Libraries, Patrons to Pay the Price in Random House’s eBook Lending

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Just when it seems that libraries and publishers are finally coming to terms on how to make ebook lending feasible, another blow is struck to the libraries and patrons. In this round, it comes in the form of a 300% price increase from Random House on ebooks over the hardback editions of the same titles.

In an article for The Digital Shift, Michael Kelley outlines just a few specific examples of books whose hard cover editions cost libraries about $25, for example, yet whose digital editions through OverDrive cost in the range of $85. This pricing affects books of every genre as well, including children’s, middle grade, young adult, and non-fiction. Moreover, the titles that come with an extravagant and prohibitive price tag are still only available in the one-user-one-checkout model; these are not unlimited licensing prices.

Kelley’s sites one librarian’s reaction to the price increase, a professional who may be more on target than she realizes. Kathy Petlewski, of the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, Michigan, responded to the notification of the price increases:

“The first thing that popped into my mind was that Random House must really hate libraries.  Perhaps this isn’t true, but it will take a lot of convincing for me to believe otherwise.  Do they not realize that libraries are hard hit by the economic downturn and that our budgets are shrinking.  How do they think we can afford to build a decent collection of e-books when we’re spending over $100 per book?  I am terribly disappointed by this latest turn of events.”

While it is doubtful that Random House hates libraries, there may actually be some negativity driving this decision. There has been a public outcry from library patrons and the American Library Association directed at the Big Six publishers over removing or blocking their digital titles from library lending, and what better way to win back the reading public by making your ebooks available for lending. The catch, of course, is the publisher can now shift the blame to the libraries for not purchasing the titles and expanding their lending catalogs. For their part, Random House explained that the pricing of the ebook now reflects the price of the audiobook edition of the same title; however, there was no justification for that pricing model, since ebooks don’t require the costs associated with utilizing a recording crew and voice talent.

There hasn’t been enough discussion about the role that the ongoing battle between Amazon and the Big Six plays in the problems arising with ebook lending. While lending has been a concern for the publishers in terms of trying to prevent piracy and protect the interests of the authors, there didn’t seem to be this much fighting over ebook lending until OverDrive became compatible with Kindle e-readers. Once that compatibility was put in place, publishers quickly began pulling their titles from ebook lending, suddenly citing these concerns that, oddly, were not all that troublesome before.

The full text of Random House’s statement can be found in the cited article.

Mercy Pilkington (1982 Posts)

is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of a hybrid publishing and consulting company.

  • Erl Patterns

    I think one thing people tend to forget is that libraries lending out physical copies of books is far different than lending out ebooks. Books have an expiration date. They wear out and have to be replaced by new ones. Libraries have to pay for those new copies. Plus the number of people who can borrow a paper book is physically limited. One paper copy can only be lent to one person at a time. Compare this to ebooks which never have an expiry date and can exist forever or until someone decides to delete the file. As well, you can lend out far more copies of an ebook file without the restrictions of a paper book. Why shouldn’t ebooks be priced higher for lending institutions? I agree that it shouldn’t be too high, but pricing it higher only makes business sense because companies are losing out.

    As well, online bookstores already giveaway free chapters of books in order to entice readers. So to say that they don’t understand the value of someone being able to flip through a book and try it out before buying is bunk. They know very well the value. But no online bookseller gives away the entire book, with the exception of Amazon as a sales gimmick and even then, they only do it for a limited amount of time and they charge the author rather than the reader by demanding exclusivity for 90 days,