Thanks for this article. I would say the supporting the public library is best done through checking books out, more than donating. Donations are great and the money received from them does help the library, but circulation and visits drive much of the budget decisions. The more the library is used, the more support it will get from the budgets. So once we get through this difficult time, be sure to drop by your library regularly to show your support, or check out lots of books. And, of course, advocate to the funders (city council, city budget office, city manager, etc.) for library services.

  35. 35
    Jennie Rothschild says:

    Evelyn–CPC can either be really useful or just eat your budget, depending on how popular an item is. Especially in OverDrive, the selection isn’t always great (also, how sad is it that $5.50/circ seems like a reasonable price? Especially when compared to print?)

    Liz–For audio, yes. THE JOHN BOLTON AUDIO IS $120 FOR ONLY 24 MONTHS! (But for ebooks, S&S is double list price for 24 months, so pricing really varies.) The longer wait for ebooks often comes because price differences mean most libraries have a higher holds ratio for ebooks instead of print.

    (For those who don’t know, holds ratio is how libraries decide when to buy more copies of popular titles. If a library’s holds ratio is 5, then if there are more than 5 holds/copy, they’ll buy more copies.)

  36. 36
    MaryK says:

    I miss library book sales so much! There’s always so much variety you never know what you’ll find. It’s like a treasure hunt. I still have a recurring calendar entry for my library’s monthly sale and the two annual sales in my region. I get a pang every time a reminder comes up.

  37. 37
    NancyB says:

    Something of a tangent, but on the topic of getting books by your favorite author into your local library: I accomplished this at my largish county library system by making a directed donation, which I’d pre-negotiated because there is an approval board that has to pass on all titles. Once the board agreed to acquiring more titles by that author, I sent a letter and a check, then the library system used their bulk discounts to buy books up to the donation amount I’d set. They covered the processing costs to get the books into circulation. (The author was Lois Bujold, BTW.)

  38. 38
    S says:

    I love my patrons so much and dream about unlimited funds to grant their every ebook wish. The reality is that my budget can:
    -buy sufficient copies of titles with long waitlists, or
    -re-buy sufficient copies of titles about to expire, or
    -buy all the great new releases.
    But not all three. And my library is incredibly well-funded compared to most!

  39. 39
    Martha Knox says:

    As an indie author and voracious reader, I am appalled at how much libraries are charged for print books, ebooks, and audiobooks. I sell my books wide through Draft 2 Digital. and have Overdrive and Hoopla sales. I love them. I give libraries special pricing for books usually Buy one get one Free. I have heard that libraries either refuse to buy from Amazon or are forbidden to buy from Amazon. No matter-Ingram Spark is a great distributor of hard backs, paperbacks, ebooks etc. for Indie authors at fair and honest prices. Findaway voices is worldwide for audio. Are you forbidden these venues? I don’t understand why you only can buy from the big 5. The Big 5 also sell on Amazon, because I have bought them myself to read.
    Truthfully Hoopla gives me .78 a copy read with no ad cost and no effort on my part other than writing the book. In my business “a fast nickel is better than a slow dime. I make 1.78 off a $2.99 ebook, $5.84 off a $9.99 trade paperback, and $7.99 off a $14.99 Large Print. I love author signings at Libraries and I give the LIbrary a copy of my book. I am so grateful to Librarians and Libaries it’s my way of paying forwards to readers who love libraries too. I support book clubs. I worked for a private school library as a librarian and bought books on sale at goodwill, used book stores, and made thousands of dollars for my school through scholastic book sales and bought tons of scholastic books. I don’t understand why a normal library can’t buy from wherever and whatever vendor they please. Isn’t the big 5 being a monopoly? Aren’t they price-fixing charging libraries outrageous prices more than a normal consumer? Just asking. Also, I thought the CEO of MacMillian was a rather smug you know what in the infamous article about pricing ebooks for libraries. Publishers Weekly? Can’t remember where I read it but I was shocked at the ebook rules for libraries. As for authors of the Big 5 they receive royalties pennies on the dollar. I gave you my honest sales and profits. I dare any Big 5 author to give you the profit on a $35.99 hardback- I am sure it is in the range of $2.00 if they are lucky. I am a salesperson, businesswoman, teacher, lecturer, and author. I price my books fair and honest and I support libraries at every chance.

  40. 40
    Nialla says:

    @Martha Knox

    As far as non-digital items are concerned, my library does buy some items from Amazon. Usually replacement copies or older titles that we won’t get as much discount on from our primary vendor due to the age. But for digital titles, Amazon (and their subsidiary, Audible) has some titles that are not offered for sale to libraries. We can only offer digital titles via a 3rd party like Overdrive or Hoopla, in which we don’t really own the titles.

    The rules vary by library, but usually there are approved vendors (not just for books). In our case, the state library has negotiated a discount with a book vendor on our behalf. For non-indie titles, we usually get 46.5% off hardcover, trade, and mass market for current titles. Indie and academic press titles vary, but on average are ~10% off.

    Some prefer to stick with vendors designed to serve libraries because of the extra services. Such as for $1 extra per book, we get our copies “shelf ready” with the barcode, spine label, and dust jacket. For stuff we purchased elsewhere and donations, we have to process them, and in small libraries that could create a bottleneck.

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