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Summary:

Penguin will make new ebooks available to libraries once again, after ending the practice in 2011. Prices will be comparable to retail, and the library will have to buy a new copy of the ebook after a year.

New York Public Library
photo: Flickr / melanzane1013

In 2011, Penguin decided to stop offering new ebooks to libraries, citing “concerns about the security of digital editions.” The publisher then ended its relationship with digital library distributor OverDrive.

Now that Penguin is running ebook trials with two new library distributors — Baker & Taylor and 3M — the publisher has decided it is safe to make new ebooks available for lending again, the AP reported Wednesday. Penguin has been tracking ebook checkouts at libraries to make sure they are not cutting into paid book sales, and found that “the effect of library downloads on commercial revenues has been acceptable.”

“Penguin is proud to make all of our eBooks available to library patrons,” Tim McCall, Penguin’s VP of online sales and marketing, said in a statement. “After careful examination of our pilot programs, we are ready to take the next step and offer what consumers and libraries have been asking for, thus fulfilling our mission to bring new writers to readers.”

In its library trials, Penguin allows an ebook to be lent to only one person at a time, and after a year the library has to buy a new copy of the ebook. The prices for libraries are the same as retail prices. Penguin’s library ebooks aren’t available to Kindle users, because Baker & Taylor and 3M do not yet support the format.

Other publishers also place restrictions on ebook library lending. Random House makes all of its ebooks available to libraries, but at prices as much as three times higher than the retail price. HarperCollins allows its ebooks to be checked out 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy. Hachette only makes new ebooks available to some libraries in a pilot program, and charges more than retail price. Macmillan is running a two-year trial that makes 1,200 older ebooks available to libraries. Simon & Schuster does not make its ebooks available to libraries.

  1. all this should be illegal.

    libraries should be able to buy books for the same price everyone else pays and lend it as many times as they want and resell it if it is no longer in demand.

    i love technology but not when it is used to gouge the public’s wallets.

    electronic media should be freer than paper not more restricted.

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    1. You show a complete disregard for the people who write the books ever being able to afford to keep writing them.
      No income for authors, no books. Simple equation.
      Not only are you advocating libraries becoming a place where everyone can get ALL their ebooks without ever paying for one, you think the library should be able to sell the book too. This would be the absolute end of people being paid for their work.
      The world is bigger than your tiny corner, with only your own wants and needs, where you imagine your every need will be catered for by pressing a button.
      It’s not at all realistic.

      Ebooks are not “electronic media” as you put it. They are a version of intellectual property.

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  2. I agree with Tom. Why is it any different than a book being checked out traditionally? If its because of book pirating, ebook lending from libraries isn’t going to stop that. As long as an electronic copy is available, the chance for pirating will be there. This just hurts our already financially struggling libraries.

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    1. Dara, I see you are a writer.
      Please read my reply to Tom, above.
      To answer your question the difference with an ebook from a book being checked out traditionally, as you put it, is that a paper book can only be lent so many times before it deteroriates, and a new copy must be purchased. So a paper book that is very popular must be purchased several times. And it can be lent only once at any given time.
      The author MUST earn money, or cannot afford to keep writing.
      If the libraries are struggling financially it is because the people responsible for financing them, at whichever government level that is in any particular place, is not doing their job properly. Vote them out.

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  3. But written copy still lasts a lot longer than 26 times. If that’s the reasoning the price should still be the same and the timing be related to that of a paper book. You can also make the requirement (like it says Penguin does) that it only be lent to one person at a time.

    Pricing books at 3x the normal rate just makes it so libraries don’t want to offer them.

    And while I’m not necessarily advocating they be sold if we’re equating to paper books then those also can be sold. I have plenty of library books I’ve purchased at library sales.

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    1. A paper book isn’t in good readable condition after being loaned 26 times. They simply don’t last that long.
      And the issue of selling used books is that a paper book has deteroriated, and has a lower value, but an electronic book is essentially in the same condition as a new book. Therefore, if you make it legal to sell them, it will effectively stop writers from selling even half the number of books they otherwise would sell, leading to a situation where writers don’t get paid, and therefore can’t afford to be writers any more.

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  4. A well-written article and the comments have also been useful to me.

    I just published an ebook last week (theinfinitebit.wordpress.com). It is not yet available to libraries. Before publishing the book, I was in the “readers” camp, believing that everything that’s true of print books should also be true for ebooks. I loved free downloads. Now that I am in the “writers” camp I suddenly find that control is necessary in the electronic space.

    I spent a year writing my book including four months of full-time research. Where am I going to earn my money if I sell my ebook to libraries for $8.99? In the old days, there was a certain physical constraint to borrowing library books. You had to drive to town, browse the shelves and pick up books. With ebooks, the dynamics are different. Libraries ought to pay higher prices for purchasing ebooks to their collection. They may pass some of this cost to members who now benefit from the ease of online searching, quick downloading and easy returning.

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  5. So how much have authors “lost” in sales over the decades to flea markets, yard sales, used book stores and eBay when their books are purchased second-, third- or fourth-hand? (And for a fraction of the MSRP; often pennies on the dollar) How many people borrow a traditional paper or ebook from a library to see if the author is one whose work they want to further explore?

    Inflating the price and limiting the availability of ebooks to libraries could further hurt established authors; times are tough, the economy sucks and people just aren’t as willing to pay $10-$15 (or more) for a new release of a ebook whether they can get them alternatively at the library or not. New authors will be shut out of potential audiences because their availability to first time readers of their work will be decreased. I’ve found several interesting “new” authors in my search of the local digital library; had their book not been available to read electronically through the library, I wouldn’t have bothered to pick up the hard copy *primarily because I don’t want to physically go to my library most of the time).

    The traditional paper book industry may not be dying altogether but it has been dealt a damaging blow from the ebook industry. Publishers should want to encourage readers to find their authors’ work through honest/legal channels, and without gouging the libraries. Limiting ebooks this stringently will only push consumers to illegal download sites to find their reading material. Unfortunately there are far too many ways for today’s consumer to find either the paper copy or the ebook version of most any published work without the author making another cent on it.

    AND there are many writers I WISH would stop making money so they WOULD STOP writing.

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