The Surprisingly Big Business of Library E-books | The New Yorker

peter.suber's bookmarks 2022-08-15


"The sudden [pandemic] shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before....

In 2011, HarperCollins introduced a new lending model that was capped at twenty-six checkouts, after which a library would need to purchase the book again. Publishers soon introduced other variations, from two-year licenses to copies that multiple readers could use at one time, which boosted their revenue and allowed libraries to buy different kinds of books in different ways....

In the early days of the Kindle, Amazon undercut many of its competitors, including brick-and-mortar bookstores, by selling consumer e-books for just $9.99. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Apple of conspiring with publishers to increase the prices of consumer e-books, and Apple later agreed to pay four hundred and fifty million dollars in settlement. In 2013, the six largest publishers became five when Penguin merged with Random House. (Now, the Big Five is poised to become the Big Four, if Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster is approved.) Earlier this year, a consumer class-action lawsuit accused Amazon of signing anti-competitive contracts with the five largest publishers in a “conspiracy to fix the retail price of trade eBooks.” ..."




08/15/2022, 10:34

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Date tagged:

08/15/2022, 14:31

Date published:

09/02/2021, 10:34