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Ebooks and Libraries: Why You Still Can’t Have It All

ereaderLibraries across the country offer a variety of ebook and e-audobook content. Here at the Mill Valley Public Library, we offer ebooks through 2 different databases: Overdrive’s MARINet Digital Downloads and 3M Cloud Library. You can check out e-audiobooks through Overdrive and One Click Digital. So far, so good, right? But perhaps several of you have noticed that a number of titles, particularly new and popular titles, aren’t available in any digital format, no matter which database you search. Wondering why? Let’s take a look.

  1. Publishers will not sell their econtent to libraries, or they sell it at markedly higher prices. This is perhaps the most frustrating roadblock. A recent article in the L.A. Times demonstrates what we’re up against. The Silver Star, Jeanette Walls’ first novel, is published by Simon and Schuster, and is unavailable to libraries. One of the New York Times current bestsellers, Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, is available for $85.00 per digital ebook (remember, libraries have to pay for each copy they want to buy, and each copy is only available to one patron at a time, just like a physical book, due to digital rights management) while Amazon is selling the same title for $12.99 for individual Kindles. Check out the Big 6 Facebook page by the Kansas State Librarian, which details current the availability and price of new and popular ebook titles for public libraries. Seems unfair? We think so, too. The best thing you can do is write to the big publishers and demand fair pricing and availability to libraries for their bestselling titles. The Big 6: Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, and Hachette.
  2. The title is not available in ebook or eaudiobook format due to the publisher’s contract. This means the book is not available in any digital format, anywhere.
  3. The title is not available through our ebook and e-audiobook vendors. Each of our databases is supplied through a third-party vendor. Different publishing houses have made contracts with different vendors, so an ebook title may only be available through a company with whom we do not contract.
  4. Our budget doesn’t allow us to buy all the e-content we would like. Let’s face it; in an ideal world, each library would have unlimited funds and could purchase all the books and econtent in the world! Mwa ha ha! However, snapping back to reality, we try to buy as much as we can in as many different subjects and genres as possible, but because we have a set budget, we have to pick and choose what we think would be good for the collection. Our ebook titles are collectively chosen by all of the participating libraries in the MARINet system, with each library sharing the same general database.

There’s a lot involved in the ever-changing world of digital content and the library’s ability to offer it; we’ll continue to keep you updated as tides shift.

~Ali B.

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