Trish Klein, adult services co-ordinator at the Red Deer Public Library, inspects an ebook reader. Libraries across North America are concerned about the high charges and limitations publishers are putting on digital material. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer library won’t stay silent over e-book costs

Libraries must pay up to three times the price of a paperback for an ebook

Red Deer city councillors are the latest elected officials to throw their support behind a public library campaign against e-book “price gouging” by publishers.

Red Deer library patrons who want to borrow a bestseller in digital format could discover they are number 48 on the hold list.

That’s how many people are currently waiting for four e-audiobook copies of Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ****, the library’s most popular selection.

Meanwhile, readers who want digital versions of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller, Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, also have a long wait ahead of them — 44 holds have been placed on three e-audiobooks, as well as 39 holds on six ebooks.

The blame for these long waits rests with book publishers, said Shelley Ross, CEO of the Red Deer Public Library.

Libraries are not only charged astronomical rates to buy ebooks — often three times the price of paper copies, but publishers also often limit the number of ebooks libraries can buy.

They also apply caps on the number of times a digital copy can be loaned out to library patrons before it must be repurchased, Ross added.

While she understands that publishing houses are trying to navigate market turbulence caused by new technology, and fierce pricing competition from Amazon, she feels they should not be unfairly trying to make up their profits from taxpayer-funded libraries.

While the average person will pay about $14.99 for Owens’ novel as an ebook, publishers are charging libraries $75 for the same digital title — compared to the $26 to $37 libraries have paid for various print versions of Where the Crawdads Sing.

Two publishing houses, Random House and St. Martin’s Press, who were called to comment on this pricing policy, did not respond Thursday.

Libraries were told they are being charged higher digital prices because ebooks do not undergo the physical degradation of paper copies of books, which means libraries do not have to replace them as often.

But Ross said publishers have already taken care of this concern by placing time restrictions (often two years) until each ebook purchase expires, as well as lending caps on ebooks. Some have to be replaced after being lent 27 to 30 times, said Ross.

She can understand some of these stipulations, but is most bothered by so-called embargoes that are starting to be put on newly issued bestsellers.

Some publishers will not sell a library more than one or two ebook copies of these popular books in the first two to six months of their release.

If the idea is to force people to buy their own book, many people can’t afford to — and that is why libraries exist, said Ross.

The Red Deer Public library has joined other book lenders across North America in protesting what the Canadian Urban Libraries Council is calling unacceptable price gouging by publishers.

Many elected officials from North American cities have signed the council’s statement on equitable public access to ebooks.

Red Deer city council added their voice to this movement by supporting a private motion, introduced this week by Coun. Dianne Wyntjes, who sits on the local library board.

Wyntjes is disturbed that public access to library reading material is being limited. She feels that ebooks will become even more popular as electronically plugged-in generations mature.

But Ross said young people aren’t demanding ebooks as much as older people with mobility issues, or who need to increase the font size of the text.

Getting to a library isn’t easy for snowbound seniors, or someone recovering from surgery on a farm, she added. For these vulnerable people, ebooks can provide a crucial connection to literature and the world at large.

Wyntjes said city councillors intend to bring these concerns to the attention of local MPs.

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