The Struggles with eBooks in Libraries

Challenging Times in the Digital World

This is a time of great change in the library world. eBooks have now become one of the most popular new services offered at the library. The Chester County Library System is now able to offer eBooks and eAudiobooks to our patrons from the comfort of their own home, 24/7. The service that we use is called OverDrive, and it allows for downloads of eBooks and eAudiobooks to eReaders, smart devices, and computers.

Many of our patrons that have used this service may have realized that we are missing many titles, which are in popular demand. There are a few reasons for this, one of which is definitely not a lack of knowledge of what our patrons want. The first problem is that there are some publishers who refuse to sell their eBooks to libraries, so we are unable to provide titles by authors such as, David McCullough, Jennifer Weiner, Mary Higgins Clark, and Stephen King. Aside from publishers who won’t sell to us, many have put restrictions when purchasing their titles.

For example, the publisher of titles such as The Fault in Our Stars, And The Mountains Echoed, and The Vacationers, will only let us keep a book for up to one year, before we have to repurchase the same title. Other publishers only allow 26 downloads before we have to repurchase the title. And, there are still other publishers who do not place time, or download restrictions, but they do charge libraries a hefty price for eBook use rights. For example, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn would cost $9 if a consumer were to purchase the eBook through an outlet like Amazon, but the library would be charged $75 per copy. The One & Only by Emily Giffin is also a very popular title that the average consumer would be able to purchase for around $10, and the price for libraries is $84 dollars per copy. This puts a considerable strain on the library budget when we have to purchase multiple copies of popular titles with exorbitant prices, as well as having to repurchase titles over and over again.

There is also some confusion as to why the digital books are not always available, and why holds must be placed on titles. Unfortunately, this is a restriction all publishers have placed on eBooks for library lending through the OverDrive platform. Another frequently asked question we receive is, “Why are some titles not available in all formats?” A book such as, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, is available in a WMA formatted eAudiobook, but not in the most popular and universal format of an MP3 eAudiobook. The eBook, Natchez Burning by Greg Iles is available to download in an EPUB format (compatible with tablets and Nooks), but not in the popular Kindle format. While most publishers have decided they want to have a working relationship with libraries on the digital front, there is often no concrete reason as to why they do not want to offer their most popular titles in all formats, but it generally always comes down to the possibility of lost revenue if they sell to libraries with no use restrictions.

The publishing world is experiencing the same issue the music industry experienced after Napster, and other free music downloading sites grew in popularity. The music industry is now in a much better place, and hopefully the publishing world will follow shortly.

Chester County Library is very optimistic when it comes to these changing times in the digital world. Along with the entire library community, we hope that the publishers soon realize the importance libraries have in lifelong reading. We have embraced eBooks, and hopefully in the future we will be able to bring more digital services to better serve our communities.