E-Books Popular but Costly for Libraries; Jacksonville's System and Others Feel Stymied by Publishers' Rules

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy J. Gibbons

It had been three weeks since Kathleen Malloy had been able to stop by the library, and she was out of books.

"I've had nothing to read," she explained as she slid into the chair next to Donna Peretzman, one of the Jacksonville Public Library system's specialists in electronic resources, who was helping Malloy transfer e-books to her Nook.

Malloy was looking for the latest John Grisham book (she's read all the rest), but every copy the library has had been checked out - a not uncommon problem facing e-book patrons, the end users of a system that libraries in Jacksonville and elsewhere say is stacked against them: Many e-books are far more expensive than print books for libraries to buy, if they can buy them at all.

E-materials have grown increasingly popular among library patrons, with usage of electronic resources up by 86 percent over the past year, library figures show. The system serves a number of devices, including Kindles, Nooks and iPads.

That number is likely to keep climbing in concert with the number of readers dipping their toes into the digital world: Almost 30 percent of Americans own either a tablet or an e-reader, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a number that jumped by 11 percentage points over the course of the holiday season.

"A lot of our customers have moved to the e-reading front," said Barbara Gubbin, director of the Jacksonville Public Library. "Public libraries have always strived to provide resources in as many formats as possible."

But that doesn't mean it's easy. Unlike physical books, e-books aren't purchased, they're licensed for a user to use, which means the library can't just buy e-books on the open market. In the case of at least one publisher, it doesn't want libraries to be able to do so.

Other publishers will let libraries license their books, but charge multiple times what consumers pay or only allow it be lent out a certain number of times before expiring.

The novel "Gone Girl," for instance, would cost readers of the e-book $12.99, but a library would have to pay $75 for a copy. The "Fifty Shades" trilogy would cost $30 on the consumer market, but libraries would take a $90 beating. (As with consumer versions, each copy of the file can have only one reader at a time, so the version the library buys can't be lent to multiple users at the same time. …


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