US investigates terms e-book distributors charge libraries

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Two U.S. officials have written letters to aggregators who distribute and sell digital content to libraries. They want to know everything about the standard eBook licensing agreements for every major publisher they work with, including Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. It’s no big secret, Good e-Reader released a report earlier this year that outlined the terms under which each publisher charges Overdrive for audiobooks and e-books.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and California Representative Anna Eshoo are spearheading this initiative. The letter said that “many libraries face financial and practical challenges in making e-books available to their customers, compromising their ability to fulfill their mission,” the lawmakers wrote. “We understand that these difficulties arise because eBooks are typically offered under more expensive and limited license agreements, unlike print books which libraries can typically purchase, own, and lend on their own terms. “

In general, the terms that libraries charge library distributors, such as Overdrive, Hoopa, Cloud Library, and EBSCO, are the same. This allows everyone to be competitive with their rates, but each has a rather different system. Overdrive is the most popular, they are the market leader in the industry. Their Libby app is very popular, with millions of downloads.

Publishers have a few different pricing models and license terms for digital aggregators. The most common is a book, a use. In order for a library to lend an eBook, it must purchase it. If a book is popular, the library can buy 10-20 eBooks, so there is enough for everyone and the waiting list is not too long. COVID has dramatically increased the number of titles libraries buy, as during the pandemic most branches were closed. Many publishers have gotten rid of their perpetual access programs, where libraries pay for the book once, and own it forever, at a measured two-year model, which offers lower prices on e-book licenses. which expire after two years. Cost per circ is also a relatively new system, libraries can store over 100,000 eBooks and only pay if someone borrows them.


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