For the past year librarians with the Douglas County (CO) Libraries have been publishing a monthly price list which compared the retail price for an ebook with the price a library would have to pay (if they can buy the title at all).
The 12th such price list was compiled a few weeks back, and the librarians who compiled it took a moment to reflect on how the library ebook market has changed.
The short answer is that it hasn't changed very much.
Each monthly list was generated by taking an existing best seller list (Amazon, NYTimes, USA Today, Kindle Store, etc) and then seeing which ebooks could be bought by libraries and how much each ebook would cost. The results have been fairly uniform, with libraries often having to pay 3 or 4 times what a consumer would pay for the same ebook.
For example, the July price list shows that 3 of the 17 titles weren't available to libraries, and of the ones that were available only 2 titles were offered to libraries at a price even close to that of the consumer price. The rest were marked up 2 to 4 times the consumer price.
But over the past year things have changed slightly. Libraries can buy more of the titles on the July 2013 list than they could on the September 2012 list. Of course, the ebooks are as expensive now as they were a year ago but at least more are available to be purchased.
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time then you've probably read one or another of my rants about the high price of library ebooks. And as you can see from these lists (here, scroll down) it's not just me. Libraries really are being overcharged.
And that's not the worst of it. While the monthly list shows you the prices, what it doesn't tell you is that some of the titles are sold under expiring licenses (more details here). HarperCollins and Penguin, for example, have several titles on the July list which they sell to libraries at a considerable markup (2 to 3 times retail). Those titles are sold under a license that expires in a year.
I should think that you would care about this as much as me. That's our tax dollars being wasted, and it is out communities being harmed by publishers refusing to deal fairly with libraries.
Luckily there are signs that state and local govt aren't going to let the situation stand. There are signs that more and more governments are considering regulating the library book market and forcing publishers to deal fairly. That can't happen soon enough, IMO.
image by IvanWalsh.com