By Pat Rutkowski | New Britain Public Library Director at July 27, 2012 | 8:00 am | Print
Open any sales flyer and see advertisements for e-book readers. E-books (electronic books) are the fastest growing area of publishing and continue to grow in popularity. Last year, e-books outsold all print books on Amazon. In the first quarter of 2012, sales figures show they have just passed another significant milestone on their way to becoming the most popular book format. For the first time ever, e-books have outsold hardcover books.
Libraries are seeing a surge in demand for e-book titles as well. Despite the fact that libraries have been in the business of lending e-books for several years, it has not gotten easier and most library users are not aware of the challenges we face.
Most major publishers won’t allow libraries to lend their titles, while others impose restrictions or charge double or triple the print price. Big name publishers, Simon and Schuster and Macmillan, have never sold e-books to libraries nor are there future plans to do so. For that reason, you might have noticed that some of the most popular and favorite authors are not in our downloadable collection. Penguin Books stopped selling their e-books to libraries in Nov 2011. Harper Collins do sell to libraries, but their library e-books “self-destruct” after 26 checkouts, forcing libraries to re-purchase copies in order to continue offering the title to their users. And most recently, Random House drastically raised the price of e-books for libraries, as much as three times the price a consumer would pay to purchase it. On the plus side, Random House e-books are available on day one and don’t have an expiration date. This higher price tag comes at a time when libraries are already struggling with budget cuts and strapped financially.
There have been some positive changes. This past September, Kindle books became available to library users to download. And some promising news ahead – Penguin has developed a pilot program in August at the New York and Brooklyn public libraries. They will re-introduce Penguin e-books to those libraries and if all goes well will make their titles available to all libraries six months after they go on sale in stores and Web sites. The good news is the prices Penguin will charge to libraries will be in the same range as those that individual customers pay. The titles will expire after one year for libraries and will have to be re-purchased. The bottom line on this, if you want one of their titles as an e-book right away, you will have to buy it.
This we know for sure – digital resources will continue to evolve and there will be many changes along the way for an undetermined time. Who knows what the future holds. What we do know is that the future is digital and libraries must continue to prepare for it and be part of it.