I have to admit that my passion, ire and wrath about publishers and eBook pricing has been more about how it affects me as a consumer. But now that things seem to be turning around I have lost some of my tunnel vision and realize that our libraries have been through the wringer as much as we have(if not more, quite frankly), and they still don’t have a viable resolution yet.

Oh, I have talked about it before in this blog but it is not something that I followed religiously. One reason is that as a Kindle owner, library lending wasn’t an available feature for a long while since Amazon didn’t have any type of agreement with libraries. And finally when they did add this feature, I found a very limited collection of books available. Almost all major publishers such as Macmillan Publishing, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group, Brilliance Audio, and Hachette Book Group blocked libraries’ access to eBooks. HarperCollins limited the access to 26 times before the book expired. Random House reaffirmed its commitment to the library eBook market but tripled their prices. Back in March, Random House sent out letters to libraries, explaining their new price increased to book distributors and gave these ranges:
· Titles available in print as new hardcovers: $65- $85

· Titles available for several months, or generally timed to paperback release: $25-$50

· New children’s titles available in print as hardcovers: $35-$85

· Older children’s titles and children’s paperbacks: $25-$45

And of course Overdrive, the eBook distributor that most libraries use, has to add in their cost of doing business.

If I am correct, then as of right now Random House and HarperCollins are the only two of the Big Six publishers allowing libraries access to their new releases. Penguin does now has a pilot program in place with the NYC libraries. Although, eBook availability is delayed after the print version. If this pilot is successful then Penguin could make it available to other libraries.

Book publishers seem to think some people would rather buy the books then go through the inconvenience of getting the books from the library. And while that might be true of some, I and many readers tend to classify authors and or books into two separate categories: buy and library. And while it frustrates me to wait, I rarely change my mind and buy a book. So Penguin holding the eBook releases date just makes me frustrated with Penguin. It doesn’t motivate me to buy the book. I will just request the paper copy. The ALA (American Library Association)became so frustrated with publishers that Maureen Sullivan, ALA president released a letter to the public expressing her frustration. You can read the letter here.

As I was doing more research and trying to think of solutions, I came across this suggestion in an article at Digital Book World. Diane Bronson, collection development coordinator at Live Oak Public Libraries states that: Freading is the only model out there for eBooks (that I’ve found) giving libraries and their patrons the best of both worlds. Easy access to thousands of eBooks at a reasonable cost PER USE. Our library subscribes and I can’t think of a more economical model for libraries or publishers.
Publishers provide a list of all of their digital materials. They range from bestsellers to years-old backlist titles. Library users browse the contents and download whatever they find interesting. The library pays a small charge (ranging from $0.50 to $2.00 depending on the title) for each use.
Publishers get to chance to promote and profit from their entire list — not just the few titles libraries can afford to buy at inflated prices. Publishers and authors get paid, often for titles they wouldn’t have a hope of selling to libraries under current models.
Library users get a large choice of titles, not just the limited number that libraries can afford to make available under current models.
And libraries get instant access to large collections of eBooks — without having to reinvent their entire library collections, selecting every title individually, spending precious library staff time and tax dollars at a rate of 2 or 3 times the list price of a print book, and taking the chance that no one will want it after all that. Access fees are paid only when a book is actually downloaded. No platform charges, no set-up fees, just the cost per download.

So how does Freading work? Just looking at the company’s website FAQ, I discovered that when a library contracts with this service, the library then gives its patrons tokens to use for downloads.

Tokens are a virtual currency that you use to exchange for downloads. Your library gives you a weekly allotment. When you choose a book, the amount of tokens labeled on the book is deducted from your account.
There are three different token costs of a book, downloads cost of 4,2 or 1 token depending on the value assigned by the publisher. In most cases newly published books are 4 tokens, then after a time period they drop to 2, and then after another time period they drop to 1. So in general, the token value is based on how new a book is. In some cases though, a publisher may have chosen a different criteria such as popularity.
Unused tokens roll over each week for a four week period. At the end of the fourth week from the time you first logged in unused tokens are cleaned out of your account.
Your subscribing library decides the amount of tokens that users will have in their weekly allotment.

I have to say that this sounds like a solution worth exploring. I hope that more people are discussing this concept. It would be great to have access to countless titles. Of course I don’t know what the cost would be for each library. But for a new best seller if the download cost was $2.00 to the library, one book could be downloaded over forty times for the cost of one eBook based on Random House’s pricing. And it doesn’t sound like the library is limited on copies.

Honestly, I would have no problem with paying a very modest fee to download books from my library. It is the same concept as renting a movie. And having the ability to do would save me time and gas plus keep me from having to make two trips – one to pick up the book, and one to return it.
What do you think of this idea? I know you guys must have library only authors? But don’t you hate to wait even on these authors. Does a long wait motivate to buy the book? If your library had this system in place, would you be speeding through your tokens or do you still consider it a pleasure to browse in the actual building. If your library wanted to charge you a small fee for the convenience of downloading eBooks, would you be willing to pay it?

– Leigh Davis

Lynn Spencer
Website | + posts

I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.