When we say we love libraries, we mean it

John Yunker

Playwright, author of the environmental novel The Tourist Trail and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

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This is not exactly mainstream news, but the major publishers have been battling with libraries for the past few years over the pricing and management of e-books.

It boils down the money, basically. Publishers have been increasing the price of e-books to more than triple the price of the equivalent paper books. To get an idea, check out this recent price list developed by Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries here (PDF). A recent Publishers Weekly article noted that the e-book of Fifty Shades of Grey sells on Amazon for $9.99, while libraries pay $47.85 per copy. Laura Hillenbrands’s Unbroken is $12.00 on Amazon, but it’s $81.00 for libraries on 3M and OverDrive.

Why, you may ask, are publishers charging more for something that costs them far less?

Among many reasons is this: print books wear out over a few years, forcing libraries to purchase more — while e-books are, in theory, forever.

So some publishers want e-books to have a built-in lifespan to them. Or a limited number of times an e-book can be checked out.

I’m not kidding.

And some publishers have simply decided not to see some e-books to libraries.

The president of the American Library Association recently posted an open letter to three of the world’s largest publishers. It reads:

It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is “no good here.” Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing ebooks from three of the largest publishers in the world. Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their ebooks for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users.

Let’s be clear on what this means: If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction bestseller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies. The popular Bared to You and The Glass Castle are not available in libraries because libraries cannot purchase them at any price. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal Forever, nor today’s blockbuster “Hunger Games” series.

Not all publishers are following the path of these three publishers. In fact, hundreds of publishers of ebooks have embraced the opportunity to create new sales and reach readers through our nation’s libraries. One recent innovation allows library patrons to immediately purchase an ebook if the library doesn’t have a copy or if there is a wait list they would like to avoid. This offers a win-win relationship for both publishers and library users since recent research from the Pew Internet Project tells us that library users are more than twice as likely to have bought their most recent book as to have borrowed it from a library.

While we at Ashland Creek Press have only a small number of e-books to offer libraries, we have priced our books roughly in line with what the general public pays. We will sometimes discount e-books here and there on Amazon or Apple (or they will do the discounting automatically for us).

But we will never price our e-books at more than the cost of a print book.  That’s not right.

In fact, our e-book pricing comes in at roughly half the print book pricing.

And we are pleased that most of our e-books are now available for libraries via the 3M and OverDrive platforms. We’re also eager to work with California libraries with their e-book initiative.

It’s easy for publishers to say they love libraries. But too many are now trying to gouge libraries.

When we say we love libraries, we mean it.

 

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Playwright, author of the environmental novel The Tourist Trail and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

Latest posts by John Yunker (see all)

3 thoughts on “When we say we love libraries, we mean it”

  1. This is horrible news. It pains me to think it all boils down to money. But, sadly, it doesn’t surprise me. I’m happy to know you’re keeping in line with how it should be. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Sean! It’s so important that books are accessible to libraries because this means they’re accessible to readers. This is, after all, the point of publishing a book — to get it out to readers!

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