Random House Not So Random with Library Ebook Price Increases


First, let’s recap a few things.

Ebook library lending on the rise? Check.

Budgeting for eBooks predicted to rise over the next couple of years? Check. (Don’t confuse this rise with getting more money to spend; it means just a larger part of the current materials budget pie.)

Publishers full of insecurities when it comes to library eBook lending as a revenue channel? Check.

Random House still the only publisher that allows for unrestricted library lending? Check. Same company that saw sales for eBooks tripling over the course of a year? Check.

I’d say I was surprised by the steep nature of the Random House library eBook price increase, but I’m not. If they weren’t going the way of HarperCollins with the limited checkout model (which was a public relations stinker), then the only other thing they can do is increase the price. I would hope that for triple the price they’d at least throw in something (like being able to own the damn things), but alas it is still the same deal.

The best term I can think to describe the library side of the equation here is a poker term called “pot locked”. Simply put, it means that you’ve bet enough money that folding your hand is not an option; you’ve invested your future into the cards you have. For all the energy and efforts that have gone into getting library eBook lending in the first place, the library can’t simply back out after mustering up patron expectations and marketing the eBook lending service. As librarians will generally choose to provide content versus not providing it (terms and conditions be damned), those eBook budgets will still be spent to the last dollar. Granted, there will be less eBooks available to our communities but the content will still be there as we promised and swore that we would get for the people who support us.

Well played, Random House. Well played.

I’m guessing that if there was any group that should be pissed off by this price increase, it should be the midlist and emerging authors. Pricing like this means putting a priority on titles that we know will circulate rather than taking chances on midlist or new material that might not see the same use. That’s the consequences of having the same relative budget with a triple price increase; eBook collection development will turn into a very selective practice in which only the content with proven track records will be purchased. Sure, we’ll still buy the hardcover and paperback versions of your book, but at these prices you won’t grace our virtual shelves.

Maybe what is needed here is our own version of the Cost of Knowledge site. Given that the majority of librarians review and promote publisher’s content in our own communities without compensation, perhaps it is time to withhold this valuable word of mouth marketing. If my peers who do this kind of work in their spare time committed to not reviewing books that do not have a library eBook counterpart, I think we could get the movement that we want from the publishers. (I make an exemption for book bloggers who are paid to do it since it is an actual job, but I would hope that they have some discretion with what they review in order to follow suit.) Why should we have a book club discussion about the latest Lisa Scottoline or Stephen King novel when we can’t get it as an eBook title? Our power rests in what we talk about with our communities and what we put on display or use for library programming. It’s time to wield this power for the good of the people who use the library.

If anyone sets this up, let me know so I can proclaim it from the mountaintops. It’s time.

20 thoughts on “Random House Not So Random with Library Ebook Price Increases

  1. Another fine post you’ve got us into!
    We have the public on our side. Intellectual property has never been a common law issue, it’s always been a statutory law. The law, that the publishers use to defend themselves and all the platitudes that go with it, is an ass.
    My latest guilty pleasure is pointing out to proud kindle owners that they didn’t buy that ebook, they’re renting it. And to try selling it if they think own it. The kindler’s, quite rightly, are offended. They feel duped by amazon & co.
    Publish and be damned. Create an open source platform capable of translating between ebook formats. Use it to loan ebooks to our borrowers. Litigation will take place, and we will undoubtedly lose. Fuck it. We should win, we deserve to win. And to the public, we will.

  2. For triple the price they should throw in a hardcover of the book…especially since they’ll never let us own our copy of the eBook. (In my own book buying — for personal use — I’d be far more likely to purchase a hardcover or a digital copy if they came as a package deal.)

    As far as not spreading the word about a good book…that seems to hurt an author more than the publisher. Do you know if any authors have said anything about this yet?

    • As to authors, I’m not aware of any reactions. I can tell you that there are some companies that bundle their texts with the e-version copy, but they are mainly reference publishers.

  3. I’d probably pay a higher price, if we could get bundle of hardcover + eBook license for decent number of checkouts that wouldn’t run out in a month + right to renew license at much cheaper price when the book was less popular. I don’t know that I’d pay these exhorbitant prices, but we HAVE to be able to come up with some sort of model. This is starting to get farcical.

  4. Pingback: Random House Price Hike Round Up | Librarian by Day

  5. “Unsustainable” is, apparently, fine with publishers. They want libraries gone. I know that sounds harsh, but how else can we interpret their actions?

    We should boycott them all and tell the public why we don’t have ebooks. Easy for me to say – I don’t work at a pub lib. But seriously, this is so messed up.

    Authors mostly think they have no choices – they are lucky to get a contract at all (or so they mostly are made to feel). What we need is a big name author saying “I insist on contract language in which I retain the rights to library lending and it has to be priced similar to print. You can’t cut libraries off.” If we had a dozen big-name authors do this, maybe we’d get somewhere.

    I don’t think it’s going to happen, though. Too many authors would also like libraries to go away.

    I also am not sure how to mobilize readers, as they don’t associate their favorite authors with particular publishers; they just want to be able to read books they love. Most members of the public are astounded by the treatment publishers give libraries. Like kicking babies. But where do you go with the outrage? Unlike Elsevier, trade publishers don’t have to keep authors happy; there’s lots more where they came from.

    Big name authors – that’s another story. But so far I haven’t heard a peep from any of them.

    • An excellent point about funneling outrage, Barbara. There really isn’t an outlet. I’d love to be able to drive people to a website. I have a feeling that the next step that needs to come forth is getting voices into the general media (NYT op-ed comes to mind). And it has to be sustained and uniform in terms of action sought. But that’s another undertaking.

      In considering alternatives to spending money on eBooks, I look at those prices and think to myself, “I can get a couple more presenters to do programs at my library for the cost of 2-3 eBooks.” More than likely it’ll attract more people than that eBook will circulate (depending on the author) and create better bonds with the community than having them borrow an eBook.

      I’m thinking to myself how many people asked me which eReader they should buy that works with the library. When library compatibility becomes part of the purchasing equation, I would surmise there will be some sense of betrayal when I tell them that there are less eBooks because publishers don’t want to lend eBooks anymore.

  6. In my ebook classes, I’ve been explaining digital licensing and naming names. Patrons are always aghast — there are audible exclamations — when they find that some publishers won’t sell to us, that we pay far more than the public does for the same ebooks, that we don’t own the content that we pay more for. I also talk about shrinking budgets, how to help libraries, etc. Our financial resources have shrunk or stayed the same for years, and my system is a relatively healthy one. This is truly an unsustainable model, and the apparent lack of interest in working with libraries on this is affecting the book-buying I do as an individual and as a professional. Seriously, Random House, how did you think we were going to react to this?

  7. Pingback: A Couple of Synopses, News for Muggles, and Random House gets pricey: Libraries and E-Content News | Library Renewal

  8. Frankly, I’m surprised by how negative and widespread librarians’ response to Random House’s pricing announcement has been. No one likes to pay more, but doesn’t RH deserve at least some credit for selling ebooks to libraries? RH’s ebooks may be expensive, but the ebooks from other Big 6 publishers can’t be had by libraries at any price.

    • Let me get this straight: Random House should get a pass because they still sell to us? So, under that logic, if they had increase their eBook prices by a factor of ten, they should *still* get credit because they are still selling to us. That, no how terrible the pricing or contracts are, at least we should be lucky to be able to get them? Is that what you’re saying here? Because I’m curious as to if/where you would draw a line at which the expense outranks the “luxury” of access.

      • Why so much anger directed at RH and not at the publishers who refuse to sell ebooks to libraries at all? But the behavior of publishers toward libraries isn’t really the issue. They will continue to act in ways that they perceive will give their shareholders the greatest return on investment. Any business would increase prices by 300% if they could.

        The real issue for librarians is the fact that libraries will continue to have no leverage with publishers until libraries make it more costly for publishers not to sell ebooks to libraries. I don’t see that happening until libraries act collectively at the state or national levels in negotiating acquisition contracts with distributors such as OverDrive or directly with publishers.

        RH has no reason to believe it cannot get away with raising prices on library editions of ebooks. We need to give them one.

        • Who says there isn’t anger towards the four publishers who don’t allow for library ebook lending? It’s not like we have to get out a list every time we get mad at one in some sort of way to spread out out the anger.

  9. Pingback: Random House Not So Random with Library Ebook Price Increases | School Libraries = Learning! | Scoop.it

  10. We need more militant action than boycotting reviews. It is time for libraries to boycott ALL purchases of ALL books in ALL formats from ALL Publishers who will not sell to libraries ALL their books which are available in eBook format to individuals at the SAME priced charged to those individuals. Because this is getting ridiculous. As some commentators have noted here, publishers have never been enamored of public library lending and of the First Sale doctrine (which needs to be extended to eBooks).

    This is a pivotal element in the whole inequality/OWS/corporatocracy brouhaha which is currently splitting our country apart.

    The lending model needs to be changed to adapt to changing technology, and eBooks need to be freed from the shackles that are currently holding back a renaissance in reading in this country (and the world).

    Authors, take note! Your antediluvian publishers are a threat to your livelihoods.

    Readers, take note! Your access to reading is being severely curtailed (and limited to those of you with the big bucks) by publishers.

    And libraries, take note! Your very existence is threatened by current policies and practices.

    The End of Libraries

  11. Pingback: Articles of Interest – Random House edition

  12. Pingback: Circulate ereaders, not ebooks « bringyournoise

  13. Pingback: Wisconsin Public Library Consortium » Digital Media Buying Pool Webinar: archived recording

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