Public Libraries: Who Wants Them? Not Amazon and Possibly Some Publishers

January 21, 2022

Publishers and libraries used to have an amicable relationship when books and other media were limited to print and physical mediums. Since the advent of the digital revolution, ebooks have ticked up in popularity. Ebooks have reached their highest consumption levels of all times with the global pandemic. Libraries love that people are reading more, but publishers are not happy with lower sales and libraries demanding more ebook licenses. MSN republished the The Boston Globe article that explains the dilemma in: “Libraries Demand A New Deal On Ebooks.”

Publishers are limiting the amount of digital copies libraries can purchase or charging them higher rates than individual consumers. Librarians and Massachusetts lawmakers have teamed up and drafted a bill that would require publishers to make digital products available to public libraries on reasonable terms. Currently publishers sell a limited licenses to libraries:

“According to the American Library Association, libraries currently pay three to five times as much as consumers for ebooks and audiobooks. Thus, an ebook selling for $10 at retail could cost a library $50. In addition, the library can only buy the right to lend the book for a limited time — usually just two years — or for a limited number of loans — usually no more than 26. James Lonergan, director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, believes that publishers settled on 26 checkouts after calculating that this is the number of times a printed book can be checked out before it’s worn out and in need of replacement. And that’s what happens to a digital book after 26 checkouts. The library must “replace” it by paying full price for the right to lend it out 26 more times.”

Publishers are somewhat justified, because since books have gone digital, Amazon instituted its own publishing platform, and traditional bookstores have become endangered, their profit margins have tanked lower than approval ratings of millionaires. Publishers do have a right to recoup their losses, but it should not be at the expense of public libraries.

Public libraries allow people to access goods and services otherwise limited or unavailable to them. Publishers should be working with public libraries, who also happen to be their largest consumers.

There is a happy solution, but no one has found it yet. I am a professional librarian and try to be optimistic.

Whitney Grace January 21, 2022


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