Ottawa Public Library wants cheaper e-books from big publishers

Despite increasing demand, major multinational publishers are limiting the number of bestselling e-book titles available at the library, according to the Ottawa Public Library.

High prices top list of reasons e-books aren't more readily available, Ottawa Public Library says

The Ottawa Public Library says it's dealing with constraints in its purchasing power for e-books. (The Associated Press)

The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) really wants to stock more e-books. 

But despite the rising demand from patrons, major multinational publishers are limiting the number of bestselling titles available at the library through restrictive licencing and pricing, according to Monique Brulé, OPL's division manager of programs and services.

"We are facing some constraints in our purchasing power. For example, for Louise Penny's books we can buy a print copy for $20, but when we go to buy the e-book copy it is three times that [price]," said Brulé.

"And there are additional constraints on the e-book licence ... We need to repurchase the copy after either a two-year period or 52 loans. So we keep repurchasing high-demand books, which puts ... constraints on our budget."

Back in 2015, Penguin Random House announced libraries would pay 20 per cent less for e-books, and they would own the lending rights in perpetuity — a move applauded by OPL at the time.

But it didn't catch on with all major publishers.

The Ottawa Public Library's Main branch in downtown Ottawa. (CBC/Kate Porter)

'We need to engage in a conversation'

"I think we need to engage in a conversation with publishers and that's really the focus of the campaign, to try to make the publishers realize that public libraries are their partner, we're not their competitor," Brulé said.

"And, in fact, studies have shown that we are actually an agent of discovery and we have a positive impact on sales in that people that discover books at the public library will sometimes or oftentimes buy their own copy."

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council is calling on library patrons to make their opinions known to publishers including Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

According to the council, digital content, which includes audiobooks as well, is the fastest-growing area of borrowing at public libraries.

E-book sales are increasing by double digits each year and, in the last three years, use at six of the largest Canadian public libraries grew by 82 per cent, the council said.

CBC Ottawa wasn't immediately able to get comment from the publishers.