Inca Gold

The Library Journal/School Library Journal virtual show Ebooks: the New Normal is this Wednesday. I hope lots of people plan to attend so we can continue the discussion and learn new things from each other. For once, I got my slides done early, but I still haven't quite figured out what I'm going to say about those slides...time is running out.

I'm sure, at some point during the day, that HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan will come up. I didn't mention them in my presentation, so here are my (ever-evolving) thoughts...

If the point of a for-profit company is to make a profit, holding your goods out of the marketplace is a dubious strategy. However, ultimately, that is their decision. I think libraries should stop wasting time begging companies to give them the opportunity to buy their products. Yes, it would be nice to be able to buy digital books from these companies, but my job is ultimately to fill the shelves, physical and virtual. That means spending less time trying to get people into the market, and more time purchasing from the people who already value our business. There are so many things available on Overdrive, I could spend five times my budget if I had the time (and five times my budget...). When people ask for books that aren't available to us, I always tell them they have the option of buying it themselves. Most people laugh. If it was a book they wanted to purchase, they wouldn't have started with the library. It takes a lot more effort to send in a request for purchase than it does to use your digital device to purchase a book for yourself.

Recorded Books decided, long ago, that they were not going to play ball with Overdrive. A lot of the most popular downloadable audiobooks (unabridged versions of the early Stephanie Plum books, and Gabaldon's Outlander series, for example) are exclusive to Recorded Books. Unless you subscribe to their downloadable service, these items are not available. These are items that would be used, certainly, but is it worth the price of having (and paying for) a completely separate platform? Money is decreasing, not increasing, for libraries. If it is a choice between one platform with many publishers, and a platform of one publisher, surely the most bang for my buck wins. So we don't offer these things--and the circulation of our downloadable audiobooks don't seem to be suffering. Much the same is happening with our ebook collection. Circulation goes up month after month, in spite of the fact that two of the biggest publishers don't have items in our catalog. In the last 7 days, we added 2,728 titles to our Overdrive collection. Or, if you prefer, in the last 7 days, we purchased 2,728 titles from someone other than Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Recorded Books for our digital collection. Would they have gotten some of that money were they available? Yes. Did someone else benefit because of their absence? Yes.

And yes, I know HC is technically "available" to us. But, so far, we have chosen not to play the 26 circ lottery with our ebooks. 

On the other hand, I certainly respect the fact that you're not trying to pass off your product as Inca gold to get it into the library marketplace. Just because a company makes something "available" to purchase doesn't mean it makes sense. Take the title America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. Here is the Amazon screenshot (click to enlarge):

If you're trying to diminish your physical bookshelves, however, you may want to order a digital copy. The Kindle price is listed, but maybe you want to buy it from somewhere else. I have a Sony reader, so I always check the Sony store price. Here is the screenshot:

The Kindle price and the Sony price are the same. But maybe you're doing a research paper, not a dissertation, and you don't need to own the book. You just need to browse it, see if it will be of any use to you. Oh, and your paper is due in about...3 hours...and it is 5 AM...but the library has ebooks, right? Here is the "library" price for that book:

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, that really does say $105. For a book that, for a print hardcover, only has a max retail value of $35.

THIS is the kind of thing libraries, librarians, and people who pay taxes to support libraries should be up in arms about. You think an $18 muffin is bad? This book markup makes that look reasonable. As you can see, the publisher in question seems to think the world of many of their items. Libraries, and librarians, have a lot of work to do and ground to make up in this ebook discussion. I look forward to seeing all of you on Wednesday.


Kristi said…
I really have not heard of an adequate reason why the library prices are so inflated. If it was discussed at all yesterday, I missed it!

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