Did you know that libraries pay as much as five times the price you pay for the same e-book? Cory Doctorow recently had a chat with librarians at the annual national conference of the American Library Association, where they were lamenting the fact
that libraries had to pay a hefty premium on e-books.
- Libraries pay $60-80 (sometimes more) for a single, newly published e-book
- Libraries have to buy e-books with a proprietary DRM; that in turn requires investing in a proprietary collection-management infrastructure (e.g. OverDrive)
- Despite the additional costs, an e-book can only be lent to one patron at a time. Also, it cannot be sold as used once demand for a title slows down. Another disadvantage: e-books cannot be shared with other patrons through interloans.
Cory mentions the crazy case of HarperCollins, who ruled that an e-book has to be destroyed
after it has circulated 26 times
This has been pitched as having some parallel to the fact that many library books eventually disintegrate and have to be discarded. But this is both wrong and perverse. Wrong because the 26-circulation cutoff bears no relationship to how many times a book can circulate before it falls to bits. It amazes me to think that HarperCollins wants to frame its products as so badly manufactured that they can’t withstand being read 27 or more times. But beyond the factual problems with a 26-circ cap, there is the fundamental perversity of celebrating and importing the limitations of physical media into the digital world. It’s like insisting that electric bulbs be limited to outputting no more than one lumen of light, since that’s all a comparably-sized candle would manage. The fact that books don’t last forever is not a feature to be preserved through the digital transition: it’s a bug, and the sooner we eliminate it, the better.
There is a movement among librarians of the American Library Association to call upon publishers to make their e-books available to libraries at fair prices and fair terms. You can find the campaign here
Related: NPR - E-Books Strain Relations Between Libraries, Publishing Houses
, Author says Libraries "have had their day."