Heavily inflated ebook prices are giving Canadian library staff a headache as they try to cope with rising demand.
Libraries are being charged up to five times more than consumers for ebooks, and face a number of lending restrictions with them, according to a statement issued last week by a coalition of Canadian libraries lobbying for fair ebook pricing.
Multinational publishers are placing caps on the number of times an ebook can be borrowed and attaching them with lending expiration dates. Once the limit has been reached in either case, a book must be re-purchased again — and at a hefty price.
“(There is) a policy of 26 checkouts, and after that they pull it back, so rather than us considering it a purchased item, it’s more of a rental for a limited period of time,” said Caroline Vandriel, library directory for the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library. “If we’re purchasing something that is widely circulated, that could be gone fairly quickly, and then we would have to purchase another copy.
“One of the other things they’re doing is jacking up the prices, so whereas the public can purchase something for, say, $20, libraries are spending $85 for the same item online.”
Ebooks are still being refined as a relatively new medium of reading, said Vandriel. But she worries their potential as a convenient alternative to physical books could being lost through their limited accessibility for libraries.
“(Publishers) are trying to get a business model going for something that hasn’t really been around for very long,” she said. “Their rationale behind it is that after 26 circulations, a book is pretty much dead and libraries have to buy another copy anyway.”
However, she assures that’s not the case.
“Librarians all over North America have been testing this, and it’s not true,” she said. “There are some books — especially hard-cover books — that circulate well over 100 times before a replacement copy needs to be purchased.”
Publishers, she added, impose time and borrowing limits to mitigate the absence of replacement purchases, which would be made unnecessary entirely with an unlimited-use product.
Meanwhile, a coalition of public libraries nationwide — including Sylvan Lake — is undertaking a campaign to raise awareness of the need for fair ebook prices. The end goal, Vandriel explained, is to get publishers to re-evaluate their business models to accommodate such an adjustment.
“I tend not to purchase from those publishers that do put those restrictions on, but then that limits the titles that I can get — some of the best sellers go through those big publishers,” she said. “It’s trying to balance whether it’s really worth spending $85 for one ebook when I can get four physical books otherwise. It’s difficult for libraries all over North America.”
Ebooks currently account for about 13 per cent of purchases made for the adult collection at the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library.