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.


A ebook reader’s wish list for 2016 and beyond

kindle-266556_640I am seeing a lot of posts right now that are either “Best of 2015” or “Predictions for 2016.” Instead of that type of piece, I  am going to talk about the top ten changes I would like to see in in the ebook world. Think of it as a ebook reader’s wish list. 🙂


In my opinion, this is still one of the biggest issues with ebooks. And, yes, Big Publishing, I am talking to you! Indie authors have done great work turning out quality products at reasonable prices and still making money, so we all know that it can be done. So here’s what I would like to see:

No more protectionist pricing. An ebook should not be priced high just to protect the print versions. And hardcover versus paperback pricing? And windowing releases. No. The world doesn’t work that way any more. There are lots of books that are reasonably priced that I can instead.

I would like to see publishers factor in the age of the book in the price. A fifty year old book should not cost as much as a new release or a bestseller. I My current I-am-dying-to-re-read-it-but won’t-pay the-price-book is James A. Michener’s The Source.   It was released in 1965 and is priced like a new release. Once upon a time, copyright law would have ensured that a book that old was freely available: A 28 year copyright term and  1 renewal meant a book would be in the public domain, and therefore reasonably priced. It could be formated and made distributed for free as an ebook through a service like Project Gutenberg.

When questioned about prices in the past, publishers had indicated that prices would go down after an ebook had been out for a while. I use EreaderIQ to track prices, and I can say with absolute certainty that every BPH book I track has gone up in price the longer it has been out. The prices sure haven’t gone!

Can we also nix sales that last for a few hours? Or pricing the first book in a series at $1.99, then 12 dollars an ebook for the rest? I see those and immediately say no thanks. I know what a loss leader is.

And finally, publishers, please ease up on the library pricing. I personally refuse to pay more than $9.99 for an ebook. Yet my tax dollars purchase ebooks that cost $85 or more. What’s wrong with this picture?


Publishers, if you are going to refer to selling, buying and owning ebooks, give readers the rights those terms imply. Let us loan and re-sell the books we buy, with no device limits or text-to-speech limitations.  If you are only going to license limited rights, price the books accordingly.

And let’s get rid of territory rights while we’re at it. No more geo-blocking and “This book is not available in your country” messages. Everybody keeps telling us that we live in a global economy… PROVE IT.

3. DRM:

See the above part about rights and pricing accordingly. Let’s keep it simple: If I legally bought and own it, you can’t DRM it. And if you are putting DRM on it because it is only a license, it is going to be really cheap, right? 🙂

4. Formats:

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have dedicated e-reading devices that can natively read all formats.When someone buys a book, they should have the right to convert it to other formats. Most of us own multiple devices that use different formats. I own iPads and Nooks as well as Kindles. I should have the right to read an ebook I legally purchased in any format I want. Better yet, give it to us in all formats when we buy it. Many small publishers and distributors like Smashwords have shown that you can indeed offer a book in multiple formats.

5. Availability:

Despite what anyone says, there are still titles that are not available as ebooks. Like Walter M.  Miller’s  A Canticle for Leibowitz. Or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the English translation).

And, personally, I would love to see more transparency on why certain books are not available as ebooks. Let the readers know if it is an orphan works issue or one of an author or an estate refusing to grant rights.

6. Series availability and consistency:

There are certain genres like mystery and science fiction that have large number of books written in series. For readers, when we like a series, we want to read the whole thing. Unfortunately, many times, all the books in a series are not available in an ebook format.

Sometimes, availability is such a mishmash, reading an entire series is either complicated or so expensive, the cost makes it prohibitive.

Case in point, I recently started Elizebeth Peters’ 19 volume Amelia Peabody mystery series. I bought the first volume, Crocodile on the Sandbank,
for$2.99. Later titles were priced at the $8.99 and $9.99 price point. I checked to see if Scribd had any of the books in the series. Scribd had only 12books out of the 19 series titles. Of those 12, two books were available in audio only and two only as ebooks.  It was set up so that I couldn’t read the entire series all in one format without buying them.

So please, publishers, make the entire series available and in all formats! And a bigger bonus: Sell the entire series at a reduced price as a collection. Trust me, it will find an audience.

7.  P, E and A: 

We need to have books available in all three formats: print, ebooks and audio. Each format has an audience and meets a particular need. Many people utilize two or even all three formats, depending on where they are, what they are doing and sometimes, even depending on the particular book.

Programs like Amazon’s Immersion Reading offer the ability to switch back and forth between ebooks and audio. How many more people would take advantage of this type of a feature if it were available on other hardware?

And, shouldn’t bundling an ebook with a print purchase should be a no-brainer?

8. Subscription and streaming:

In certain ways, the current subscription models are a mess. I’d like to see it fixed.

Publishers are asking subscription services to pay them for a sale when a book is read. So the publisher is basically getting  the same price for a loan as it is for someone supposedly “purchasing” the book and they don’t even get to keep it. There is something wrong with this picture.

As I noted above, it is difficult to get complete series of backlist books on a subscription service. All publishers are not on board with subscription service (Random House, I am talking to you!). Making some books available as audio only may also be a way of limiting subscription reading, especially since Scribd is now charging for so-called “premium audiobooks.” I know that I am seeing more and more titles that I want to read only available as audio, and premium ones at that. All of this degrades the subscription service model and makes it less desirable for the reader. But maybe that’s the point!

9. Give us more control over our devices:

Besides more control over ebook rights like lending, simultaneous usages, and formats, there are a lot of readers who want more control over their own devices. Shelving and collections are still no where near they need to be in order to be considered truly user friendly. I constantly hear readers asking for more ways to organize their libraries and customize their home screens. People want to install more apps make the device their own. Why shouldn’t we be able to install an epub reading app on a Kindle or a Kindle app on Nook or a Kobo? (Besides the whole locking us into an retailer thing, that is….)

10. Ebook management systems:

I want to see a good third-party alternative to Calibre, even if it isn’t free. Yes, Calibre is a wonderful tool. But it is non-intuitive, difficult to learn and isn’t a good fit for everybody. (Me, for one.) KDEasy does some things, but not all and it doesn’t work for epubs. Online systems like library Thing, Goodreads, and the Booklikes don’t do the job either. Some people need a simpler, easier alternative.

So, what’s on your e-reading wish list?