The Price of Currency

How much does it cost to keep libraries current? 

Was I just assuming that everyone was on board with selling eBooks to libraries? It certainly came as a surprise to me when I read that Hachette was just expanding their eBook catalogue now. Apparently Hachette had only offered a limited selection to libraries, but recently decided to make their entire list of digital publications available. Wait! There’s a catch, but I am sure you knew that already. Price. Publishers have to sell eBooks at a high price to libraries, because libraries will be lending them out to various patrons. This makes sense, sure, but some commentators are claiming their mark up to be extortion.

Nate Hoffelder, for The Digital Reader, has an opinion on the matter. He writes, “Never mind that the consumer price for the hardback will actually be in the $10 to $20 range; the year-old eBook will cost $45 (about). But at least the eBooks will be available.” It is just me, or does this sound a little backhanded? Hoffelder seems to disapprove with the prices placed on eBooks. Hachette, however, are not the first to feel weary about their eBooks ending up on a library’s catalogue. Simon and Schuster recently established a pilot project licensing out their titles for one year. Random House raised their prices. Penguin was on the fence for a while. HarperCollins only allowed 26 lucky readers to handle their eBooks (Digital Reader May 1st, 2013). So what’s the big deal?

I think I could probably argue both sides. The Publisher needs to make money, but the library also needs digital material. It is important to remember that the library is a customer, and an invaluable one at that. It is a reliable client, which will undoubtedly need multiple copies due to wear and tear after repeated use. However, eBooks can’t be mangled, making a higher price justifiable.

Conversely, at the end of the day, the library needs as many digital titles as it can get to remain current. It has to be ready to offer books in all formats for all readerships. The library has an obligation to promote literacy but also make it highly accessible to any and all patrons.  Finally, there is one other thing to take into consideration. Do libraries promote sales? I know many instances where I have found books in the library that I have later purchased. The library could be an extension of marketing.

Demanding Options

The eBook: Another Format, yet Another Option

I experienced the eBook revolution more so as a library employee than as a reader. That is to say, it would have taken me a lot longer to embrace the change, if it wasn’t for the patrons asking me about Adobe Reader, OverDrive, and KOBO. I did not own, and still do not own, an eReader. However, I quickly downloaded OverDrive to my iPhone in order to confront all the questions. Staff would gear up for the post-Christmas season of eReader troubleshooting. We read endless emails about help functions to direct patrons to and pamphlets to hand out. You could add “Device Expert” next to “Reader’s Advisory” on my list of duties.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t a complete expert then, nor am I one now. What I am is really interested in eBooks, as they pertain to libraries. BookNet Canada’s President, Noah Genner, pointed out that, “The research suggests that the eBook market in Canada may have reached a plateau…Early 2013 data backs this up”. After the eReader boom, and the surge of backlist titles into the digital market alongside new releases, the waters are just now beginning to calm. EBooks are not going anywhere folks. Just give them a chance to get comfortable.

It seems that publishers and libraries alike got really excited, or scared, and began adapting as necessary, expanding their digital output. Is a plateau really that bad though? Sure, sales aren’t going up, but they aren’t going down either. The glass is half full. Not long ago we were worried physical books were fading out. Perhaps this fear was brought on by major publications ceasing to exist in a physical format such as: Encyclopedia Britannica (1768-2012), Oxford English Dictionary (1884-2010) and Newsweek (1933-2012).

Let’s have a moment of silence.

Truth is physical books are still in demand, and now here we are worrying about eBook sales. It seems “Canadians still prefer to buy their books in physical stores. 34% of book purchases were made in non-book retailers, 37% in bookstores and 25% online—print book purchases made online account for 19% of those online sales” (Canadian Ebook Market Plateaus). So why is that, do you think?

Perhaps now is a time of stepping back and gathering data from consumers. Consumers, who are getting to know their own reading styles and preferences. The more I talk to people the more I realize it doesn’t come down to a commitment to electronic over physical. It’s both! Pamela Millar, the Director of Customer Relations at BooknNet Canada relays, “We’ve found that the dominant factor in selecting a retailer is convenience”. What if the same goes for reader’s preferences? Maybe I prefer to read on my KOBO during my commute to work, but can’t wait to get my hands on a heavy hardcover when I get home. Likewise, patrons at the library demand options for their own convenience.