Prices of e-books for libraries could slow their digital growth
March 28, 2013 | 10:00 am
While I’ve been reading e-books for several years, I didn’t get catch on to borrowing e-books from the public library until recently. I’m a big proponent of the library and borrow physical books often, but using the Overdrive app happened a bit too late.
Once I started using it, well, I haven’t been able to stop. Even though I can only borrow a book for seven days and feel stressed to read the book in that allotment, I thoroughly enjoy the app.
I wondered why there aren’t more books available. Of course, plenty of that has to do with licensing and publishing houses not wanting to give away their products free.
But then I came across this article in the Orlando Sentinel: “Soaring e-book demand strains Central Florida library budgets.” As more and more people look toward digital means when it comes to reading, libraries are trying to keep up with the demand. In this case, a Florida public library system saw its budget drop while a higher percentage of the budget was aimed toward e-books.
In 2009, a year after the Orange County Library System launched its e-book collection, the library’s budget was $5 million. About eight percent of that budget was dedicated to the purchase of e-books, while 43 percent went toward print books. The 2012 budget was cut to $4.5 million, and the allocation to e-books doubled to 16 percent. The budget’s allowance toward print books dropped minimally, to 41 percent.
However, I found another part of the article more interesting. It came right down to the cost.
[Seminole County library-resources manager Denise] Tate explains that the library’s two e-book copies of Guilt, a bestselling thriller by Jonathan Kellerman, cost the Seminole County Public Library about $84 each. But each of the 20 copies of the same title in print cost $28.
An e-book costs libraries three times the amount of one print book. This really made me pause. Three times!
To me, it would seem that the handling of e-books would cause less strain and be less taxing than physical books. However, the answer lies with the individual publishing houses.
Since e-books won’t fall apart at the binding and pages aren’t crumpled or torn, libraries don’t have to buy extra copies. E-books last longer because they don’t break (unless a file gets corrupted), therefore publishing houses have to charge more money.
In fact, the article gives three reasons for the higher cost of e-books: “They don’t ever wear out, are borrowed more frequently than print books and are convenient.”
I almost feel bad for the librarians and their budgets as they have to deal with this. Obviously as more money is allocated toward digital applications, library systems see the merit of e-books and digital publishing. Readers probably would like to see more options available to them, but at three times the price, libraries have to make decisions that are responsible, and for the good of the majority of their patrons.
So while e-book use is up, I fear library options will not grow as quickly as the demand.