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.
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.