Responding to what it calls “urgent member concerns,” the American Library Association’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group this week released a brief informational report on the e-book market. “E-book Business Models for Public Libraries,” describes “general features and attributes” of the current e-book environment for libraries.

“In this volatile period of experimentation,” the report states, “no single business model will offer the best terms for all libraries or be adopted by all publishers or distributors. This report describes model terms libraries should look for in their dealings with e-book publishers and distributors, as well as conditions libraries should avoid.” The report urges libraries to “negotiate aggressively,” for the most favorable and flexible e-book terms.

The report comes amid a contentious state of affairs between publishers and libraries over e-book lending, and a digital lending market currently dominated by one vendor, OverDrive, but with competition growing from companies like 3M’s Cloud Library, Bibliotecha, and Freading, a book “rental” model supported by Library Ideas. And all 50 state librarians, meanwhile, recently voted to support The Internet Archive’s Open Library project

On the publisher side, two of the “Big Six” publishers, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, do not allow libraries to lend their e-books at all; HarperCollins capped lends at 26 in 2011, and Hachette removed its frontlist titles from library catalogs. Random House, which does make its entire catalog available for e-book lending, recently tripled e-book prices. And Penguin suspended its library e-book lending late last year, although at this year’s ALA is announced it is now participating in a limited “e-book pilot” with the New York Public Library to determine whether and how it might resume offering e-books.

Indeed, libraries face a confusing array of constraints from different publishers on how e-books can be used, the report notes, with many e-book lending policies based on “perpetuating the print model.” Among the attributes libraries should look for in any e-book model, the report states:

  • Inclusion of all titles: All e-book titles available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries.
  • Enduring rights: Libraries should have the option to effectively own the e-books they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.
  • Integration: Libraries need access to metadata and management tools provided by publishers to enhance the discovery of e-books.

Despite talks between ALA leadership and the major publishers, the two sides remain far apart on these attributes. “ALA appreciates that realizing all of these attributes immediately may not be feasible, and a library may elect to do without one or more in return for more favorable terms in other areas, at least temporarily,” said ALA president Maureen Sullivan. “But these features are ultimately essential to the library’s public role.”