The Hachette Book Group this week became the third Big Five publisher in the last 12 months to change its terms for licensing e-books to libraries. Effective July 1, 2019, Hachette will shift from perpetual access licenses (where libraries pay a higher price but retain access to the e-book forever) to a two-year metered model (which provides lower prices on e-books licenses that expire after two years).
In a statement, Hachette officials said the switch will mean lower prices for the “vast majority” of Hachette library e-books. That qualifies as a measure of good news for librarians, who have long complained that Hachette’s library e-book prices were unreasonably high. A Hachette spokesperson told PW that most HBG titles will likely be priced under $65, and there will be no limit on the number of lends within that two-year period, on a one-copy/one-user basis.
Still, librarians, who have long complained that metered models are inefficient and difficult to manage, reacted coolly to the news of the change, as did library e-book vendors
“Libraries will welcome the reduced upfront costs and continued immediate access to new digital titles,” said ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo, in a statement, "but the increased cost over time hurts our ability to support a vibrant ecosystem that benefits readers, authors and publishers."
Garcia-Febo pointed out that the library e-book price for one title published by Hachette in March 2019, Ron Rapopor's Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks, was $84, compared to the $14.99 consumer price for the e-book.
Michael Blackwell, director of St Mary's County Library (Maryland), and an organizer of the ReadersFirst coalition, agreed. “This change will mean additional work for library acquisitions departments and an erosion of our buying power,” Blackwell told PW.
A statement from leading library e-book vendor OverDrive also bemoaned the change.
“We believe publishers and authors are best served by enabling flexible and multiple e-book lending access models for libraries, and that unbiased research supports this belief,” the statement reads. “Implementing a two-year term limit caps the ability of libraries and schools to support the authors published by Hachette Book Group.”
After a period of relative calm, librarians have expressed concern over the last year that the major publishers are pulling back from the library e-book market. Last September, Penguin Random House also moved from perpetual access to a two-year metered model, with top prices said to be in the $55 range.
And most prominently, last July, Macmillan drew criticism for implementing a four-month embargo on library e-books for new frontlist titles from its Tor imprint, alleging that library e-book lending was having a negative effect on consumer e-book sales.
Hachette officials, meanwhile, said they had no plans to embargo frontlist e-book titles for libraries. “We support the library community’s important work on behalf of books and authors and look forward to our continued partnership,” Hachette officials said in statement.