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Random House Raises Library eBooks Through the Roof

One month ago (to the day) I reported that Random House was going to raise the prices they charge for library ebooks. I said that RH hated the idea of doing business with libraries and I even went so far as to tell a commenter that:

I think it would be more accurate to say that they used to be open to library ebooks; now RH is using higher prices to discourage libraries from buying them.

Today marked the rollout of the new prices, and librarians are already reporting sticker shock. RH increased prices for library ebooks by 200%.

I Told You So.

TBH, I really expected that my rant would seem nutty in retrospect. I will admit to being a little surprised at quite how on the mark I was.

Update: The ALA has called on RH to reconsider the prices.

RH released  statement explaining the change and it follows:

Random House, Inc. is constantly experimenting, evaluating, and adjusting different retail price points for our e-books. With our price adjustments announced March 1 we are now doing the same for our library e-pricing, albeit with far less definitive, encompassing circulation data than the sell-through information we use to determine our retail pricing for e-titles. We are requesting data that libraries can share about their patrons’ borrowing patterns that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall e-book ecosystem.

Currently absent such information in quantity, it is important to reiterate that our guiding principles in setting these new e-prices are the unrestricted and perpetual availability of our complete frontlist and backlist of Random House, Inc. titles under a model of one-copy, one user. All our titles continue to be available to libraries day and date with the release of the retail edition.

We believe that pricing to libraries must account for the higher value of this institutional model, which permits e-books to be repeatedly circulated without limitation. The library e-book and the lending privileges it allows enables many more readers to enjoy that copy than a typical consumer copy. Therefore, Random House believes it has greater value, and should be priced accordingly.

For the most part, RH prices to library wholesalers for titles available in print as new hardcovers are now set in the range of $65- $85.
Titles available for several months, or generally timed to paperback release, will be decreased in price to a range of $25-$50.
New children’s titles available in print as hcs: $35-$85.
Older children’s titles and children’s paperbacks: $25-$45.

Of course, there will be some “outlier” titles whose respective e-pricing will be above–or below–these ranges, in parallel to their higher/lower level in print. (For example, note that the suggested physical retail price for the Robert Massie title being cited in some literary blogs is $35, higher than most hardcovers, so its corresponding library e-price is higher than the aforesaid price ranges)

As we first said last month, our new e-book pricing framework is to bring our titles in price-point symmetry with our Books on Tape audio book downloads for library lending. These long have carried a considerably higher purchase price point than our digital audio books purchased for individual consumption.

This new pricing will have no impact on Random House collections previously purchased by libraries.

We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles. Understandably, every library will have its own perspective on this topic, and we are prepared to listen, learn, and adapt as appropriate.

Throughout our long history of mutual respect and partnership with libraries we have endeavored to satisfy our shared goals. We are certain our ongoing straightforward dialogues with them on library e-lending will continue to yield constructive results.

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mtravellerh March 2, 2012 um 4:28 pm


CJJ March 2, 2012 um 4:34 pm

If there was any real money in book piracy, now would be a great time to jump in. Idiots.

fjtorres March 2, 2012 um 5:04 pm

Well, in their "favor" they *are* selling perpetual licenses at that price.
Unlike HC, who are just selling packs of reads…
…and unlike Penguin who are looking to withdraw. their books altogether.

Their excuse of "lack of data" at least has the virtue of being more or less honest: they admit they’re not sure if the old pricing or the new one is fair to all parties so they’re implementing it to see what happens.

I’m curious to see how they price library ebooks through axis 360.

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finrind March 2, 2012 um 10:39 pm

While I maintain that it should illegal for anyone to not sell a library an ebook or charge a higher price for it or restrict the number of loans, I’m not sure I understand the libraries' desperate effort to carry RH’s ebooks.
They can still carry RH’s p-books all they want, and needless to say, ebooks usually serve the part of the community who are on the richer side – they can afford ereaders. So, basically, if they stop carrying etitles by RH, but maintain ptitiles, they aren’t really blocking communities' access to those books, they are just subtracting the convenience.

fjtorres March 3, 2012 um 8:07 am

A lot of library ebook checkouts are to the elderly and the very young with limited mobility. That is why libraries have been putting money into ebooks; because of that convenience.
Saying, "just don’t do ebooks" is giving up on two of their primary constituencies.
Too simplistic and a good way for the libraries to get on death-spirals.

johnnydfred March 3, 2012 um 12:00 am

Oh, I think we’ve had enough of this. Publishers, you have been found wanting. Consider this your final warning. Stop messing with the big IS.

Sandy March 3, 2012 um 5:39 pm

I don’t mind publishers charging more for the first 2 copies. They and the author deserve to make money. What I mind is charging that much for every digital copy. Make us pay the profit and royalties on the copies we plan to keep forever. Charge us much less for expiring copies that allow libraries to take care of the first year rush on a new title. That is fair since we will not be purchasing again as we would have before.

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