Edmonton Public Library demands publishers lower e-book fees

Edmonton Public Library is joining libraries across Canada in their demand for publishers to lower e-book fees.

Publishers charging libraries too much for e-books, hurting bottom line, EPL says

Edmonton Public Library pays up to five times more per e-book than private buyers do, and they have to re-purchase digital copies after a certain number of uses.

Edmonton Public Library is struggling to keep up with the demand and cost of e-books.

It's now joining other Canadian libraries in pleading with publishers to lower e-book fees.

EPL pays up to five times more per e-book than private buyers do, and they have to re-purchase digital copies after a certain number of uses.

Nevertheless, EPL and other libraries are bound by the same lending rules and fees for e-books and hard copies alike.

"It's frustrating, because we would like customers to know the reasons we have these challenges, because it's not that we don't want to provide the access," said Sharon Karr, manager of collection management and access.

"If we could, we would provide the access to everything as soon as humanly possible. But our hands are tied in what we can do and what we can provide, based on the licensing and the pricing models that were offered by the publishers."

EPL hosted a Twitter discussion with Toronto Public Library, Ottawa Public Library and Ottawa city councillor Tim Tierney about the topic on Thursday.

They're advocating alongside Canadian Public Libraries for fair e-book pricing.

"We're just starting our advocacy on this," said Pam Ryan, EPL's director of collections and technology. "It's still early days for e-books in libraries."

Publisher Penguin Random House recently announced reduced prices for library e-books, but a handful of multinational publishers continue to charge libraries high fees.

"Because they can, because they control it," Ryan said.
Pam Ryan, EPL's director of collections and technologies, says the current fees charged to libraries for e-books aren't sustainable. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Small-scale publishers charge lower fees for e-books, but Ryan said they don't offer the same selection as bigger companies. 

"They recognize that libraries feed the entire publishing industry. We're a big player in the Canadian marketplace in terms of books and selling and buying print and e-books."

Growing demand

Demand for e-books at EPL increased by 20 per cent from 2014 to 2015.

"Our customers want to read the titles they would like to read, in the format they would like to have," Karr said. "So over the last number of years we've seen a huge increase in the amount of borrowing that customers are doing in digital format, as opposed to more traditional print formats."

Karr said the current fees for e-books aren't sustainable for libraries, and will reduce the number of titles EPL can offer.

Sharon Karr, EPL's manager of collection management and access, says the current e-book fees are an obstacle for libraries trying to meet the growing demand for digital content. (Zoe Todd/CBC)
"Really what it comes down to is less access and longer wait times for the titles that are available. This is an issue for libraries across Canada and across North America," she said.

"What that really means for libraries is that it diminishes our power to provide access, to provide all the forms of expression, which is our mandate in the public libraries."

Even though e-books are the fastest-growing niche for Edmonton libraries, Karr said that growth will grind to a halt if publishers and libraries can't agree on a new pricing model.


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