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November 14, 2013

The complicated world of ebooks

It was a real pleasure to serve on a panel at Hartwick College this week for the Rasmussen President’s Lecture. 

The keynote speaker was Jade Roth, chief product officer, digital education and vice president of books and digital strategy for Barnes and Noble College. She gave an informative presentation about the direction that higher education is taking in regards to ebooks. It’s a complicated business model and has issues outside of the realm of public libraries.

Some of the challenges facing public libraries are the high cost of books in digital format and the disparate licensing structures imposed by the “Big 5” publishers. You may know that libraries don’t buy ebooks. We license them for a period of time or a set number of loans to patrons. 

Compared to two years ago when several of the big publishers wouldn’t sell to libraries and Harper Collins created the 26 loan model, libraries are in good shape. We can now lease ebooks from all of the Big 5. Unfortunately all of them have restrictions that limit the number of times a book is loaned before the publishers require that a library repurchase it. MacMillan only allows libraries to lease titles that are more than one year old and they limit the loans to 52 or the license to 2 years, whichever comes first.

The disparate licensing structure makes it difficult for libraries but the cost of ebooks is the real struggle. The Douglas Public Library in Colorado has been collecting price data on New York Times bestsellers and posts it to the Web on a monthly basis. Last month libraries paid up to 14 times the price that a consumer would pay for an ebook. One title was only double for libraries compared to the consumer price but the title was not a new release. 

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