The State of eBooks and Libraries

Lawrence, something tells us you love LPL’s digital collections. Within the last 12 months, LPL cardholders checked out 138,466‬ ebooks and audiobooks. We’ve heard how much you like the new titles available on OverDrive’s Libby app, opens a new window, and how nice it is to check out eBooks and audiobooks immediately on Hoopla, opens a new window. We also know it comes with some frustration. 

Ever find that we don’t have a certain title on Libby? Ever get frustrated with long wait periods for new books? Ever reach the checkout limit on Hoopla and have to wait until the next month for more? We feel you. While we’re doing the best to get you eBooks and audiobooks you want, we admit the shortcomings and would like to be transparent here about why things are the way they are and that they may not be getting any better. 

What it boils down to is cost and the library’s materials budget. You’re probably already aware that consumer prices for eBooks aren’t significantly cheaper than print books, opens a new window, and you may know that audiobooks are even more expensive. You may not know, though, that the cost for libraries is significantly higher.

First, let’s look at the different pricing models for our two platforms. On OverDrive, we purchase licenses for eBooks and Audiobooks at a set cost. Each licensed copy can be checked out by one user at a time. Hoopla, though, has a pay as you go model based on checkouts. Depending on the title and format, the library is charged anywhere between $0.99 and $4.99 for each item users borrow, and each title can be checked out by an unlimited number of patrons simultaneously.

Which model is better? On Hoopla, we know the value of each checkout, but the more checkouts there are, the more the library pays overall. With OverDrive’s model, the more patrons checkout a title, the better value we get out of that set cost, but we’ll never be able to accurately predict the popularity of a title. 

It doesn’t help that libraries don’t pay the same price as consumers. For example, you as an individual could buy Stephen King’s new book The Institute, opens a new window for your Kindle for just $14.99. The library’s price for one digital copy on OverDrive? $59.99. And you could buy the Audible copy for $30.62 (or "free" with subscription). The library’s cost for one audio copy on OverDrive is $99.99.

These prices are determined by the publishers. What’s more, most of the “Big 5” publishers require libraries to repurchase eBooks after two years or after a set number of checkouts. They call this metered access. So, if we want to keep an eBook of The Institute in the library’s digital collection, we’ll have to pay $59.99 every two years. This used to only apply to eBooks, but now Hachette has led the way in metering audiobooks as well, opens a new window.

In addition to higher prices and metered access, audiobook publishers like Macmillan and Blackstone are starting to embargo new titles. MacMillan recently announced, opens a new window that, starting in November, libraries, no matter the size, will only be able to buy one digital copy of their new titles within the first eight weeks of publication. One digital copy that only one patron will be able to check out at a time. After the eight-week mark, libraries will be able to buy more copies for access, but those copies will be twice the price and expire after two years.

Embargoing, higher prices, and metered access aren’t new, but now that more publishers are moving to metered access without lowering their prices significantly, there's going to be a long-term impact on library collection budgets. It's always been LPL's mission to provide the resources and books the community needs, and we've done our best to keep up with digital demand. But we will see these impacts too if we want to maintain an in-demand collection of new and backlist titles.

By sharing this, we hope to shed some light on our digital collection strategy and why we might not have a particular title available in digital format. We LOVE how much you use our digital collection, and want you to know we're doing our best to meet your needs in this landscape. We could also use your help.

What can you do?

  1. If you’re on Twitter, click to tweet about why we need #eBooksForAll:
  2. Sign ALA's petition against Macmillan's eBook embargo, opens a new window
  3. Share feedback on these lending terms with the Big 5 publishers:     
  4. Continue to use our digital collections. We cannot demonstrate the value and need for access without your support in this way.

While these changes may impact our digital collections, we at LPL will continue to do the best we can to provide the eBooks and content our community needs. We appreciate your support.

Thank you!

William Ottens is the Cataloging & Collection Development Coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library