The Insanity Continues: eBook Prices Increase by 220%

Urghhh. I wish I had a happier post to write today. Sadly, there is going to be a lot of moaning, groaning, griping and complaining. BUT! I imagine you’ll be as much of a Debbie Downer as I once you read this. If you’re already in the loop with what’s going on, jump on my cranky bandwagon, won’t you?

Much like the Librarian in Black, I am fed up with publishers abusing libraries when it comes to ebooks. I am not in the position at my job to “break up” with them, though. We still subscribe to OverDrive, and I still have to explain to patrons the convoluted process of finding ebooks. As a result, I also have to try to rationalize why they can only get certain titles, and why certain titles disappear after a while:

Me: “Well, if the book is published under HarperCollins, once the ebook has been circulated 26 times, it is no longer available until we purchase a new copy or license.”

Patron: “Huh? Why does it do that? Don’t you own the book once you purchase it?”

Me: *headdesk*

Yeah, you’d think. You’d think that when a library buys an ebook, it would work like a physical book. We have materials on the shelves at my library that are close to 10 years old, in good shape, and have been circulated far more than 26 times—but the publishers don’t demand we buy another copy. Nor do they demand we buy another copy at at a price increase of 200%-300%. But they do for ebooks. Few things are more frustrating than confusing a patron while trying to answer his or her question. At my current job, this has really only happened when I’ve tried to explain how ebook lending works. No joke. Our older patrons have an easier time configuring a wireless network to their iPad.

Yesterday, OverDrive announced Hatchette Book Group, which includes publishers like Little, Brown & Company, will increase ebook costs by an average of 220%. Fortunately, they have not yet placed circulation restrictions on the ebooks. I’ve become such a cynic about this issue, though, that I give it another year before they do. Keep in mind this announcement comes several months after Random House increased ebook costs by 300%.

At what point do we say, “Enough is enough”? Sure, we could boycott ebooks entirely. But I don’t feel that’s a realistic solution. Patrons want ebooks. If we just say “Nope, we don’t offer ’em, sorry,” we are doing a disservice to our community. I understand that publishers and authors need to make money. I don’t condone piracy and I think artists should get paid for their creativity. I can only explain this volatility with ebook pricing due to the simple and blatant greed of the publishers.

Some of them feed the us canned responses—like, “Our commitment to libraries, as imperative to our momentum, if not to our existence as publishers, is greater than ever” (I’m looking at you, Random House)—which are astonishingly hypocritical. You acknowledge that committing to libraries is imperative to your existence as publishers, yet you’re constantly jacking up the costs of ebooks when it’s obvious library budgets are tight? How does that make sense?

If it hasn’t already, these price increases could very well have a damaging effect on libraries. In what other professional field do we see such an insane tug-of-war between two industries that could, in actuality, form a symbiotic relationship? Here’s an idea: Publishers provide reasonably priced ebooks to libraries, libraries provide ebooks to patrons, who discover great new authors and stories, and become loyal readers (and buyers). This is the way it has worked with physical books for ages.

Instead, these avaricious publishers would rather place institutions that are “imperative” to their “momentum” and “existence” in dire financial straits. There surely is no way libraries can continue to serve the public and offer the public equal access to information if the cost of ebooks are not placed under sort of regulation. Publishers discriminate against libraries. And until someone (or something) says otherwise, they will continue to manifest their greed by discriminating against us and draining our budgets.

Emily Gover is the in-house librarian for EasyBib. She will be presenting and exhibiting at the Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy next week. You can find her on Twitter, @Emily_EasyBib, or posting news you can use at the EasyBib Librarians Facebook page.


  1. Pamela Hansen
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    You don’t ever own an e-book; it’s a long term lease. This was shown very clearly last November when Penguin pulled all their e-books from Kindles for several days.

    • Posted September 27, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink | Reply

      Great point–it’s not just with libraries, but seemingly all users.

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