Libraries all over North America are being challenged with generating revenue from their e-book collection. Digital content automatically expires after 21 days, so there is no way to collect on late fees. Aside from public funding, these fees have been necessary to keep the library sustainable.
The Richmond Public Library in British Columbia has a current operating budget of $9.37 million. They have experienced a 25% drop in late fees in 2014, which resulted in a overall loss of over $67,000. Combined with a recent increase in salary for the branch staff, the city is now paying an extra $289,000 more this year than it did last year just to keep operating at the same level of service.
In order for the library to make ends meet, they reached out to the city to ask for an extra $200,000 to offset the loses due to late the lack of late fees. In their report, Richmond public stated their print collection had declined by 33% since 2009, as they have gravitated towards e-books.
Chief librarian Greg Buss lamented that an electronic book can be, on average, five times more expensive than a hard copy. This is challenging because the collection budget has remained constant for many years. Investing in a new digital catalog, while still maintaining print is something that is getting to be difficult without additional funds.
Libraries all over Canada the US are in the same boat as Richmond. They are spending more money trying to get a solid digital collection of content and paying more money to make it happen. Publishers are charging more for e-books because they can’t generate revenue from print being lost and damaged and subsequently re-purchased.
Each major publisher has a different pricing scheme in order to make selling e-books to libraries profitable. Hachette releases new e-books simultaneously with print, and available for an unlimited number of circulations at roughly three times the primary physical book price. One year after publication, the purchase price will drop by roughly half. Penguin currently offers 17,000 titles, charging $18.99 for frontlist titles, and $5.99 to $9.99 for older ones. All of these e-books expire after one year, making it necessary to repurchase them.
How can libraries start to generate more revenue from their e-book collection? Many branches in the US are starting to charge non-residents money in order to get a library card. Brooklyn Public Library charges $50, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County $45, Fairfax County $27, New Orleans Public $50 and Orange County Library System $125.
Many patrons see an out of state library card as a viable e-reading solution and cheaper than buying them one by one. Brooklyn Public is likely the best example because they have a huge operating budget and have one of the largest collection of e-books in the US. Hopefully in the future more libraries will embrace this method to generate revenue from their digital collections and use the funds to reinvest into a bigger and better catalog of content.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.