The sad truth about the cost of library ebooks

Ebooks have been a lifeline during the various stages of lockdown, quarantine and social distancing. Even those who prefer print books have found that ebooks offer a safer and more convenient alternative – and, in cases where bookstores and libraries have been shut down or limited, ebooks may indeed be the only option available to them.

Many local libraries have had to temporarily close, limit hours and get creative with ways to continue to serve their patrons (hello, curbside service!).Because of these changes, a lot of people have discovered their library’s ebook collections for the first time. They have also discovered borrowing ebooks means limited selections of titles, limited numbers of copies, and long waits for new and popular titles. It can also be difficult to access the format you want, especially if you have a preference for either ebooks or audiobooks. And depending on what services your library offers, you may not be able to access the book you want on the device you prefer to read or listen on.

If you are new to digital lending models, one of the first things you will probably think is that none of it makes any sense. These are digital copies, right? Then why are they limited to one copy at at time? Why is the library telling me that they can’t afford to buy more of the books that everybody seems to want to read?

If you want to understand some of the economics behind library purchasing and lending, I highly recommend this piece by a collection development librarian called Hold On, eBooks Cost HOW Much? The Inconvenient Truth About Library eCollections.The piece does a great job of laying out the information and costs associated with library ebooks, including some great charts that clearly show the problem in context. Included is a list of things you can do to help support public library ebook lending.It’s something to keep in mind as you borrow your next read.

 

The Free Library of Philadelphia no longer offers paid-access cards

FLP_fee_card

It may be the first example of fallout from Macmillan’s ebook embargo and other traditional publishers tightening of licensing for ebooks and audiobooks. Today, The Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) sent an email to out-of-area fee card patrons letting them know that they will no longer be offing paid-access cards, effective November 1, 2019.

Here is the email I received:

Dear Customer:

In order to focus its efforts and resources on customers in its direct service area, the Free Library will no longer offer paid-access cards.

Your paid-access card will remain valid and usable for the duration of the term for which you paid. At the end of that term, you will no longer be able to access the Free Library’s resources, and you will be unable to renew your card for a further term.

Thank you for your understanding!

Several thing things stand out about this email. Note the words “In order to focus its efforts and resources on customers in its direct service area”. Also note the date, November 1st, which is the day Macmillan’s new ebook terms take effect for libraries. Interestingly, the change was NOT mentioned in the library’s community newsletter for November.

I have to admit, I expected that we would start seeing this happen. Macmillan’s embargo, along with publishers ending perpetual licencing for ebooks and audiobooks is artificially creating a scarcity for these materials. In order for libraries to ensure that residents in their local communities have access to materials, libraries are going to have to make hard decisions about the number of patrons their budgets allow them to serve. It makes sense that libraries will act to ensure access to the taxpayers who are directly funding services. (I just did not expect this to happen quite this soon!)

This is going to make it difficult for users such as myself who rely on paid access cards to supplement local libraries that have poor ebook selections and long waiting lists. A few numbers for comparison: My city library offers a total of 1,891 ebook and audiobook titles in its Overdrive collection. The Free Library of Philadelphia, on the other hand, offers 24,000 digital titles in its Overdrive collection. In 2018, The FLP loaned 449,547 eBooks (adult and children’s) and 69,208
digital audiobooks. (Note that the FLP annual report does not break out fee card access numbers separately.)

This change by the FLP will probably impact a large number of ebook library patrons. Back in 2007-2008 when the first generation Kindles became popular, the Free Library was one of the first libraries to offer ebooks to non-residents. KIndle users spread the word and the library became a very popular option for avid readers, especially among seniors and those who need the font scaling options that ebooks provide.

If you haven’t already, please visit the ALA’s #ebooksforall site to learn more about what publishers are doing to prevent libraries from offering ebook access for everyone and sign the ALA’s petition while you are there. There will be a lot more stories like this in the future unless we act to make sure that ebooks are freely available in libraries.

National Library Week: Library Extension for Chrome

Since it is #NationalLibraryWeek, we are focusing this week on ebooks and libraries. While I check sales every day and do have subscriptions to both Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, I still manage to find quite a few books that are not available through either service in the format that I want, at a price that I am willing to pay.

For the past few months, I have been using the Library Extension for Chrome to help me find Library books. It is hands down the best tool I have found for helping me to find books from the library.

Library Extension is an extension for the Chrome browser that allows you to see library books as you shop on sites like Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes and Noble. The extension currently supports over 3200 libraries that use the OverDrive and 3M Cloud systems. It is currently free and you do not need to register or sign up for an account.

Here’s how it works. Once you install the browser extension, you can go into options on your browser and set up the libraries you want it to check (and, yes, you can add more than one library!). You can also choose to check for either physical book or ebooks. Here’s what that screen looks like:

(All three libraries shown are from the Mobileread.com list of libraries that loan digital materials to non-residents in yesterday’s post. I am currently checking out the Fairfax library collection.)

After installation, when you are browsing for a supported site for books, you will see the books available from the libraries that you have selected. You can also click on the hold button and go right to the library page for the book and place a hold. Here’s a picture where I searched for Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train:

Note a couple of things in the picture above: If you have the extension set for ebooks, it will return results for both audiobooks and ebooks if the library has both. Also note that one of the results that comes up for the Brooklyn Public Library is Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train / Summary. Because of the way the OverDrive System works, the extension may also show results for similar titles.

If you have your extension set for ebooks and a book is not available at your library, you will see a message that says that the book is not available as an ebook. This is message will also come up for Amazon exclusives like this month’s Beach Lawyer by Avery Duff or books that are in the Kindle Unlimited program.

If you get too many “This title does not appear to be available as an ebook” results for books that you know are available in your public library, you may have encountered a bug or a catalog change and should contact Library Extension’s support team. The team is absolutely fantastic at responding quickly and resolving issues!

Here are a few of the things I do that may help you get more out of the browser extension:

  • I create wishlists for each library I use. This allows me to put a book on a list for a particular library so that I can easily find it later when I am read to read it.
  • I also use the extension to compare the number of copies available at each library to see which library is likely to have the shorter hold time.
  • I check libraries to see if they have an entire series before I start reading, It is a great tool for checking if all the books in the series are available before you commit to the series.
  • I have also added libraries that I am interested in to the extension as a way to see if they have enough of the titles I am interested in before I pay an out-of-area fee. It is a way to “try before you buy”.

Library extension is currently available only for Chrome. A Firefox version is under development. For more information, you can visit libraryextension.com.

Have you tried Library Extension? What did you think?

National Library Week: The shifting landscape of the digital library

Given the high prices of e-books, the ability to borrow digital materials is a lifesaver, particularly for those on a budget. There are many sites which offer free editions of public domain books, but other than a paid subscription service, for newer books, public libraries are the easiest way to read without paying the high prices publishers are demanding for newer ebooks.

Since library borrows of ebooks are up, it would seem like ebook readers agree. In 2016 alone, OverDrive, one of the leading distributors of digital materials to libraries, announced a total of  196 million borrows worldwide. According to OverDrive, there were 49 libraries surpassed over 1 million borrows each. However since there are a number of digital distributors to libraries, that also means that’s there is not one central source (that I could find, anyway) that has recent numbers for total digital borrows from libraries.

While the ability to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, music, movies and more from the library without leaving your house is definitely convenient, one of the unfortunate realities is that, for a number of reasons, all library experiences are not identical.Depending on your library, their vendors, your preferred device and format choices (Mobi or ePub, audiobook or ebook), the digital library experience can vary considerably.

There are number of library distributors who distribute digital materials to libraries. OverDrive is probably one of the biggest and best known to many patrons, but there are others like 3M cloud and Axis 360. Some, like Hoopla, offer a mixed variety of digital content.There are also a number of vendors that specialize in specific types of content (such as One Click digital for audiobooks, Freegal for music, Zinio and Flipster  for magazines).

Different libraries may use different vendors and/or combination of vendors. That means each library may offer a unique combination of materials and services.

Cost is usually a huge factor in which services libraries offer. For ebooks, publishers charge libraries more than they do individuals to license materials. The pricing structure also varies from service to service. Services like OverDrive use the One Copy/One User lending model. The library can only loan out a finite number of ebooks at one time, depending on how many licenses they have purchased for a particular title.

It is becoming increasingly common to hear stories about libraries changing distributors in order to try to keep cost down. Just this week, the Auburn, Alabama Public Library announced that it is moving from Overdrive to 3M Cloud. Because it is affiliated with book publishers, 3M Cloud offers its services at lower price than OverDrive. The problem is that 3M Cloud content does not work with e-ink Kindles, leaving Kindle readers out in the cold unless they read on their Fire tablet.

Unlike OverDrive, Hoopla allows for simultaneous usage, meaning patrons do not have to wait for a popular title. Because of cost, however, most libraries have a limit on how many Hoopla items can be checked out in a given month. As this article on the CLEVNET library consortium in Ohio  shows, some libraries have had to reduce the number of items available to patrons because of the costs. Like 3M Clud, Hoopla only works on phones and tablets, not on e-ink devices like the Kindle.

The bottom line is, the amount of money available to your library system will determine what your library can offer on the digital front. The best resource for checking what your local library offers is their website. Most libraries list their digital services on their website.

While more ebooks than ever are being offered by local libraries, I still get email from people frustrated that their library does not have a large enough selection of ebooks or titles in a particular genre. While services like the Digital Public Library of America, The Internet Archive and the Open Library have come a long way towards making material available, we are still a long way away from a true national digital public library that can be accessed by everyone.

If you happen to live in a district that either has a small ebook selection or not enough titles in the genres you prefer to read, you may have some options. You may want to check with your library to see if they have reciprocal privileges with other libraries in the county or the state where you live. There are some libraries that offer non-resident cards online or via email for a fee. (There is a list here on Mobileread.com.) The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Public Library are both popular with avid ebook readers and the fee for each is a modest $50.

I personally have cards at both The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Public Library. My local library has very limited options for digital materials. The city library has reciprocal privileges with our county library, but those privileges don’t include access to the county’s fantastic selection of digital materials and even paid out-of-area cards there do not include digital lending . My only choice for a wider selection is to pay for a card somewhere else.

So how about you? What’s your experience been borrowing ebooks from your library?

As we continue #NationalLibraryWeek discussions, tomorrow, we’ll discuss tools for library reading strategies. 🙂

It is National Library Week!

This week, April 9-15, is National Library Week. This year’s theme is Libraries Transform. The theme celebrates the shifting focus of libraries. The modern library is no longer just about having books, periodicals, or music music available for patrons; modern libraries are increasingly more about doing things for and with people and a greater role as a community shared space.

The official hashtags for the week are #NationalLibraryWeek and #LibrariesTransform. There are also official “I Love Libraries” accounts to follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Just a few of the highlight events for the National Library Week:

Monday, April 10, 2017, the Top Ten List of Most Challenged Books for 2016 will be released in the ALA 2017 State of America’s Library Report.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 is National Library Workers Day, a day to celebrate the contributions of library workers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 is National Bookmobile Day. The days celebrates bookmobiles and the community outreach done by the awesome professionals who work with bookmobile programs.

Thursday, April 13, 2017 is Take Action for Libraries Day. Libraries will be asking for help to save federal funding for libraries.

During the entire week, there is also an Expert in the Library Promotion. Give a shout out on social media and let the world know what your librarian is an expert in. Use the “hashtag #expertinthelibrary and  and post between Saturday, April 8 at noon CT and Saturday, April 15 at noon CT for a chance to win the $100 Visa gift card.” (More details here.)

You and find graphics, details and more information at the I Love Libraries and ALA websites.

Here on the Ebook Evangelist, we’ll be celebrating with a series of posts focusing on libraries and ebooks. 🙂

Daily Links: 90% of Public Libraries now lend e-books

From Digital Book World, American Library Association announces 90% of Public Libraries now lend e-books.

From a story in Publishers Weekly, Comixolgy to offer  DRM-free backup copies.

And a couple of e-book finds of the day from my TBR list in the Daily Deals: one of John Brunner’s fascinating SF titles, The Shockwave Rider, and, Midsummer Moon, a humoruous romance by Laura Kinsale (one with a hedgehog, no less!).

Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news.

The future of the library and the great content divide

As someone who tweets a great deal about public libraries, this article from TheDigitalShift, Ebook Strategy and Public Libraries: Slow Just Won’t Work Anymore,  speaks volumes.

The article addresses many of the important issues at the heart of the library ebook problem such as Overdrive’s monopoly and publisher’s refusals to sell ebooks because of fears of the library model. But it is the following paragraph which presents a truly terrifying scenario:

The perfect storm formula of a monopolistic environment and the actions (or more accurately, the deliberate inaction) of publishers have resulted in the creation of a significant shift in public policy in this country. After more than 100 years of public libraries circulating materials to users, we are no longer able to provide access to critical content that now exists in digital form. As a result, two very distinct scenarios are emerging in the communities we serve. Affluent users in prosperous neighborhoods have universal broadband access, numerous ebook hosting devices, and a credit card with the disposable income to acquire whatever content they want. Low-income residents in poorer neighborhoods do not have this sequence of resources and run the risk of not being able to access digital content that will allow them to fairly participate, compete and contribute to the digital economy/world. This content divide goes against the very principles that attracted so many of us to this profession –supporting democracy by providing access to information in the broadest possible context.

The issues so succinctly raised in this article are ones that all of us, as a society, should be very, very concerned about.There is much more in the full article, including suggestions about how to work towards a solution. If you care about public libraries, this is a must read article!

News Bits and Bytes for February 9, 2012

Lots of news happening today:

Reports are saying that E-ink revenues are down for the month of January. A lot. However, downloads of digital media jumped in 2011. 

A big shake-up in the library lending world today. Penguin is terminating their agreement with Overdrive to supply library books. With Harper Collins still only offering libraries the crippleware 26 loan contract for books, Random House is essentially the only Big Six supplier of library books. If you pay attention to the subtext in the article about the meeting between publishers and the American Library Association, this should not come as too much of a surprise, unfortunately.

If you have been following the reaction to Amazon’s foray into the publishing world, the responses are still coming in. Today, Indie Commerce joins Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Indigo in boycotting Amazon titles. Interestingly, this article from Paid Content says they’re not – well not exactly, that is.

Mike Shatzkin has a very thoughtful take on the Amazon vs Barnes & Noble saga that I highly recommend reading!

And finally, from  Evo Terra (Podiobooks) and Jeff Moriarty’s “It Isn’t Rocket Surgery” broadcast, a rather extreme point of view on the quality of self-published ebooks on Amazon.com. Here’s the video:

Penguin Restores Access to Library Books, but…

My, how one day changes things! Penguin has restored access to Kindle versions of their ebooks, but still has concerns, including some that (surprise) need to be worked out with Amazon.  New ebook titles are still not available in OverDrive.

But now, Random House has announced that it is reviewing its own library ebook policies.

As the story evolves, Twitter users are labeling Tweets about the issue with the hashtag #penguinod.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was a day of a lot of speculation on possible reasons for Penguin’s actions. It was also a day of reactions from both librarians and patrons.

An article in the Library Journal’s Digital Shift detailed how complaints from angry patrons surprised librarians who had no advance warning that the books were being pulled. The tension between Penguin and Amazon, along with a past history of difficult negotiations is also cited in the article as a possible reason for the books’ removal from the OverDrive System.

OverDrive’s initial announcement mentioned “security concerns” with the ebooks. The Digital shift article also reported that patrons has stated that, at least in some incidences, books are remaining on the patrons’ Kindles after the lending period is over.

And from Paid Content, there’s a thoughtful article by Laura Hazard Owen that offers answers to its own questions in  Why Might a Publisher Pull Its E-Books From Libraries?

In a piece from Teleread, InfoDocket’s Gary Price points to a February 2011 letter by OverDrive CEO Steve Potash  published on Librarian by Day as a possible explanation for Penguin’s actions:

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). [EMPHASIS ADDED] I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.

When this letter was originally written back in February during the licensing change demanded by Harper Collins, it seemed that this paragraph seemed squarely directed at concerns over libraries like The Free Library of Philadelphia.

Long before the Kindle allowed library lending, the Free Library had long been discussed on sites like Kindleboards.com and the MobileRead.com forums as a source of library ebooks. The library allowed out-of-state residents to get a library card for a fee.  Users could then use their computers and the OverDrive system to access the ebooks.

Because of its large collection, the Free Library has been very affected by loss of Penguin ebooks and is keeping its patrons updated on its blog.

This whole situation is making it confusing for consumers who have bought or were planning to buy ereaders as gifts for the holidays. The prices of Kindles have come down significantly ($79 for the entry-level e-ink,  $199 for the Kindle Fire). But many consumers have been adamant that lending and library books are an essential part of the equation.

Competitor Barnes and Noble has already announced that its Simple Touch Nook will be only $79 on Black Friday. Kobo is selling its Touch at more retail stores and plans to offer wi-fi Kobo readers for only $59. Ereaders and tablets will likely be big sellers this holiday season.

Sarah from the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog did a nice write-up on this whole situation yesterday and summed it up succinctly: ” Holy crap in a sidecar, you cannot make up lunacy this frustrating. I need to read a romance. STAT.”

Yeah, Sarah, save one for me. I am sure we haven’t heard the last of this….