Read On! Greed in Publishing

Patrons who use our ebook library are about to be frustrated with our service. I sincerely apologize. All 8,000 public library systems offering ebooks are trying to find a solution.

Ebooks are sold differently than their physical counterparts. When we buy a physical book, the library owns it. We can add it to our collection, loan it as many times as we want, trade it, give it away, or sell it. That book is 100% ours. 

When libraries buy digital books, we don’t own anything. We are simply buying a license to access the book in a digital format. That license is only good for one patron at a time. The publishers dictate how we can use it, how many times we can let our patrons check it out, how many copies we can purchase, and how long those copies will be available. Plus, libraries pay between $40 – $80 per license, depending on the publisher. 

All five of the big publishers limit access to library ebooks in some way. Most licenses expire in two years or after 26 – 52 checkouts, whichever comes first. Macmillan is enacting a new embargo on their ebooks: A library, no matter how many people they serve, can only purchase one copy of any newly published ebook for the first 8 weeks after publication. This will mean even longer holds lists for some popular titles. And our licenses may expire before everyone gets to check the book out. 

Publishers justify all of this by saying libraries eat into the publishers’ profits. Of course, an impartial study by the Panorama Project clearly demonstrates that wide availability of library ebooks increases sales and interest in authors. 

I’m not sure how the dust will settle on all of this, but please forgive the longer waits for ebooks. We’re trying to work with publishers, but it will take some time. It may even get worse before it gets better.