Annoyed Librarian
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Deal for Suckers or Deal of the Century?

On to a new topic today, although I’ve now figured out how to get the general population to rant in the comments. I’ve always been capable of pressing librarians’ buttons; it’s a blessing and a curse.

Now I know I can always throw homeschooling into the mix, because some people really have a bee in their bonnet about that topic.

Or maybe I can just scatter random words throughout the post to see who gets riled up. [Teacher’s unions.] It might be fun for a while. [Welfare.] Then again it might get old after a while. [Affirmative action.] Or maybe not. [Designated hitter rule.]

And now for something completely different, the latest development in the ebook world. The news from Infodocket is that Hachette – one of the “big six” publishers – will now start selling ebooks to libraries, and at only 220% on average of the normal ebook price. This is the model Penguin adopted when they got back into the library ebook game.

Apparently that big meeting in January between ALA and the major ebook publishers didn’t go so well, despite all the tough talk the ALA wanted to unleash on them.

According to a followup article in LJ, the Hachette argument is that “ebooks do not need to be periodically replaced, and ‘there is no limit on amount of borrowing activity per ebook copy.’” This seems doubtful.

First, print books rarely need to be replaced. If print books were in constant need of replacement, libraries wouldn’t be selling off old bestsellers all the time.

Second, I seriously doubt there will be “no limit” on the borrowing activity of the ebook. So, either this is a flat out lie from Hachette, or it’s the best deal libraries have ever gotten on books. Let’s explore both scenarios.

If the limit is one checkout at a time, which seems to be the norm for Overdrive, then the statement is a lie and there is a limit on the borrowing activity. In that case, it’s the same one book out at a time policy libraries have always had, only more expensive.

Just to be generous, I’ll admit there’s a possibility that the Hachette statement isn’t a lie, just  based on a total misunderstanding of how ebooks work. They might say that they’re providing a “copy” of an ebook which is then loaned to library patrons, just like a print book. Of course, that’s not how it works, and any lending is just of another copy of the copy, with the original “copy” (if that even makes sense) still available.

But let’s say it’s possible they’re either lying or clueless. In this scenario, as publishers start charging libraries 2-3 times the going rate for their ebooks, we have the perfect conditions for an experiment. (For the uninitiated, an experiment is what scientists do, even library scientists.)

We can test how many librarians are wasteful suckers willing to waste taxpayer money buying ebooks of interest for a limited time at exorbitant prices. If the book is limited to one checkout at a time, and the going rate is 220-300% higher than the print price, librarians who stock up on ebooks are wasteful suckers throwing away money.

With popular print titles, public libraries often buy multiple copies. If they do that with ebooks so more will be available, then they’ll be throwing even more money away.

Some librarians, like Jamie LaRue as reported in the LJ article, are going another, more sensible route. We’ll see how many follow, or how many decide that wasting public money on overpriced ebooks and cutting something else is more important.

On the other hand, maybe Hachette isn’t lying or clueless about there being no limitations on borrowing. In that case, this could be the deal of the century. If instead of buying a dozen print copies of the latest James Patterson novel, libraries could buy many fewer and just one ebook, which then could be lent to multiple patrons at once.

For bestsellers, this would be a great deal. For most other books, still probably not.

Either we’ll see whether Hachette is lying in its statement about borrowing limits and librarians will be suckers to buy Hachette books at inflated prices but still with borrowing limits, or we’ll see if Hachette is telling the truth and the deal might be quite good on selected bestsellers.

I’m thinking the former. And now we wait. [Homeschooling.]



  1. PremproPosse says:


  2. You’ve outlined the problem pretty well, but I see no suggestions on how to deal with it. Patrons who use ebooks want to read the the current titles. Libraries who want offer current titles in ebook format have to purchase multiple copies. We all know that it makes no sense to purchase multiple copies of an electronic title, but do we just ignore what our patrons want because of it? Do we let them do all their reading out of amazon and B&N because we are mule-headed stewards of the taxpayer dollar? (NO!! You can’t have ebooks because we don’t like the purchasing model!! Go buy your ebooks and leave us alone with our shelves of print titles and dwindling circulation statistics!) What really needs to happen is that Overdrive should provide a way for us to recycle (resell) our “used” ebooks. We should be able to upload what we want to unload into Content Reserve and sell it at a big reduction to libraries who can’t afford “new book” prices. Overdrive makes money off the sale and the seller library gets a little Overdrive credit added to their account.

  3. not a hipster librarian says:

    Wondering how this pricing does or does not relate to how libraries are currently charged for magazines and databases? I’m not in collections so I truly don’t know. Thanks to anyone who can compare/contrast.

  4. Deal for suckers. You get what you WAIT for.

    And here, I’ll insert my random words (Stupid unsubstantiated comments about homeschooling in previous two posts by an otherwise seemingly bright blogger for ALA.)

    Bee has gone back to the hive. Out.

  5. I’m sure libraries would be happy to pay twice as much for digital book per-user licenses if they could sell them when demand drops as they do with printed books. Currently libraries can buy 50 books and sell 45 of them when demand drops. Or, they can buy 50 ebooks and eat the total cost when demand drops.

  6. Print books do indeed wear out if you can’t buy enough copies of them to have them wear out their welcome on the shelves. Would that we had enough bestsellers to sell them off.

  7. I Like Books says:

    Libraries, at least the ones I know about, decide how many print books they’re going to buy based partly on how many they expect to be stolen or destroyed in use.

    On the other hand, the incremental cost of selling one more ebook is zero. Or rather, selling one more license to use that ebook under the conditions outlined in the license agreement, which could include the number of copies that can be in circulation at any given time, if the publisher had only thought to specify it.

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