The answer to the question of “Why you can’t find some bestselling e-books in public libraries (or via public libraries online digital catalogs) has several aspects to it but three points rise head and shoulders above the rest.
Firstly, some publishers, including Simon & Schuster, simply will not sell e-books to public libraries – period. For example, if you’d like to read the e-book Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin, which is indeed published by Simon & Schuster, you won’t find it in the STLS Digital Catalog because Simon & Schuster won’t allow us to purchase a copy for the Digital Catalog!*1
Secondly, the prices some publishers charge for the e-books they sell to public libraries are more than triple the list price of the hardcover versions of the same books. For example, the new book My Beloved World by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has a hardcover list price of $27.95 and the e-book version available for consumers currently costs $14.99 via Amazon and $12.99 via Barnes and Noble. And guess how much it costs public libraries to purchase a copy? Does an e-book cost public libraries $12.99 or14.99? No not even close! The publisher Knopf Double (an offshoot of Random House) charges public libraries $83.85 for that same title! So the publishing company wants public libraries to pay $68.86 more than the $14.99 price currently being charged by Amazon for that same e-title. I’m all for companies’ making a profit but $83.85 is a really steep price to charge public libraries for a book that costs consumers, in both e-book and print formats, less than fifteen dollars.
And thirdly, in a word ownership! Or to be more precise the lack of ownership of digital content – most people do not realize that e-books (and e-videos, e-music titles and e-audio books) are being sold in a different way than traditional formatted items. For example, if you buy a print book, DVD, music CD or audio book on CD – you bought and you own it. You can sell that item later, loan it to your sister, your mother or grandfather, keep the book for 50 years and pass it along to your granddaughter as a cherished item and even recycle that bestseller that has been read by so many friends and family members that it is falling apart.
In contrast, the way e-books and other digital content are being sold today…
Well that can be summed up in a word too – “licensed.”
Currently most user end agreements for both e-books purchased by individuals and by libraries state that the purchaser is being granted a license to access the e-book or other digital content. So you can’t lend most e-books or other e-content to your mother, sister or best friend to read, and you can’t re-sell e-books because of course you don’t own them. And theoretically, since you’ve licensed the content the publishing company can revoke that license and you as the licensee probably are not going to be able to transfer the e-books you’ve acquired over a number of years to your granddaughter via your will; because again; you don’t own the e-books.
If you consider those three points you’ll understand why some of the new and popular e-books you’d like to read are not available in our Digital Catalog.
And perhaps needless to say The American Library Association and a number of other organizations*2 that value the traditional First Sale Doctrine that applies to printed books but not currently to e-books and other e-content have started a lobby group titled The Owners’ Right Initiative whose motto regarding digital content is “You bought it. You own it. You have a right to re-sell it!”
And having said all of that here are two links to short FYI type articles on this subject from The Digital Book World site:
Article 1 is titled E-Book Dispatches from 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting:
And article 2 is titled The Real Cost of Ebooks for Libraries:
And a third and fourth related links to the official definition of what First Sale Doctrine means in the United States courtesy of the U.S. Copyright Office (Code S 109) and a more accessible explanation offered by The Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Here’s the U.S. Copyright Office link to Section 109 of the U.S. Copyright Laws:
And the link to the more accessible explanation of First Sale Doctrine offered by the EFF:
Have a great day!
Digital Book Wire. (2013, February 5). The Real Cost of Ebooks for Libraries. DBW. Online.
Inouye, Alan. (2013, February 6.) E-book Dispatches from 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting. DBW. Online.
Mcksherry, Corynne. (2012, December 23). 2012 in Review: First Sale Under Siege — If You Bought It, You Should Own It. Electronic Frontier Foundation: Defending Your Rights in the Digital World. Online.
Limitations on exclusive rights: Effect of transfer of particular copy or phonorecord. United States Copyright Office. (Accessed 2013, February 6). Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code: Section 109. U.S. Copyright Office. Online.
*1. Public libraries have found a loop hole in this procedure– while we can’t purchaseSimon & Schuster e-books for patrons to download to their Kindles, Nooks, iPads etc. We can purchase them through Barnes & Noble for our circulating Nooks. So if you don’t see a bestselling book in the STLS Digital Catalog that is published by Simon & Schuster – like Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (the book is the basis for the movie Lincoln) – ask the staff – you can make a request and we can purchase a copy of the e-book title at the e-book price listed on the Barnes & Noble website and you’ll be able to read it on one of our circulating e-reader – not your e-reader unfortunately; but you will have access to the title as an e-book.
*2. Here’s a list of all the groups that belong to the Owners’ Rights Initiative as taken from their website. The link to the website follows the list.
American Free Trade Association
American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
Association of Service and Computer Dealers International and the North American Association of Telecommunications Dealers (AscdiNatd)
Association of Research Libraries
Computer and Communications Industry Association
Home School Legal Defense Fund (HSLDA)
International Imaging Technology Counsel (ITC)
Internet Commerce Coalition
Network Hardware Resale
Quality King Distributors
United Network Equipment Dealers Association (UNEDA)