(This story has been updated to clarify the meaning of “simultaneity” and include remarks from the North Texas Library Partners.)
New prices for Random House’s ebooks took effect on Thursday, and as the details emerged a number of librarians across the country expressed dismay at the doubling and tripling in prices they are seeing.
“We’re very concerned. These are tough times for libraries. It’s very tough here in Louisville,” said Debbe Oberhausen, manager of collection services, at the Louisville Free Public Library. “We want to provide this service, but this kind of pricing is really going to take a huge chunk of our budget,” she said.
On Wednesday, Oberhausen bought Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith for $40 via OverDrive. On Thursday, the price was $120. The print version of the book, with the library’s discount, is a little over $20 (it retails at $40). For Blessings by Anna Quindlen the ebook price went from $15 to $45.
“We’re happy they are continuing to sell to libraries, very happy,” Oberhausen said. “But this price increase is really, really hard,” she said.
Random House, which first announced the price hike (without details) on February 2 when it reaffirmed its commitment to the library ebook market, provided the following breakdown for what it is now charging library ebook distributors:
- Titles available in print as new hardcovers: $65- $85
- Titles available for several months, or generally timed to paperback release: $25-$50
- New children’s titles available in print as hardcovers: $35-$85
- Older children’s titles and children’s paperbacks: $25-$45
“We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles,” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesperson. “Understandably, every library will have its own perspective on this topic, and we are prepared to listen, learn, and adapt as appropriate,” he said.
“Simultaneity” here means that Random House’s titles are available to libraries on the same date the retail edition is put on sale. It is not referring to simultaneous, multiple user access. The model remains one book, one user.
[The entire text of the statement Applebaum sent to LJ is reproduced at the end of this article.]
Applebaum said that the publishing house, which is the only one of the Big Six to make its ebooks available without restriction for library lending, is setting the library ebook price with “far less definitive, encompassing circulation data” than the sell-through information used to determine retail pricing.
“We are requesting data that libraries can share about their patrons’ borrowing patterns that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall e-book ecosystem,” Applebaum said.
Applebaum said the new pricing does not affect Random House titles already in a library’s collection.
Random House’s increase was to distributors, such as OverDrive, which in turn can add its own increase on to what libraries ultimately pay. OverDrive, by far the largest distributor of ebooks to public libraries, declined to comment, but a number of librarians told LJ that the company holds closely information about its own markups.
The rationale for the price hike to distributors was to align ebook pricing with Random House’s Books on Tape audio book downloads for library lending.
“They’re aligning it with the e-audio version as a library edition price,” said Christopher Platt, the deputy director, collections and circulating operations, for the New York Public Library. “It would affect the number of units we acquire, but we’re not freaking out about it. They’re still in libraries after all,” he said.
Others also said they will have to rethink their collection decisions.
“They’ve tripled their prices on every title. A book that a week ago we purchased for $28.00 now costs $84.00,” said Scarlett Fisher-Herreman, the technical services & collection development supervisor, at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas, whose director, Gina Millsap, is seeking the presidency of the American Library Association. “I looked back at Random House titles we’ve purchased since December and looked up a number of titles, both new and titles they’ve had for years on Overdrive. Everything has tripled in price: kids, YA, adult, fiction, and nonfiction,” she said.
Fisher-Herreman, who had been bracing for an increase in the 50 percent range, said she found the tripling of price frustrating and surprising. For example, The 10 Easter Egg Hunters, a children’s title by Janet Schulman, was affordable at $8.99, but it now costs $26.97.
“We simply can’t afford to pay three times the price for the same titles. I will be working with my collection development team to determine how we move forward now that we know the severity of the price increase,” Fisher-Herreman said.
At the North Texas Library Partners, Carolyn Brewer, the executive director, had her staff make a duplicate cart of a Random House order the library had just recently placed. She found a 200 percent increase was the norm, with some titles hitting the 300 percent mark.
“”I’m worried that, between the lack of content available and the new pricing structures, we won’t be able to meet the demand for popular materials,” Brewer said.
Trent Garcia, the electronic resources librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, also felt a bit nonplussed: glad that Random House was still in the market but concerned about “a pretty steep increase.”
“The impact I foresee is we won’t be able to purchase as many titles as we were before,” Garcia said. “And in terms of our holds ratio, how many additional copies we will be able to buy will probably be affected as well,” he said.
The holds on ebooks are already notoriously long in libraries across the country.
Kathy Petlewski, the electronic resources librarian at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, Michigan, wrote on her blog on Thursday after seeing the price increases:
The first thing that popped into my mind was that Random House must really hate libraries. Perhaps this isn’t true, but it will take a lot of convincing for me to believe otherwise. Do they not realize that libraries are hard hit by the economic downturn and that our budgets are shrinking. How do they think we can afford to build a decent collection of e-books when we’re spending over $100 per book? I am terribly disappointed by this latest turn of events.
Applebaum said the company remained committed to serving libraries.
“Throughout our long history of mutual respect and partnership with libraries we have endeavored to satisfy our shared goals,” Applebaum said. “We are certain our ongoing straightforward dialogues with them on library e-lending will continue to yield constructive results,” he said.
Here is the full text of the statement Random House sent to LJ:
Random House, Inc. is constantly experimenting, evaluating, and adjusting different retail price points for our e-books. With our price adjustments announced March 1 we are now doing the same for our library e-pricing, albeit with far less definitive, encompassing circulation data than the sell-through information we use to determine our retail pricing for e-titles. We are requesting data that libraries can share about their patrons’ borrowing patterns that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall e-book ecosystem.
Currently absent such information in quantity, it is important to reiterate that our guiding principles in setting these new e-prices are the unrestricted and perpetual availability of our complete frontlist and backlist of Random House, Inc. titles under a model of one-copy, one user. All our titles continue to be available to libraries day and date with the release of the retail edition.
We believe that pricing to libraries must account for the higher value of this institutional model, which permits e-books to be repeatedly circulated without limitation. The library e-book and the lending privileges it allows enables many more readers to enjoy that copy than a typical consumer copy. Therefore, Random House believes it has greater value, and should be priced accordingly.
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 hcs: $35-$85.
Older children’s titles and children’s paperbacks: $25-$45.
Of course, 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. (For example, note that the suggested physical retail price for the Robert Massie title being cited in some literary blogs is $35, higher than most hardcovers, so its corresponding library e-price is higher than the aforesaid price ranges)
As we first said last month, our new e-book pricing framework is to bring our titles 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.
This new pricing will have no impact on Random House collections previously purchased by libraries.
We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles. Understandably, every library will have its own perspective on this topic, and we are prepared to listen, learn, and adapt as appropriate.
Throughout our long history of mutual respect and partnership with libraries we have endeavored to satisfy our shared goals. We are certain our ongoing straightforward dialogues with them on library e-lending will continue to yield constructive results.