Message from the Director: The Ebook Dilemma

You are impatiently awaiting the release date of a novel by your favorite author.  There’s a holds list on the physical copy, so you pause, I know what I’ll do!  I’ll borrow the ebook!  Only there’s a hold list on that too. 

Quite frequently readers will come to the service desk, wondering why they have to wait for an ebook copy.  An ebook isn’t like a physical book. It’s not sitting on someone’s night stand waiting to be returned to the library so someone else can take it home and read it.  Why can’t everyone have it digitally checked out at the same time?  The answer to this question is not simple. 

Publishers dictate how many people have access to, and even how many times an ebook can be borrowed.  Unlike a print book which can be checked out numerous times until it’s falling apart, ebook checkouts are monitored.  Most titles need to be repurchased after two years or 52 checkouts, whichever comes first. Over the years, publishers have continued to change their restrictions on digital borrowing, further confusing the issue for libraries.  Just recently,  Macmillan Publishing placed a four month embargo on new titles, so a library can only buy one copy of a title at a discounted price for four months. This only adds to the patron’s wait time on popular titles.  

Can you imagine if all the physical books from 2017 and prior had to be repurchased by the library?  Ebook checkouts are constantly on the rise, making this a real problem.  Ebook copies are also significantly more expensive than print copies.  A digital copy of Tara Westover’s popular memoir Educated is $55.00.  The same title is priced at $28.00 for a hardcover copy, almost 50% less expensive than the digital copy, and there are no limits on how many times the library can circulate it or how long they can own it. 

What are the next steps for libraries facing this challenge?  While there are no easy solutions right now, public libraries are continuing to work towards a solution with publishers.  The American Library Association (ALA) and Public Library Association (PLA), have both issued statements condemning Macmillan’s most recent change and continue to put pressure on publishers to work with libraries on a pricing model and structure that works, rather than continuing to place restrictions and barriers to ebook lending. 

What is the Livingston Library doing to help alleviate this situation for patrons?  We continue to purchase additional copies of popular ebooks, especially those that Livingston patrons have placed on hold.  We also provide Livingston patrons with up to ten downloads per month on Hoopla, a platform that offers many ebook titles with no wait time.  Nooks preloaded with popular materials are also available to be borrowed from the library. 

We don’t yet know what the solution is to this complicated problem. But one thing is certain- we understand your frustration!  We are frustrated too.  As always, we appreciate the continued support and understanding we receive from our patrons on this issue.  Please bear with us as we work towards a solution on digital lending.  

~Amy Babcock Landry, Director 

 

Livingston, NJ 07039, USA

3 Replies to “Message from the Director: The Ebook Dilemma”

  1. Thank you for your informative article. I did not realize exactly how the system works. It is helpful to know as I see books placed on hold. I continue to believe the library is one of the most valuable resources in a community and I am grateful everyday for all that your staff does to get us free access to so many reading materials.

    Thanks again.

  2. Very interesting. Who knew that this how it works and the cost involved. Very timely information.
    Doreen Mollenhauet

  3. I really appreciate your comments regarding how the digital ebook world works with the library. So this is very helpful.

    I like ebooks when I travel because they take up less room than the physical. We usually purchase them and share. However I like the idea of getting them from the library so I can return them when done. Since most are light reading that makes sense to me.

    For other more meaningful reads I like having the book. Perhaps the library can work out an arrangement with publishers to give us a choice – rent (library takeout) or purchase (after the read). The library could be the middle “person.”

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