Ebook subscription services – are libraries screwed? by Sue Polanka
September 15, 2011 | 9:00 am
Earlier this week Amazon announced it was “thinking about” providing eBooks as a subscription service to it’s Prime members. According to the Washington Post, “The online retailer is reportedly thinking about making a subscription library service available to Amazon Prime members, adding book rentals to the $79 per year service that now offers online video and an unlimited deal on two-day shipping. The rental subscription, described in the report as a Netflix-like service for books, would offer older titles, and the company would limit the amount of books users could read for free every month.”
Earlier today, eBook Newser blog reported on an announcement for the forthcoming launch of a subscription eBooks service, Afictionado. From the blog post, “Afictionado is scheduled to launch in January of 2012, and according to the site it’s only going to serve the UK market. There’s no word yet on which publishers will be participating, but at the very least you will be able to find Macmillan eBooks offered by the service.”
Many questions come to mind for me. Will publishers go for this? If so, what will the limits be on pub date and number of titles read per month? What will Harper-Collins do when a title is read 26 times? Will this impact libraries and lending limits from their vendors? Only time will tell. I worry about the library perspective because many people who can afford an eBook reader can probably afford a $79 annual subscription for Amazon Prime as well (Afictionado pricing not yet available). After all, it’s cheaper than spending $519.50 on a book a week at $9.99. Will they stop using the library eBooks (if they ever used them in the first place)? I once heard a librarian say, “if google (or Amazon) offer a subscription based eBook service, I’ll never use the library again…I’m gone.” She said using an online vendor was much more efficient.
In July at the New Jersey eBook Summit, Eli Neiburger made a comment about ad based eBooks stating, “when ad sponsored books come to be, libraries are screwed.” I followed Eli’s presentation and offered the first example of ad based eBooks, 24Symbols from Spain. They offer a freemium and premium plan for eBooks (to be read online). Currently they only have 1000 classic titles but are working to bring publishers on board. I don’t think publishers are jumping at the opportunity just yet. If it comes to be that more vendors offer subscription ebook or ad-based ebook plans, libraries will have some competition, but are they “screwed?” [Note, Eli coined the "libraries are screwed" phrase during his presentation at the Library Journal/School Library Journal eBook Summit in 2010.]
Agnostic Maybe Blogger, Andy Woodworth, offers his perspective in his post – Lending Books, Amazon Style. He states, “What does this mean for libraries? Nothing, really, as I see it. The library tax or fee is still cheaper than the Amazon Prime subscription, even if it is not by much. Later in his post, Woodworth writes, “I wonder if libraries are looking better and better to publishers with each passing eBook market development. They might not get the best deal compared to companies like Apple, Sony, or Amazon, but we’ll still respect you in the morning.”