Chatty Cathys

Talk Amongst Yourselves: E-Book Battle Royale: Libraries v. Publishing Houses

I just went CUHRAZY on my library’s Overdrive site, adding e-books to my wish list, checking out all the new things they’ve added. I must say, I really REALLY love that libraries are starting to offer e-books for our Kindles, Nooks, and other various reading devices, as well as audiobooks that we can download to our phones or other listening devices. I think it’s fantastic that libraries are staying hip with technology and offering their patrons other options besides traditional books and audiobooks.

So as I’m perusing the libraries site, I came across this link: Why aren’t there more e-books?

My first thought was “Duh, because maybe the library just doesn’t have all the funds to buy all the e-books. Chill out folks!”

What I read was kind of ridiculously… not cool, yet very conflicting.

Essentially, there are some publishing houses that either DO NOT sell e-books to libraries, price them so high libraries can’t afford them, or limit the amounts of times those titles can be checked out.

Now, the business side of me gets it. Why sell something to an organization that just lets people use that object for free when those people could buy it for his or herself from your company? That makes NO FREAKING SENSE! I would wants all the monies so I could make more money to hire (or however they do it) more authors and make more books so I could make more money… you get the idea.

However, the blogger/sort-of-an-industry-person-in-my-own-mind side of me doesn’t want to think of the people who make all my lovely books as greedy cotton-headed ninnymoggins. I want to defend them and say “But they make great books! We need to buy their books so they can make more great books!” The library is still full of lovely books that we can always check out (even though sometimes they don’t have new books right away which is super annoying but I still love you library)!

But sadly, the book-loving-library-patron-since-1984 side of me feels that these publishing houses ARE cotton-headed ninnymoggins and are just being greedy with the e-books. Libraries are places that support our communities, that give us opportunities to read and expand our mind. If publishers are limiting our libraries from doing this, whether it be by charging outrageous prices or just flat out not selling to them, is this limiting us as readers?

As you can see, I’m a little torn on this issue. I think that libraries have done a fantastic job of stocking their shelves with amazing books, both old and new. I love perusing my library’s shelves, even if I don’t check out a thing (ha, like that actually happens).

But I am a little saddened that some publishers, who happen to have authors like Nora Roberts, Meg Cabot, and Lauren Oliver under their umbrella, are doing this in order to turn profit. While I don’t think not having some e-books available to libraries is going to be the death of the written word, I do hate that the reason our libraries don’t have some titles is because of the publishing houses limiting them.

I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on this and/or if you have any other insight to this issue. Do you think this is an issue to get up in arms about or do you think it’s a relatively non-issue? Does your preference for physical books over e-books affect your opinion on this issue?

I’d love to know!


10 thoughts on “Talk Amongst Yourselves: E-Book Battle Royale: Libraries v. Publishing Houses”

  1. Oooh very interesting topic!!! It’s like, I get it but I don’t all at the same time. I don’t really understand how checking out a digital copy is different from checking out a physical copy? First off, I don’t know much about how libraries obtain new releases but I don’t feel like I’d be wrong in guessing they get discounts and not pay full retail, no? So why can’t the library pay the same price as the regular book for the ebook? They have the license to the ebook and only one person can check out that license at a time. Am I wrong in not understanding how that’s different than physically checking out a book and bringing it back? It’s already been paid for – It’s not like people can KEEP the ebook when they check it out because they are set to expire after a certain amt of time (at least at my library). So I don’t get how they wouldn’t still be making the money? Maybe I’m not seeing it right so if someone can explain to me, please do! 🙂


    1. Yes! That’s how I feel. Maybe I’m just not getting the point to it. I would think it would be cheaper for a publisher to make an e-book than a physical book, and like you said… it’s not as though we can keep the e-books! I’m still on the fence with this one in that I’m not quite getting it.


      1. Oh good at least we’re on the same page! That’s why I think too. People still pay (almost) the same amount for most big titles and I’d suspect it’s cheaper to make ebooks too. So…. what’s the big deal? lol


  2. This was a popular debate in our library science classes. Libraries are huge $$$ to the book publishers, so you’d think they’d push to make us happy! But no. The main concern of the publishers seems to be the security of the books, that patrons won’t be able to rip the books and offer the content free on file sharing sites. (to that I say…who does that? Maybe a few random people, but I don’t think it’s as big a problem as they make it out to be!)

    The solution, in my mind, is to make the digital book like a physical book, cost wise. The average circulation for a hardcover book is something like 26 checkouts before It needs to be replaced. For a paperback it’s more like 9. So I like HarperCollins’ solution of allowing the e-books to only be checked out 26 times — the library has to buy a new copy. That’s why the libraries will buy multiple copies of a new digital release, and just not replace them as they “wear out” and the book becomes less popular.

    The flip side of that is then the library wants to only buy books that hit that 26 circulation point. It becomes a price-per-use issue. So they only buy the most popular books that they know will get checked out. That’s why we can’t find the more obscure YA stuff on Overdrive. Of course, the same issue exists with a print book, but we don’t think about that because its ALWAYS been an issue. Plus you can trade or sell a print book and make some money back.

    Whew. I just wrote a whole blog post there myself!


    1. Thanks for the insight! I feel like I’m missing something here with this debate, so I’m glad you pointed out the security thing. Didn’t think about that! I agree with you about HarperCollins’ solution; that would at least give us some newer options for e-books. I just think refusing to sell them to libraries limits us as readers who enjoy e-books.


  3. Interesting post and comments. I love the library but am disappointed in the e-book and digital audiobook selection, particularly mp3 audiobooks. Like you, I can check out the physical books and that’s fine, but I rather like the convenience of e-books and wish that they were easier to get. I remember everyone was up in arms about the Harper Collins e-book loan restrictions, but at least they are willing to make their e-books available at all.
    You inspired me to go look at what’s available right now at my local library on overdrive and I was happy to see current books like Decked with Holly, Crown of Embers, Meant To Be, The Lies That Bind, Mystic City. There’s long wait times, but still nice selection, so yay!


  4. So I did some research and hopefully I can add a little bit more info to the debate. Some of the reasons publishers hesitate to include their titles in ebook format in libraries were listed above. Another big one is the convenience and the effect it has on profits. Checking out an ebook is extremely easy compared to actually picking a book up at the library. The value of a physical book is higher because it takes more work/time to get the book. There’s a difference in checking out a book vs buying one as well. There are some people that, if they’re going to go through the effort to go out and get a book, they want to be able to keep it. This type of person has a positive impact on sales. Ebook lending negates that, in a way. So basically, publishers need to either add a level of inconvenience in checking out ebooks or increase prices for libraries in order to keep profits from decreasing. It’s difficult to make checking out an ebook more inconvenient, so they have to target prices instead. This is what HarperCollins is doing with their 26 checkout limit.

    It seems to me what it boils down to is profit. As someone who wants to work in the industry in the future, I totally understand where the publishing houses are coming from. At the end of the day, publishing is a business and if they want to keep publishing books, they have to be making money. Ebook lending without restrictions threatens that. I think HarperCollins’ strategy is a good one, and if it’s successful, I can see other publishing houses following suit.


  5. I’ve been pretty disappointed in the library ebook selection since I got my Kindle six months ago. I check out ebooks when I can, but more often than not what I want to read is only available in paper and I check that out instead. I vastly prefer to read on my Kindle for numerous reasons, but I also don’t like paying for things I can read for free, so my Kindle usage is not near what it would be if the library had a better ebook selection (and if Overdrive was actually easy to search/browse, but that is a totally different complaint).

    That said, I guess I sort of understand security issues with ebooks, but publishing companies seem way behind the times if that is holding them up from distributing their stuff electronically. Security of electronic files is always an issue, but if the books are available free-for-loan, I don’t see why there’d be much motivating the illegal copying/distribution of ebooks. Sure, there’d be some rulebreakers, but I think most people would lose their motivation for stealing in this situation. I dunno, I think once the newness of ebooks wears off, publishing companies will come around. It seems to happen that new technology gets less restrictive as time goes by, so I’m just biding my time, hoping that the publishing companies relax a little and find a system (I think the Harper limit on checkouts is actually a smart idea, since it approximates the amount libraries would invest in paper copies) that allows them to remain profitable while still providing libraries with a wide selection of books in both print and electronic formats.


  6. I should state right off the bat that I am a librarian (in a public library) so my opinions are coming from that side of the debate.

    I’m just going to share some of my thoughts on a few things.

    I’m not a fan of how publishers are limiting and/or preventing libraries from purchasing ebooks. There is a huge benefit that libraries give both authors and publishers. We make it easy and free for people to try out new books. Let’s be honest, how many people feel okay with forking over 15-20 bucks for one book when we know nothing of the author or the book. What if they end up not liking the book? That kind of thinking is in lots of people’s minds when they are debating about buying a book. What if someone doesn’t buy a book, because they aren’t sure they will like it. However, what if that book would have been exactly what that buyer wanted. She would never know. But libraries take out that worry. We allow people to browse and find new books they may have been too hesitant to try otherwise.

    I’m sure authors want to make money for their hard work in writing a book, but don’t they want their book read? And libraries help with that! Majorly. Not to mention a reader might come across a book, fall in love with it, and then start buying the new titles as they are released.

    Also, in terms of the 26 “check out” limit. I am quite sure that most books circ many more times than 26 times before they fall apart. I did a very basic search of some of the books that I know are popular in the library to see how they are holding up. I looked at:
    Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins has circulated 50 times.
    Matilda by Roald Dahl has circulated 83 times.
    Lake House by James Patterson has circulated 46 times
    The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle has circulated 43 times.

    All of these particular books are still in good shape, and no librarian would withdraw these copies due to wear and tear. The pages are not falling out, nor are they torn. Even The Very Hungry Caterpillar which is a children’s picture book was in good shape. Granted this was a very basic experiment of sorts, but every book that I could think of that circulates often (and was checked in so I could look at it) was still in good shape. And another thing, you have to take into account how many books are checked out, but never read. We all do it. So if the book is never opened, that certainly limits wear and tear.


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