the Little Red Reviewer

E-books: Publishers vs. Libraries

Posted on: August 6, 2013

There was a great piece on NPR on Monday morning about how two industries who love books – publishers and libraries – are having a tough time agreeing on how library patrons should check out e-books.

It’s a quick 7 minute story, and well worth the listen:

E-Books Strain Relations Between Libraries, Publishing Houses.

npr libraries

Publishing Houses are businesses.  If they don’t make a profit selling their product – books – they will not be selling books for very long (as Nightshade Books learned the hard way).  Publishers love libraries, and publishers have always sold lots and lots of books to libraries, often at discounted prices. A patron gets the book, loves the book, buys the book, maybe buys a copy for a friend. Or a patron gets on the waiting list for a book, doesn’t want to wait 8 weeks to read the latest bestseller, so they go out and buy the book. Even if every patron isn’t purchasing the book, it’s still a win-win for everyone.

Enter e-books, and the win-win becomes not so much.

With e-books, libraries face the same DRM you and I face, as in they are not buying the e-book, but merely leasing it. An e-book that you purchase for $10 on Amazon might cost a library up to $85, with restrictions on how long it stays in their catalog, or how many times they can lend it out. (those dollar figures are directly from the NPR story, I trust they have done their own fact checking)

Publishers are rightfully concerned that if their e-book makes it to an interlibrary loan site with no restrictions, what’s to stop a state library system from purchasing one copy of the latest bestseller and lending it to thousands of people, all at the same time?

What’s the answer? E-books and e-book lending is too new, so no one really knows yet.

Luckily, the news story mentions some projects that are moving in the right direction:

Simon and Schuster has a one year pilot project with a few public libraries in New York. The project allows an unlimited number of library patrons to check out the e-book when it’s first released, and offers patrons the opportunity to purchase the e-book through the library portal, giving the library a percentage of every sale.  Simon and Schuster is running a giant library fundraiser, and selling their own digital content at the same time.  Will they make a profit on this, proving that it can succeed across the country? I have no idea. Is Simon and Schuster sewing a ton of goodwill and starting a much needed conversation? YES.

Over in Colorado, the Douglas County library system as found a different option that  bypasses much of the troublesome DRM. They purchase what they can afford through the big publishers, but are now working with over 500 smaller and independent publishers, including Smashwords, to build their digital content library.  They may not have that specific best seller title you were looking for, but they certainly have a veritable “stack” of e-books in the same genre. Might libraries be the next big thing for self published authors?

well, what do you think?

if you’ve gotten e-books out of the library, what’s been your experience?

If you work at a library, what’s been your experience sourcing e-books, and getting them into the virtual hands of your patrons?

15 Responses to "E-books: Publishers vs. Libraries"

My library has a MASSIVE ebook section and I use it all the time. They are always adding new stuff to it. Actually, my system has won awards for how huge their book collection is. It’s bliss. Anyway, my two-year-old misplaced my card so yesterday I had to go in and get a new one. I was talking to the librarian who was talking about ebooks. I guess they get most of their money for ebooks through grants and etc. The main concern the library has is that people have figured out how to loan ebooks and then copy over the files without the DRM… Or something. That’s an interesting point. How do you make a book secure when people figure out how to bypass those securities as soon as they are in place? I assume that worries publishers a lot, too. My librarian made it seem like its less a money issue than a pirating issue, which does effect money.

I don’t have any answers. Also, forgive any typos. I’m in my phone and fat finger a lot.


It’s great to hear your library has an amazing e-book collection, three cheers for grants and creative planning! I hadn’t even thought about library patrons breaking the DRM to share the file. the pirating is a whole ‘nother messy aspect, I suppose.


My library has a really good collection of ebooks, and I use them constantly. I understand everyone’s perspective in the fight about ebooks for libraries, and I don’t know what’s to be done about it! I think it might make sense to put a time limit on a library copy of an ebook, maybe? Like maybe, if the library has a copy of an ebook, they can check it out to one patron at a time an indefinite number of times up to a time limit. And then start over. That would be the same — wouldn’t that be the same? — as the library just buying a copy? Close enough?


that’s exactly what’s happening, that there is a time limit or use limit on the e-book the library pays a LOT of money to have for a limited amount of time.

physical books have a limited amount of time too, they do wear out after five or ten years, or the library realizes they own too many copies. It’s sort of the same on paper, but not close enough for me.


The library where I work is currently facing both budget cuts and a reduction in its physical space, which makes e-books simultaneously necessary and impossible. I’m hoping that the publishing industry and libraries can come to some better form of agreement in the near future; it would make my life much easier.


hmm, so maybe e-books are part of the salvation of libraries? when physical space and staff is too expensive, you can do all your library-ing via their website. But losing their physical spaces is an idea that makes me ill.


A little, but working with e-book site licenses can take as much manpower as working with physical books. It’s interesting to see how libraries are evolving. I still like browsing physical books though, and I don’t see them completely going away.


The libraries near me are all under threat of closure at the moment which is really bad. I hate the idea of library closure – as long as I’ve loved books I’ve used the library and whilst I buy a lot of books I like this service. More importantly is that the service is there for people who can’t afford to buy. So bad. But off topic. I haven’t used ebooks from the library yet. I can see how piracy would be a problem but then it’s a problem in this business anyway whether from library books or not. I understand that the library limits the number of books and that they are on your reader for the same duration as a book would be – at least I think so. I’m curious now so I’m going to check it out! I do read a few books on my kindle now although I still prefer books and there are a few reasons why I probably wouldn’t use library ebooks. 1. I’d probably forget I had them whereas a hard copy book on the table is a rather none too subtle reminder. 2. – very naughty reason but, occasionally, I might keep the book after it’s return date (when it’s not possible to renew due to other reservations) – because I’m near the end and want to finish – how annoying would it be if the book just went off your reader and then you had to go back in the queue! I’d sooner keep it for a couple of days and pay a fine!
Lynn 😀
Sorry about the essay!


closing libraries makes me want to throw up. seriously. Libraries are about more than just a place to get free books, even though that’s what we’re talking about right now. society fucking needs their goddamn libraries. (bad language means I’m really emotionally invested!)

i don’t mind paying late fees for late library books. husband and I like to joke that with our late fees they could build a new wing to the building.


Yeah, I know what you mean – it makes me so angry! I LOVE libraries and not only that I think it’s unfair on children who’s parents can’t afford to splash out – on books all the time. I joined the library at an early age – before I was able to read all my dad’s books – and frankly if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been reading at that point! Reading is not elitist and it makes me angry to think that people won’t be able to supplement their reading in this way. GGggrrrrr!
Absolutely to late fees – no way I’m taking that book back until I finish!
Lynn 😀


I check out ebooks and digital audiobooks from my library all the time. I’ve had no issues. I have to put holds on titles a lot, but I check out available titles while I’m waiting. Some books my library has multiple copies of so more than one person can check it out at a time or just one person at a time if they only have one copy. The max time a person can keep a book is 2 weeks. You can only put holds on 5 items at a time, and you can only have 5 digital copies of anything checked out at a time. It works a lot like physical copies in my opinion. I love it.


what happens after your check time is done? can you keep the e-book longer? or does it just disappear from your e-reader? Lynn was curious, now I’m curious too.


It expires so yes it disappears. It was tricky at first to figure out how to return things early, but there’s a different way for each type of file you can have (from within amazon’s manage your kindle or from adobe digital editions or from the overdrive console).

I’m the opposite of you and Lynn. I actually like that it disappears because I’m notorious for late fees. I desperately need someone to show up at my house and just take all of their books back. 😉


I think it’ll probably be a few more years before we see how it’s all going to work out. I always notice a long waiting list on the e-title new releases at my library so there is definitely a wait.

I think that’s awesome what S&S is giving a try. As for the indie and small press and libraries carrying more of them. That’s nice but then not nice…I’m not a huge fan of indie books. The editing is usually so terrible, though I try to read 4-6 a year.


I’ve had very, very mixed luck with indie books. A lot of them seem plagued with bad editing, bad formatting, which is too bad if the writing is halfway decent. and then there is the times when the writing isn’t halfway decent.


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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