Books and Publishing in the Digital Age
The popularity of ebooks and ereaders has led to a demand for ebooks in public libraries, but the number of digital titles available is low. Over the past few years, major publishers have experimented with different pilot programs to discover which ebook business model would best benefit the public libraries, readers, and the publishers themselves. The contracts that publishers enter into with public libraries have to take into account the cost of the ebook, the number of times an ebook can be lent out, and the conditions for which the ebook’s contract must be renewed.
In February 2011 HarperCollins created a model that would allow public libraries to license a book that would expire after 26 circulations. The book’s license would be renewed once the library paid a fee. After initially being met with various petitions and boycotts from libraries around the country, HarperCollins has kept this business model which the other big publishers have used to produce their own.
Hachette Book Group received the ire of many U.S. libraries after announcing, via an email sent through its ebook distributor OverDrive, that it would begin marking up ebook prices on October 1, 2012 by about 220% more than the retail price. Hachette’s ebook catalog would not include any new titles, only those published before April 2010.
Penguin Group decided to end its contract with ebook distributor OverDrive early in 2012 pulling their digital catalog out of public libraries. Four months later Penguin began a new library ebook lending program with distributor 3M where ebooks could be purchased by libraries at a rate consistent with retail value. The front-list titles are made available six months after the release date. Each ebook would expire after one year, and the library would have to purchase a new copy of each ebook again.
Random House made headlines in May 2012 when it declared that it would raise the prices of ebooks sold to public libraries as high as 300%. Random House’s policy of unrestricted ebook lending to libraries more than likely influenced its decision to greatly increase ebook prices considering that do not have to be replaced due to damage or loss.
In January 2013 Macmillan announced plans to launch a pilot program that would allow its 1,200 backlist Minotaur Books mystery and crime fiction imprint titles to be made available to public libraries. The average cost of the ebooks will be $25, and each ebook can be lent out 52 times or two years depending on whichever comes first.
The final big publisher to enter the ebook lending arena is Simon & Schuster. On April 30, 2013, Simon & Schuster will launch a one-year program to sell ebooks to the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Public Library. The New York public libraries will lend each copy of the purchased ebooks for an unlimited number of times, however, only one copy of the book can be lent out at a time.
These programs are relatively new and likely to undergo changes in the coming years. Publishers will continue to work with public libraries to find models that will provide more digital titles to library patrons while addressing the concerns of limited library funding and ebook renewal contracts.