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.