E-book publishers are worried about profits shrinking if
libraries go digital, and they're hiking e-book prices. Stretched
thin by lean budgets, libraries are slow to embrace digital content.
Can the two sides reach a solution?
In the hushed atmosphere and among the staid bookshelves of your
public library, a battle is brewing over digital content.
On one side are librarians, stretched thin by lean budgets, who
are eager to get more electronic books into the hands of readers and
satisfy a growing need in their communities. On the other side are
publishers, jittery about slim profits, who are making it harder for
libraries to get electronic content. Some publishers have raised e-
book prices by up to 700 percent for libraries. Others are imposing
new lending restrictions. Several major publishing houses aren't
selling new e-books to libraries at any price.
"Everyone is trying to figure out what the actual business model
is going to look like," says Belinda Boon, a collection development
expert at Kent State University's library school in Kent, Ohio.
"There have been a lot more efforts in recent months for libraries,
vendors, and publishers to try to come to some kinds of agreements."
The standoff is hurting both sides.
For libraries, the tougher purchasing environment is hampering
efforts to add electronic holdings, which libraries effectively
lease through licensing agreements with distributors. The Tuscaloosa
(Ala.) Public Library, for instance, says it paid $12 last fall for
an e-book edition of Random House's fantasy novel "A Game of
Thrones." Now the price has leapt to $105, according to Director of
Collection Development Amy Patton - a 700 percent increase. (Random
House declined to say how much libraries pay for individual titles.)
With so much uncertainty, libraries nationwide are thinking twice
about building electronic collections. Thirty-nine percent of
America's 9,225 public libraries have no digital lending program,
according to a 2011 survey from the Chief Officers of State Library
Agencies. Many would like to add more e-books, librarians say, but
they're waiting to see if publishers back down.
"With so many question marks lingering over the digital world,
you have libraries who won't fully embrace [e-books] because they
don't know what the impact of that decision is going to be," says
Lisa Rice, president-elect of the Kentucky Library Association.
Publishers have said little about their specific fears or
strategies as they experiment in the library marketplace. …