Tim Tierney Ottawa Public Library And Archives Canada

The chair of the Ottawa Public Library Board, councillor Tim Tierney, says the library is reaching the point where it can no longer afford to keep up with the growing demand for e-books. (CBC)

Canadian municipalities are asking the federal government to find ways to bring down e-book prices for their public libraries, a move led by an Ottawa councillor. 

The chair of the Ottawa Public Library Board, Tim Tierney, put forward a resolution at a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities last week calling on the federal government to investigate the publishing industry's "restrictive" practice of charging public libraries more for electronic versions of books and magazines.

The Beacon Hill-Cyrville Ward councillor says libraries can end up paying three to five times more for an e-book than an individual pays.

"When decisions are made on purchasing electronic books versus paper books, libraries have been forced to make that decision about paper books because they simply can't afford the electronic books. And as time goes on more and more people are using electronic books," said Tierney.

Copyright Act, e-book pricing review

"The Canadian publishers have done a very good job on their pricing models, very different. But the big five in the states do have to understand just because we're libraries increasing the cost that dramatically really has an impact."

Some publishers also place restrictions on how many times an e-book purchased by a public library can be read. For example, an e-book from Harper Collins can only be loaned out 26 times. An e-book from The Macmillan Group expires after 52 uses or 24 months, whichever comes first. 

Tierney said he hopes federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly will consider looking into e-book pricing, and changing parts of the Copyright Act.

In 2014 the Ottawa Public Library spent about $500,000 on electronic publications last year, about 11 per cent of its materials budget.