May 24, 2016
The book worm has turned.
Local libraries are making noise about eBook prices, saying that they pay multinational publishers up to five times more than average consumers do for the same titles.
|Toronto Public Library's city librarian, Vickery Bowles, |
says the current rate for ebooks isn’t sustainable for
public institutions. (Melissa Renwick / Toronto Star)
That model is part of what’s causing higher prices for them, says to Kate Edwards, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers.
“They’re not tailored to the Canadian market,” Edwards said of the way international publishers evaluate libraries’ reach and determine prices. Many publishers also charge in U.S. dollars, which adds to the cost for Canadian branches.
Last summer, four Canadian public libraries began pushing for change; since then, their group, Canadian Public Libraries for Fair Book Pricing, has grown to include 29 systems. Libraries say demand for their eBooks has grown 1,200 per cent since 2009, and meeting that is denting their budgets.
In February, the group outlined its demands in an open letter to the “Big Five” publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Random House and Simon & Schuster.
They have a meeting scheduled with Simon & Schuster this month as a result, said Toronto Public Library city librarian Vickery Bowles. And one major publisher, Penguin Random House, has agreed to offer better prices for its digital books
Libraries say the eBook prices they face are 1.5 to five times what consumers pay, and have not been adjusted to take the drop in the Canadian dollar into account (apart from the recent changes by Penguin Random House). They say charges from Canadian publishers, with whom they meet regularly, are not a problem.
In the case of a James Patterson crime book, the library groups says, average readers pay $14.99, while a library pays $121 per copy (which would be read by multiple patrons). And some publishers’ eBooks expire after a year, so libraries must repurchase the stock.
For print books, “we’ll pay $18 to $25,” said Bowles of the Toronto library. “There’s no premium; in fact, we get volume discounts.”
Why the high prices? “My understanding is that publishers are concerned that borrowing an eBook is so much easier,” said Bowles, adding that she understands why there would be a premium, but the current rate isn’t sustainable for public institutions.
HarperCollins Canada says the prices they offer libraries are already similar to what the group is asking for — except for the expiry it’s placed on eBooks after 26 consecutive lends, determined by the publisher to be the average uses a physical library book gets before breaking or becoming unpopular.
“HarperCollins is committed to the library channel and has a model that supports library purchasing . . . . Our model is designed to be cost-effective for libraries and based on actual usage,” the publisher said in an emailed statement.
Though the library group has reached out to government agencies, including the Competition Bureau and minister of Canadian heritage, “they aren’t suggesting what the legislative tools are to help with that,” Bowles said.
It’s unclear which government department could create policy surrounding the public purchasing of eBooks. Ottawa councillor and chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Tim Tierney says regulation could come from the Copyright Act. It “dictates who can use something without being sued, in a nutshell,” Tierney said, adding that the act was amended in 2012 so that schools don’t have to pay to play films and music in their classrooms.
“We’re not asking for free, but we’re asking for fair,” he says.
Source: The Toronto Star