A staggering 95% of all libraries in the United States have an e-book collection. Sometimes we take this granted and get irked that there is a long waiting list for a New York Times bestseller. Why can’t libraries simply have enough titles to meet the demand? The answer, is that libraries are gouged on the price for digital content from the publishers.
This might surprise a fair amount of people, but the average library paid six times the consumer price for e-books on the USA Today bestseller list. This is not greed due to distributors such as 3M, Baker & Taylor or Overdrive, but the publishers.
When a bookstore orders a hardcover or paperback book they normally get it for 45% less than the sticker price. This gives them the ability to make a small, but meaningful profit. Libraries on the other hand are paying $72 for Between The World And Me: Notes On The First 150 Years In America by Ta-nehisi Coates, whereas Amazon charges the reader $9.99.
I talked to the American Library Association recently about their about their efforts to get more favorable e-book pricing and they told me that “the reason why publishers are so hostile to libraries is because the e-Books are loaned out to people who might otherwise be customers, the publishers need to compensate for those perceived losses.”
James Larue of the Douglas County Library system recently said “libraries and taxpayers who support libraries are being ripped off in ways that not only outrageously inflate the payment to publishers (surely their costs are not three times greater to provide the book to us than to the consumer), they also greatly reward distributors. The result? At a time when about half of our patrons use e-readers, we barely offer 10% of our collections to them in their preferred format. When does a vicious price become complicity between publisher and distributor, to the detriment of the public?”