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Random House Sharply Increases Library E-Book Prices

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As promised, Random House will continue to offer its e-books to libraries but as of March 1 has raised many e-books’ wholesale prices significantly — in some cases by as much as 300 percent.

The American Library Association calls the decision “deeply disappointing.”

Random House provided Library Journal blog The Digital Shift with its new e-book prices. These are the wholesale prices that digital distributors like OverDrive will pay for the books. The higher prices are, of course, passed on to the libraries that buy e-books from the distributors.

For the most part, RH prices to library wholesalers for titles available in print as new hardcovers are now set in the range of $65- $85.
Titles available for several months, or generally timed to paperback release, will be decreased in price to a range of $25-$50.
New children’s titles available in print as [hardcovers]: $35-$85.
Older children’s titles and children’s paperbacks: $25-$45.

Random House also noted “there will be some ‘outlier’ titles whose respective e-pricing will be above — or below — these ranges, in parallel to their higher/lower level in print.” And the company reiterated its goal is to bring the prices of library e-books in line in “price-point symmetry with our Books on Tape audio book downloads for library lending. These long have carried a considerably higher purchase price point than our digital audio books purchased for individual consumption.”

Alan Gray, chief administrative officer of the Darien (CT) Library, told me, “We saw prices of between $40 and $50 for the kind of current books we have been ordering through Overdrive from Random House. That was just about double what we had experienced previously. Caused us to hold back on volume, and switch to alternative publishers’ offerings. Not sure the effect in the long term, but as one person here put it, ‘we just about stroked out.'”

Several librarians told The Digital Shift that the prices they’re seeing tripled. “A book that a week ago we purchased for $28.00 now costs $84.00,” said one.

The American Library Association, which met with Random House and other publishers in early March to discuss their e-book lending policies, called on Random House to reconsider. “In a time of extreme financial constraint, a major price increase effectively curtails access for many libraries, and especially our communities that are hardest hit economically,” said ALA President Molly Raphael in a statement, adding, “[W]e recognize and thank those publishers and aggregators that have worked with libraries on e-book lending models at a time of significant disruption and change.”

Despite its higher prices, Random House is now the only big-six publisher to offer unrestricted access to its e-books in libraries. Penguin recently ended its relationship with OverDrive and will no longer distribute e-books and digital audiobooks to libraries — at least until it finds a new partner. Macmillan, Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) and Hachette do not make e-books available to libraries. HarperCollins allows e-books to be checked out 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy.

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