Libraries fire back in ebook pricing war

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South Shore Public Libraries in Nova Scotia says it has stopped buying Random House ebooks in reaction to a steep price hike.

“The demand for ebooks is high,” said chief librarian Troy Myers. “We will continue to provide ebooks to our borrowers as quickly as possible but will not purchase from Random House until they lower their prices for ebooks.”

South Shore Public Libraries operates four town libraries and rural outreach services in the Bridewater-Lunenburg area. It spends about $300,000 each year for new books, magazines and other materials.

Under a new regime announced last month, Random House has boosted prices for books available to libraries, publishers and schools, creating challenges for cash-strapped organizations.

South Shore cites the example of Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman. In January, the book was available to libraries for $30. The price soared to $130 on March 1, then to $85 on March 20. In comparison, the retail price for an individual ordering through Random House or Google Books is $20.

“It would be great if we could just purchase ebooks through Amazon or Random House for the lower price,” said Myers.

Libraries, however, must purchase through a digital wholesaler such as OverDrive, which supplies more 15,000 libraries, schools, and colleges with books from more than 1,000 publishers, including Random House, HarperCollins and Bloomsbury.

Random House justifies its price hike by pointing out that an ebook may theoretically circulate endlessly, without requiring the purchase of replacement copies. It also notes that it makes titles available to libraries as soon as the book is released in the retail market.

Other publishers are also struggling to establish a workable digital relationship with libraries. HarperCollins, for instance, imposes a lending cap on its titles, while Penquin has stopped selling digital editions to OverDrive, effectively cutting off ebook sales to libraries.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for indie authors and small publishers!

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