The Colorado EBook Environment—Overview and Talking Points
Leadership. Colorado libraries have been leaders in securing access to collections in many ways: working with distributors like OverDrive and 3M; experimenting with products like Freegal and Freading; checking out ereaders with bundled titles; and even hosting the works of independent publishers, including many Colorado authors.1
Reading. 21% of Americans have read an e-book. 88% of those who read ebooks in the past 12 months also read print books. Compared with other book readers, they read and purchase more books.2
Demand. There is growing demand for ebooks. In Colorado they now account for about 3-7% of overall circulation, but are increasing upwards of 500% annually. Budget. Colorado libraries are shifting more of our budgets—already stretched by recession—to buy more digital content.
Purchasing. Libraries are volume purchasers, accounting for 10% of the total print sales today, and 40% of children’s print market. Traditionally, that’s earned us significant publisher discounts, further demonstrating the power of cooperative purchasing that is a fundamental value of public libraries.
Publishers. Three of the Big Six publishers (Hachette Book Group, MacMillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster) will not sell ebooks to libraries at any price. The three that do (HarperCollins, Random House, and Penguin Group) require us respectively) to buy popular books again after 26 uses, spend 3 times the commercial price, or wait six months after street date. This uncertain and inconsistent publishing market is further eroding the purchasing power of libraries.
Legal action. Colorado is one of 14 states in an anti-trust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging price fixing and other anti-competitive practices conducted by some of the largest publishers.3
What Is the Vision for the Future?
Working together. In five years libraries envision a world where they are working together with publishers for the good of all parties; where the ability to publish, find, and buy books is easy, seamless, and sustainable. Ultimately, libraries seek an eBook world without unnecessary constraints on access by and for the public.
Uniform accessibility. Libraries envision a nationally sponsored eBook model where they can get eBooks at a discount, own them, and treat them no differently than their print items are handled now. Libraries must stop being reactive, but keep at the center of the evolving discussion.
Defend the right of public access. Libraries must be vocal in speaking up to corporations that do not act in the best interest of those who use and rely on library materials no matter the format. Business models that exclude libraries’ and the public’s right to access information in any format must be rejected.
What can you do? What should you do?
Pay attention. This is a time of change and disruption. There is an opportunity for libraries to move "upstream" in the publishing world, stepping around expensive middlemen, and developing new partnerships and markets. And there is danger: the erosion both of library purchasing power, and public access to content.
Speak up. The integration of ebooks into library collections is increasing scrutiny on how publishers do business. Your voice is important as the environment evolves. If your library isn't meeting public demand because of restrictions from the seller, say something. You won't be alone in wanting fair play for libraries and the consumer.
Experiment. While we may need to be patient as our environment changes, we dare not be complacent. Try something new. Let people know how it worked. Sharing knowledge is a library value. Some libraries will be early adopters—others will prefer to wait and adopt proven products. Both can prudent depending on how you view your role and stewardship of the community’s trust.
Be proud and positive. Today’s libraries are the result of hundreds of years of adaptation and action. Ebooks are but one aspect in the ongoing evolutionary trend. Like other products, they too shall pass into the library collection in ways that best meet community needs. You are one in a long line of people who have created the present and will shape the future of libraries through support, use, understanding and communication.
1 American Library Association (ALA) “E-content: The Digital Dialogue,” May 22, 2012. Multi-faceted articles on many aspects of eBook evolution.
2 Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project. “The rise of e-reading” April 4, 2012. Report of eBook use and statistics.
3 Evoke Colorado. http://evoke.cvlsites.org/ – an open eBook forum and ad hoc discussion group for Colorado.