Council votes to help Edmonton Public Library fight for better access to e-books

Edmonton city council passed a motion Tuesday to lobby the federal government to help break down barriers to accessing digital content for library users across the country.

Edmonton, other Canadian municipalities are lobbying federal government over digital content at libraries

Edmonton city council passed a motion Tuesday to lobby the federal government to help break down barriers to accessing electronic books. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

City council passed a motion Tuesday to lobby the federal government to help break down barriers to accessing digital content for library users across the country.

Edmonton joins Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, and several other municipalities who want the federal government to investigate the problems multinational publishers are posing for libraries when it comes to accessing digital content, particularly electronic books.

Experts say e-books cost libraries a higher amount than print books.

"What's happening now is that we have major multinational publishers or major corporations are making choices that are affecting our ability to provide that equal access," Sharon Day, the director of branch services and collections, told council Tuesday.

Day sought support from council Tuesday as a part of a campaign called eContent For Libraries.

She said five multinational publishers — Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster — are limiting Canadian libraries' access to digital content.

She added that when made available, the publishers are enforcing a heavy price tag despite increasing demand for e-books.

For example, a single physical copy of David Baldacci's The Fallen costs libraries $22.80, according to the Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC). 

The e-book version published by Hachette Canada costs libraries $87 each. Each copy of the e-book can only be lent out one at a time, for up to two years until the library has to repurchase the book, according to the CULC.

On average, a single e-book published by Harper Collins can cost up to $30 and can be e-loaned 26 times until the library repurchases the book. An e-book by Penguin Random House can cost $57 for one use at a time up to  two years, according to CULC data.

A woman in Edmonton scrolls through the Edmonton Public Library website in search of e-book content. (CBC)

"[The cost] impacts those members of our society who are most vulnerable to not having that information," Day told CBC News.

"People who may be homebound, for example, people who may have learning disabilities or physical disabilities where they can't hold a physical book because they have a slight impairment or they can't read because they have a disability or an impairment. They need to listen to the audio version and that content is not being made available."

More than 4.3 million digital items were borrowed at Edmonton Public Library in 2018, according to the CULC.

E-book lending models

According to Day, not only are e-books a costly purchase for libraries, but multinational publishers are beginning to challenge lending models.

In June, Orlando-based Blackstone Publishing implemented a 90-day embargo on digital audiobook titles, she said. 

Starting in November of this year, Macmillan will only allow a library to purchase one single access to an e-book during the first eight weeks of publication. Additional copies will then be available after the eight-week window has passed.

Additional copies are available after the eight-week window has passed.

"The entire city of a million people will have only access to the one title and we have to wait a full eight weeks before we can buy additional copies to make more copies available," Day said.

CBC News reached out to MacMillan for comment but didn't receive a response.

Day said big publishers have told libraries that they are having a negative impact on their retail model.

"They think that if people are or were buying or borrowing something from the library, they're not buying it," Day said.

"We have a lot of data that shows it's actually the opposite. Libraries actually contribute to a publishing industry that's healthy."


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