Never has a price increase been such good news for libraries. At a meeting with ALA leaders this week in New York, Random House officials said the “terms of sale” for Random House e-books to libraries will change, with a price increase coming. But the publisher reiterated its commitment to library e-book lending, saying they would continue to enable e-book lending of their entire list for both adult and children’s titles, backlist and frontlist, without restriction. “No change,” Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum told PW in a briefing this morning, when asked about Random Houses’s current policy of not limiting lends (such as HarperCollins) or title availability (such as Penguin, Hachette) or not lending at all (Macmillan and Simon & Schuster).
Applebaum could not say how much the price of e-books would change, noting that pricing for libraries would be an ongoing discussion between the publisher and its customers. The reason for the price change? E-books are simply different, he explained, and the publisher is seeking to establish a fair balance that allows for both library use without restriction, and a fair rate of return for its authors.
The news comes as a delegation of ALA officials, including executive director Keith Fiels and ALA president Molly Raphael, met this week with publishers over e-books. Currently, of the “big six” publishers, only Random House allows for unrestricted lending of library e-books. Even though the net effect of Random House’s announcement is that the price of library e-books will rise—never a good thing in a time of budget stress—the news is nevertheless positive. At a time when some major publishers have pulled back from selling e-books to libraries, Appleabaum said Random House clearly sees the value libraries add to the ecosystem of reading, and to its bottom line. And as talks between libraries and reluctant publishers grind on, the Random House stance establishes that there is a path forward. Applebaum said Random House is committed to keeping libraries in the business of lending e-books, and that its commitment to libraries reaches to the top of the organization, including CEO Markus Dohle.
While price increases may not be easy to swallow in tough economic times, it is well within normal practice. “Libraries are used to paying a bit more for library versions, whether it’s with a library cover on a book, like in the old days, or an institutional journal subscription, where libraries pay more than the cost of a personal subscription,” Internet Archive and Open Library founder Brewster Kahle explained to PW in a feature interview last year. “If e-books have to cost a little bit more, okay. I can’t imagine why any publisher would turn down the billions of aggregate purchasing dollars out there.”
Paying a little more, meanwhile, is also preferable to things like lend limits, or “windowing,” which cause uncertainty and extra work for both budgets and collection maintenance, as e-books disappear from library catalogs. And, librarians say, it is vital for the future that libraries be able to offer current e-books.