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ebook debacle

Your accredited educational institution must have a library. If it is going to license ebooks for the library, you probably have questions. Use the contact form below to ask for a professional librarian's help.

Online students need to read ebooks. There is valuable content in them, just as there is in the print version. The publisher and the library, especially public libraries, have long had an uneasy relationship.
From the beginning libraries buy once but share books many times.  Libraries do not share their circulation records of individual titles with publishers, therefore there was no way to ascertain how many times the book had circulated out of the library, let alone how many times it was removed from the shelf in the library. Library pricing is more than bookstore pricing as it takes into account the size of the library’s clientele, the size of the student body and number of faculty and other factors. Random House was charging libraries 300% the consumer cost. But this is not a publisher's business model the industry felt was sustainable when selling to libraries.

And now comes the digital book (ebook). Very countable as to how many times it is downloaded or Chapters read. When I first started to buy single license books for my academic institution in 2000, there were choices like how many simultaneous users and how many times the book could be downloaded and whether you wanted the book for one year and then renew it or if you wanted it in perpetuity. Keeping in mind these ebooks do not always reside on your university's server, but on the publisher's network. Each of those choices is a price point. Now some publishers demand one year licensing or hold up access (embargo) for 6 months after the print copy is released. Nothing much has changed regarding pricing except the increase of publishers selling collections of books, with collections containing some popular titles and a bunch of not popular titles.

A few years ago the biggest book publishers decided that libraries could buy the book once but if it circulated more than x times, they had to buy it again. Hmmm. And now they have added the patron driven acquisition PDA whereby you select ebooks and those titles are incorporated into your library holdings but at the same time promising that if they are downloaded more than x times, you will pay the invoice for their purchase-graduated library pricing scale.
And now, the American Library Association Press Release of September 24 20 reports that 3 of the big publishers: Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin are refusing to even sell, and thus not allow access to, their ebooks to U.S. libraries. Now I know that this decision greatly impacts the public libraries (there are 112,000 libraries affected) since these publishers are heavily weighted to fiction. But when one publisher finds a business model that works, the others may follow.

Purchasing access to ebooks is a tricky, complicated, thought provoking activity. And for academic libraries supporting online programs it is imperative to be done right. So although this action by these 3 publishers against allowing access to their ebooks is a blow to public libraries, it does show how uneasy these times are for all of us, including online academic libraries.  Consider the understanding of this industry as an imperative when you are hiring your next librarian.

Melody Hainsworth, Ph. D., MLIS