A Million Dollars in eBooks Doesn’t Go as Far As You Might Think
The Financial Times has an article on the NYPL on its website this week and it’s raising some eyebrows.
The article looks at the general change in direction that the New York Public Library has taken in the past few years in de-emphasizing the warehousing of books in favor of creating spaces for people to use and adding new ways for library patrons to access information.
If you’re not already familiar with the controversy surrounding the NYPL’s plans to de-emphasize books, it’s an interesting read. But there was one detail in particular than caught some attention:
Since 2009, the NYPL has quadrupled its budget for ebooks, and spent $1m on 45,000 ebook copies. Indeed, Marx envisages his library as being akin to a giant cyber educational hub, offering anyone access, anywhere in the world, however poor. “We need to be the leading educational programme, cradle to grave,” he says.
Mike Cane tweeted that stat and was shocked by the fact that the average cost was around $22 per copy. I’m not.
One million dollars spent over 4 years isn’t exactly a lot of money, and that goes triple when you consider the size of the NYPL’s annual budget. That organization has an annual budget in excess of $240,000,000, so the money spent on ebooks is little more than a rounding error.
What’s more, that million dollars isn’t all that well explained. For all we know it might include expensive titles that are only offered to the library market with terms that libraries want (multi-user access, for example). And that huge sum also includes the maintenance fees that Overdrive charges above and beyond the price of the ebooks they sell to libraries. And then there are the higher prices that Hachette, Random House, et all charge for library ebooks. That alone could explain the high per-copy cost.
Once you know the context and some nitty gritty details this story isn’t quite so interesting, is it?
P.S. I’d love to read more about the real stats on what the NYPL spends on ebooks, but so far I haven’t managed to connect with the right person at the NYPL. If there’s info that can be shared, please let me know.
image by (vincent desjardins)