The Cost of eBook Collections

It turns out that with regard to electronic content, some publishers play nicer with libraries than others. A few publishers have taken advantage of the lack of regulations with this new format to restrict access to more popular titles, raise rates, or if you’re Amazon’s Audible, offer exclusive content to your subscribers. This is documented in a recent Publisher’s Weekly column by Librarian Sari Feldman which can be found here.

Now,  you might be saying, “well, what’s the big deal, these books cost a fraction of their cover price – what kind of a rate hike are we talking?” To the average consumer, yes, eBooks are usually cheaper to purchase, but to libraries, the cost averages much higher at about $60-$80 per title. This, combined with metered access that only allows a certain amount of checkouts before the title is deleted and needs to be re-purchased at no discount, really can impact a library’s budget. NOT TO MENTION the issue of more popular titles having so many holds that it may take months for you to get your book and requires us to purchase ten or more copies to offset the wait time.

Luckily we are part of a library consortium and can share the cost of these titles, and we pay by use. Again, this sounds like a good setup, but even after the fees are split between 43 member libraries, these digital fees make up about 19% of Hamilton Public Library’s modest book budget (and still 16% when including DVDs, video games, and audiobooks).

Now that would be fine, as long as they account for 19% of our checkouts, but last month electronic resources represented about 12% of overall circulation for items checked out of our building. To make matters worse, as usage goes up, so does our cost.  

Between the increase in costs and lack of availability of popular titles, I don’t anticipate a big increase in usage in the near future. Our MidYork Librarians do their best to fill these collections with great titles, but they aren’t miracle workers. So the next time you’re frustrated that the new Elizabeth Gilbert novel’s estimated wait time is six months, keep all these things in mind. And if you happen to work at some of the more restrictive eBook publishing companies, maybe go easy on libraries. We just want to pay you a reasonable price for your content. After all, we’re one of your best customers.

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