E-book advocacy

Or  news  from the quagmire that is the e-book market….

In Kansas State librarian Jo Budler’s session at ALA Midwinter,  “Do I Own These E-books or Not,”  Budler summarized the issues that Kansas State had faced with Overdrive’s e-book contract, which in its earlier iteration, allowed libraries to “keep” their content after discontinuing Overdrive.   The newer version of the contract uses different languaging so for many libraries, the experience she had is perhaps a moot point.  But what I learned from the session was to be willing to negotiate with our e-book providers.  We are the customers and we need to increasingly be pro-active and willing to ask our providers for what we need.

Overdrive’s e-book platform currently operates on what I consider to be basically a “subscription” basis.  Since I am accustomed to databases which operate in that fashion, I bought it knowing that.   Of course that means, once you quit paying their annual fee, you will no longer have the e-books you have selected.

Other vendors do have an opportunity to move into this market.  For my library, the ability to deliver the content to the iPads was critical since we are a 1:1 ipad school and Overdrive really has been the main provider of that sort of ability.  But at ALA, I also discovered that Follett’s Shelf product is rolling out an iPad app on January 27.    The e-books we currently have in Follett can be transferred to their “shelf” product and then we can utilize the app to access them.   Follett has a no-annual fee model;  however, the experience with Overdrive makes me wonder if we would be able to keep them if we migrated to some other system in the future.   I believe Follett has or is considering a multi-user model as well; if anyone has more information on that, I would be interested in knowing more.

Gale has an e-book reference product that many of us use, which integrates into their database, and has MARC records that can be embedded into your catalog.  You “own” the book if you pay the annual maintenance fee, which is fairly low for school libraries with a smaller number of Gale titles, and Gale has an app from which you can access their e-book content easily.

I also spoke with Ingram at the exhibit hall, after hearing about their e-book offerings, since they are a large book jobber that was mentioned at the Kansas State session.  Currently, their primary offerings are nonfiction and reference, but they are negotiating as we speak with major publishers such as Random House, etc. for fiction collections.    They have several different pricing models–I’m not sure how feasible they are for schools or not, but they are interesting and will become even more interesting once they offer fiction.   Ingram allows you to purchase the e-book as part of a single collection for one cost(a $10 to $15 markup per book), or as part of a multi-user library (multiple users can access at once) (a 1.67% pricing over book price).  And they are looking into a very exciting possibility–leasing “class sets” of novels to a school for a few weeks when they are needed, rather than the school purchasing the e-books.  (I hope I’m supposed to blog that!)  From my understanding, Ingram allows you to keep the content which they store on their server.

The pricing model for all the e-book content is also pretty fascinating.  Publishers make far more on e-books than on print books, and publishing houses that dove into e-books full force are showing profits.    In a fascinating blog post, author Kristine Rusch explains at length the reasons that publishers are making more on e-books, while authors make more on print books.   Basically, in older contracts, authors were paid 50% of the cover price of a print book for an e-book, even if an e-book cost substantially less.   But now, the way the contracts are constructed, they make only 15% profit from e-books.   And in addition, the e-book is cheaper for the publisher in the first place, due to reduced production costs and distribution costs.  So between those two things–paying authors substantially less, and having fewer costs, the publishers are doing quite well with the e-book market.

So, I bring this up for a reason–if publishers are making much larger profits on e-books, then why are they charging libraries more for them?

That is the question we need to be putting to every e-book vendor we as librarians do business with.   As consumers, as an audience member at Jo Budler’s ALA session pointed out, librarians need to be savvy and we need to ask vendors the tough questions and need to put the pressure on.   Yes, we are a pittance of the book market, and the e-book market particularly, but statistics clearly show that libraries play a significant factor in driving readers to purchase books later (I can’t find the statistic but heard this at ALA)  So what we do counts in sales for publishers later.

The fact that publishers and vendors are listening to library concerns and getting into the e-book market means we are listened to.  And I’m not opposed to products that work well and are convenient for students.  But they need to be cost effective for libraries and public institutions.    So we need to continue our efforts to speak up, ask questions, and advocate for cost-effective e-books for libraries.

( Caveat:  Amazon and Apple and Barnes and Noble don’t typically charge a tremendous overhead for e-books,  but their devices and distribution model aren’t really designed for library use either.  Another thing we need to be continuing to advocate strongly for.)


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