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Old 09-03-2013, 09:59 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Doctorow on the e-book rip-off for libraries

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.

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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."

Last edited by Alexander Turcic; 09-03-2013 at 10:07 AM.
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Old 09-03-2013, 10:49 AM   #2
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Capitalism sure has many drawbacks. Communism too.
We need an intelligent form of society instead, where intelligent people make intelligent decisions instead of having to obey accountants, greedy stock-holders, bureaucrats, members of a political party.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:01 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting this. I have actually heard these points mentioned from time to time in various Overdrive threads here on MobileRead, but it's nice to see them codified. I'm glad to see someone is making an effort to do something about it.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:04 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexander Turcic View Post
Did you know that libraries pay as much as five times the price you pay for the same e-book?
That's because the licensing terms are different. When you buy an ebook licence, you're buying a licence for your personal use only. When a library buys an ebook licence, they're buying an licence to lend it to multiple people.

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Cory mentions the crazy case of HarperCollins, who ruled that an e-book has to be destroyed after it has circulated 26 times.
It's not "crazy" at all. The library is simply purchasing a licence for 26 loans.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:29 PM   #5
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How does that compare to a physical book. Do libraries have to pay more for them because they are lending them and not buying for personal use? How many times on average does a physical book get borrowed before libraries have to invest in a new copy?
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:38 PM   #6
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I don't know if it's still done, but it certainly used to be the case that publishers produced special "library editions" of books with much sturdier bindings than the standard book, and they were considerably more expensive.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:45 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by l_macd View Post
How many times on average does a physical book get borrowed before libraries have to invest in a new copy?
For HarperCollins books, libraries have to destroy all copies that have been loaned out 26 times. Failure to do so will incur the wrath of HC. At this point, HC will send in their fire department who'll do a Fahrenheit 451 on all HC books; regardless of loan status. It's a brave new world we live in.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:47 PM   #8
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Do they really have to "destroy" them? I would have thought it would all be done automatically by the Overdrive server.
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Old 09-03-2013, 01:11 PM   #9
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This state of affairs is immoral. A library doesn't have to pay extra for a paper book to lend, and there is no limitation on the number of times they can lend it. Obviously the problem exists due to flaws in copyright law. We should change the law so it treats the purchase of an ebook the same as the purchase of a pbook. It's none of the publisher's business when a library lends its own property.
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Old 09-03-2013, 01:15 PM   #10
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I was pretty sure that paper books were indeed more expensive when bought by a library. Maybe as a way to compensate for the lesser sells.
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Old 09-03-2013, 01:56 PM   #11
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Maybe a new business model for publishing ebooks needs to emerge.
It doesn't seem like the authors are doing these things or suffering from ebooks' different nature, but the publishers.
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Old 09-03-2013, 02:06 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Ntsimp View Post
This state of affairs is immoral. A library doesn't have to pay extra for a paper book to lend, and there is no limitation on the number of times they can lend it. Obviously the problem exists due to flaws in copyright law. We should change the law so it treats the purchase of an ebook the same as the purchase of a pbook. It's none of the publisher's business when a library lends its own property.
Wrong... it does pay extra precisely because it's going to be read by many people...
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Old 09-03-2013, 03:18 PM   #13
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To be fair, there should be a side-by-side comparison to see the costs associated with purchasing a hardback book and purchasing an ebook license. We do know that a library will loan the hardback book until it is not possible to do so any longer. Then it will probably be sold at library book sales.

In the long and short run, we are all paying whatever price the library must pay for these books through whatever means the library is funded at your location.
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Old 09-03-2013, 07:47 PM   #14
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The prices are high, but that doesn't mean library eBooks are ripoffs.

eBooks have more value to the library. You don't need to put plastic on the jacket, stamp the owning library in multiple places, and generate the barcode. You don't need to choose between culling your collection and enlarging the library building. You don't need to pay people to check them out. You don't need to rebind them when they fall apart. And you don't have to pay to replace those stolen.

eBooks are good for a wider range of readers -- they are like a regular book, and a large print book, all in one. And libraries are already used to paying more for large print.

eBooks are also better for fastidious folks who prefer the new product experience. They don't have to deal with torn pages, or dog ears, or wonder why the book smells that way. You don't have to, if inclined to worry, worry about unsanitary past borrowers, such as those who wet their fingers with saliva to turn pages.

The above has nothing to do with why publishers charge libraries more for eBooks than other customers. The reason they charge libraries more is that they can. However, an eBook is worth more to the library borrowing community than is a paper book, for reasons noted above.

Last edited by SteveEisenberg; 09-03-2013 at 09:59 PM.
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Old 09-03-2013, 10:01 PM   #15
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The prices are high, but that doesn't mean library eBooks are ripoffs.
You do make some wonderful points, but here is a question: why should publishers be reaping the benefits of the digital revolution, while reducing a library's ability to do the same?
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