Libraries demand new deal on ebooks

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But publishers who have resisted selling digital assets to libraries are already changing their tone. Online retailer Amazon, for example, not only sells books, but operates its own publishing business. Until recently, Amazon Publishing did not sell eBooks or audiobooks to libraries. But shortly before Maryland’s law came into effect, the company announced an agreement with the Boston-based nonprofit Digital Public Library of America to begin licensing its e-books to public libraries. The company said it is also working on a similar deal for Audible, Amazon’s audiobook publisher.

Library officials still support the bill, in hopes that it will force publishers to negotiate better deals for digital books. “It would establish the idea that there really is a problem here,” said Alan Inouye, senior director of public policy and government relations for the American Library Association, “and that there has to be a meeting on a discussion of what is reasonable terms. “

The lockdowns and closings of libraries forced by the COVID-19 pandemic have spawned a growing demand for borrowing books online. OverDrive, a company that provides digital library services to public libraries, said patrons around the world viewed half a billion items in 2021, a new record. In Massachusetts, the Library eBooks and Audiobooks program, which provides digital assets to users of 377 state libraries, has seen demand increase by more than 40%.

According to the American Library Association, libraries currently pay three to five times more than consumers for e-books and audiobooks. So an ebook retailing for $ 10 could cost a library $ 50. In addition, the library can only purchase the right to lend the book for a limited period – usually only two years – or for a limited number of loans – usually no more than 26. James Lonergan, director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, estimates publishers settled on 26 cases after calculating this is the number of times a printed book can be checked out before it is worn out and needs replacing.

And that’s what happens to a digital book after 26 cases. The library must “replace” it by paying a high price to have the right to lend it 26 times more.

Lonergan admits that this approach makes some sense. Traditional printed books can only be borrowed by one user at a time, but in theory, a digital book could be loaned to thousands of customers at a time. Plus, printed books wear out and need to be repurchased, but digital books last indefinitely. “You can’t have a book available forever for the same price,” Lonergan said. “Publishers need to make money.”

Lonergan believes libraries and publishers can craft terms that are cheaper and more flexible. Publishers can charge a lower initial cost for their digital products, for example. Or they could increase the number of times libraries can lend an eBook or audiobook. Lonergan believes passing the Massachusetts law would give publishers more incentive to negotiate.

But the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which represents most of the country’s major publishers, is ready to fight. An emailed statement from the AAP said the Massachusetts bill “raises significant constitutional and federal copyright concerns and constitutes an unwarranted intrusion into a vibrant and flourishing e-book market and audio books that benefit authors and publishers, booksellers, libraries and the general public. “

The AAP has already filed a lawsuit in federal court to block Maryland’s law enforcement, arguing that only the federal government can regulate digital publishing practices.

Again, Lonergan thinks the editors may be right. But he said it was one more reason for Massachusetts to pass the law. Lonergan noted that outside of Maryland law, lawmakers in Rhode Island are also considering the idea. “I think the hope is that if enough states make these efforts,” said Lonergan, “then Congress will step in and do something about it at the federal level.”


Hiawatha Bray can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @GlobeTechLab.



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