Why the boom in e-book cases worries libraries

E-books, as they say, have a moment. Sales increased 16.5% for the first 10 months of 2020, according to the Association of American Publishers, and several months after the start of the pandemic, e-book withdrawals from libraries have increased by more than 50% .

Schools also rely heavily on e-books during distance and hybrid education. The OverDrive digital reading platform reports an 80% increase in the use of e-books and audiobooks in school worldwide.

The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library has seen a dramatic increase in the use of e-books and e-audiobooks over the past eight years, but Holbrook Sample, chief technology and logistics officer, said the use had increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Year over year in November, for eBooks themselves we were up 23% and digital audio books were up (a) 10-12% year over year” , Sample said. “We have certainly seen a nice increase in the use of our digital collection. “

The Kenton County Public Library is experiencing a similar boom.

“We saw an increase of around 16% over the same period last year,” reports Nicole Frilling, Digital Librarian.

The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Library System and the Kenton County Public Library are responsible for storing their own digital collections. This means they are not part of the Ohio Digital Library and Kentucky Unbound Libraries (and Evergreen Indiana and Indiana Digital Download Center, serving Indiana libraries in the listening area of ​​the Cincinnati Public Radio) who pool resources to make digital materials available.

These statewide consortia are also experiencing huge spikes.

The problem

At the Ohio Digital Library – one of the nation’s largest consortia – State Librarian Wendy Knapp reports 1 million more cases than last year and 2.9 million reservations placed in the 11 first months of 2020, compared to 1.5 million for the whole of 2019.

Katie Justice is the Digital Services Librarian at the Boone County Public Library and the Coordinator of Kentucky Libraries Unbound, which operates on an exercise schedule. “In the fiscal year that ended in July, Kentucky Libraries Unbound had (just over) 2.4 million prints, and so far this fiscal year, 2020-2021, we’re already at 1, 5 million, so we’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase. “

In 2019, publishers announced plans to change access to eBooks: by eliminating perpetual access, which means libraries might have to repurchase digital materials on an annual or semi-annual basis, or by limiting the number of copies that a library can purchase. Libraries pushed back, calling on publishers to back off the changes and warning customers of potentially long “lines” for virtual checkouts.

Then the pandemic struck and some publishers relaxed the prices and terms of e-books. Macmillan Publishing notably canceled the embargo it had put in place in November 2019.

However, Bill Rosenblatt, president of consultancy firm GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, told Marketplace Morning Report that “publishers could change their library prices again after the pandemic.

“The cold reality is that libraries have to start thinking about this in business terms if they are to come to some sort of mutual arrangement with the publishers,” he said.

“It’s hard to predict how publishers will react when the pandemic ends,” says Sample. “Hope they take another look at the numbers… we’re a big customer, the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library spends millions of dollars on digital documents, so we’re a great customer. “

Sample says the library is bracing for “hard times” as the state budgeting process begins and publishers’ pricing schemes may change in the new year.

“At some point the costs have to stabilize as libraries will not be able to keep up with these increases that we have had in recent years,” adds Frilling in Kenton County. “It seems like every year the prices go up and we have to try to fill our holds and keep our customers happy.

This may or may not be the case.

Ohio State Librarian Wendy Knapp said libraries are monitoring what happens this spring.

“The editors have done a great job partnering up with us, responding, providing additional allowances during the pandemic and a lot of these are running through March 31, so that’s great news for libraries. . But, of course, as librarians we ‘you all think’ What happens on April 1st? “And” What can our budgets absorb in the future? “”

The Amazon problem

Speaking with local libraries, there was another clear and overriding concern: Amazon.

“When a library buys an eBook, it costs between $ 30 and $ 50,” says Knapp. “So when you buy your Amazon eBook for $ 6.99 and wonder why your library can’t afford it, your library will only have it for two years and then have to buy it. again if it’s still popular … I try very hard to keep that perspective in people’s minds. “

Knapp says libraries want to talk to publishers about re-establishing “the e-book ecosystem emerging from the pandemic.”

Another concern is with books that are only published on – or are exclusive to – Amazon, making them unavailable to libraries.

“They have exclusive Audible contracts so we can’t buy the audiobooks or they have exclusive Kindle contracts and the eBooks don’t become available for purchase at all because Amazon will not play with any of the systems available in the library ( like Overdrive), ”Justice says.

She worries that this will be confusing for customers who just want a particular book and don’t understand why if a book is available on Amazon, it is not available everywhere, such as in the library. Additionally, a library may be able to obtain a physical copy of a book, but not a digital copy.

“It’s already a little confusing, especially when they can go to Amazon and buy it right away. to buy it ?’ And in our case, it’s because it’s not available to us, and it won’t be. “

What do the authors think?

The authors are also annoyed by Amazon. The Association of American Publishers, the Authors’ Guild and the American Booksellers Association wrote a joint letter in August to lament Amazon’s control over the market and industry.

“As far as the publishing industry is concerned,” the groups wrote, “we believe that Amazon is acting anti-competitive in a number of ways, dictating the economics of its supplier relationships so that publishers, their authors and booksellers who sell on Amazon each pay more annually for Amazon’s distribution and advertising services, but receive less each year in return. “

However, the Authors ‘Guild, the largest writers’ organization in the world, does not side firmly with libraries when it comes to pricing digital documents. Last year, the group released a pair of statements saying its members love libraries, but also need to look after their own financial futures.

“The central question that seems we should all be asking ourselves is how can we ensure that writers can afford to continue writing? Compared to the current author income crisis, we didn’t think that having to wait eight weeks for a book was an unreasonable compromise, especially when printed copies are available for loan. But we hear from those who disagree and understand that there are people who might need immediate access to eBooks and windowing could create a delay in queues.

“The Guild will continue to support efforts that bring writers, publishers and libraries together to explore new business models for library lending. It’s still a relatively young market, and we saw Macmillan’s new model as a another experience that will provide more feedback on what works No model is perfect, and the latest reconfigurations will need to be adjusted over time as the markets continue to evolve.


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