Today it’s not uncommon for folks to have a number of different devices that they can read and listen to books on. Transporting an iPad with 10 books downloaded is so much easier than stuffing 10 physical books in your luggage. So chances are you’ve heard about our digital collection of e-books and e-audiobooks in the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) collection available through Overdrive or Libby. If you are familiar with the collection, you may know that at times the holds list for e-books is much longer compared to the printed copy. There are a number of reasons why this occurs.
First and foremost, WPLC is made up of all the public libraries in Wisconsin. Every public library contributes money for purchasing so every Wisconsin resident can check out materials, where as our print materials are only available to Milwaukee County residents. Because so many libraries chip in funds for the collection, the buying power of WPLC is tenfold compared to what Milwaukee County would be able to purchase on our own. The downside of course is that the holds list becomes quite long on the super-hot bestselling titles.
There are a number of other issues that make purchasing more copies for the collection challenging, and this has been done on purpose by the publishing companies. One question we always get is why, if the book is digital, can’t we check it out to anyone who wants it? Publishers have made it so that libraries are only allowed to have one digital item checked out to one patron at a time, just as it is with our print copies. I can understand why publishers would require this, otherwise they’d be losing a ton of revenue from libraries. I don’t take issue with this requirement but it’s some of their other practices that I find hard to swallow.
Libraries have to purchase e-materials through Overdrive, and since there really isn’t any competition they can set the prices as high as they want. For example, a digital copy of the new book The Inn by James Patterson sells for $15 on Amazon. Libraries have to pay $65 per copy and since we own nearly 40 copies the WPLC spent more than $2,500 on just this one book. Not only is the cost much higher, but the book “expires” after 24 months, meaning it won’t be accessible in 2 years unless the consortium purchases additional copies. Of course print copies degrade over time, but in general it takes much longer than 2 years before we have to replace a print copy.
Now the publisher Macmillian is putting an embargo on their titles and allowing libraries to only purchase one copy per digital collection for the first 8 weeks a title is available. That means WPLC can only purchase 1 copy for the entire state of Wisconsin until the 8 weeks is up. Libraries have decided that the publishers have now gone too far in limiting library access and we’re asking our patrons to help us in this fight. The American Library Association is asking patrons to sign a petition and demand #eBooksforAll. Hopefully by working together libraries and their patrons can get a more fair model for e-materials in the future.
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