Changes in ebooks to impact library users

Tuesday, October 8, 2019 | 9:24 AM


There have been some major changes in the ebook market for libraries recently. Earlier this year, some of the largest publishers made changes to their lending terms to libraries – placing limits on the length of time libraries have access to the ebooks they purchase and keeping ebook prices consistently higher for libraries than the average price consumers spend.

Here’s what that means for our patrons.

On average, a person can buy an ebook for about $15. There is no limit to how long they keep the ebook in their collection – they keep it forever.

Ebook titles for libraries, however, work differently.

On average, libraries pay $50 per ebook title. (That’s a 233% price increase!) What many people do not realize is that like the print books on library’s shelves, most ebooks can only be used by one person at a time. Therefore, libraries must purchase multiple copies of the book to meet demand.

To add insult to injury, four of the five top publishers now limit how long the library can access the ebooks to two-years. After that time, libraries have to purchase the title again.

These limits and increased prices drive up the costs for libraries – whose budgets are already very tight. As demand for ebooks rises, these changes make it harder for libraries to provide ebooks to our patrons.

If these limits for libraries weren’t already frustrating enough, beginning November 1, 2019, Macmillan Publishers will allow libraries to purchase only one copy of each new ebook title for the first eight weeks after a book’s release.

What does that mean for our patrons?

Since the Sewickley Public Library shares an ebook collection with the other libraries in Allegheny County, that means there will only be one copy of say, the newest Louise Penny or Nora Roberts ebooks, in the entire county for eight weeks.

Despite the fact that the limit placed on materials by Macmillan Publishers will increase the wait time for library patrons for quite a while, there are broader impacts to such embargoes.

As the American Library Association (ALA) – a global, nonprofit association that promotes libraries – explains, authors, especially new authors, depend on libraries to provide exposure for their creative works and opportunity for readers to discover them. Meanwhile, publishers rely on a constant supply of readers and demand for their products, which libraries provide at no charge to the publisher.

Libraries across the country are strongly opposed to these changes in ebook lending. The ALA has created a petition for the public to take action and tell Macmillian Publishers that they want #eBooksForAll. As ALA president, Wanda Brown stated in a recent letter to association members, “Macmillan’s embargo is about more than an eight-week wait for new eBooks. It is up to us to tell our patrons the truth: limiting access to new titles means limiting access for readers.”

Publishers know where libraries stand. It is important – now more than ever – for readers to have their voices heard, too.

Visit www.ebooksforall.org for more information about the Macmillian Publishers embargo and to sign the petition to take action.

Readers can also write to their elected officials to stress the importance of libraries in their communities. Find your elected official online at www.usa.gov/elected-officials or ask a Librarian in person or by calling the library at 412-741-6920 to help you locate their contact information.