Following two years of pilot tests with the New York Public Library (NYPL) and others, Hachette Book Group today announced that it will once again sell its frontlist ebook titles to libraries, beginning on May 8. Hachette had discontinued the sale of new ebooks to libraries in July 2010, although the publisher continued to offer digital audiobooks, as well as a selection of backlist ebook titles published prior to April 2010.
Hachette’s entire catalog of 5,000 ebooks will now be available through OverDrive, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform, and the 3M Cloud Library, under a pricing and licensing model similar to the one employed by Random House. New titles will be made available to libraries immediately upon publication, and Hachette will charge libraries three times the retail hardcover price for new releases. One year after publication, the purchase price will drop to one and a half times the cost of retail, according Hachette’s announcement. These ebooks are then “owned” by the purchasing library. Licenses do not expire, and titles can be checked out an unlimited number of times under a one book/one user model.
“Our goal is to have authors’ work available on as many bookshelves and platforms as possible, and we’re looking forward to working with public libraries to serve their communities of readers as their reading habits evolve,” Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch said in the announcement.
The news first broke in a New York Times op-ed by NYPL President Tony Marx, who commented on improving relations between the Big Six publishers and libraries over the sale of ebooks.
“While HarperCollins…was the first to provide access, after the [economic] downturn, it limited the number of times each e-book could be lent, while Hachette decided to no longer sell new e-books to libraries, and Penguin, which had agreed to do so, said it might back out,” he wrote. “To their credit, the publishers have now each come around,” with Simon & Schuster and Macmillan also recently announcing pilot programs.
Yet while the situation is improving, “many issues still need to be sorted out,” Marx adds. Between the expiring licensing terms or loan caps or imposed by HarperCollins, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, or the significantly higher-than-retail prices charged by Random House and Hachette, ebooks remain very expensive for libraries, during a period of rising demand and declining budgets.
Hachette’s announcement states that its library ebook pricing model will be reviewed annually, with input from stakeholders including the American Library Association (ALA). ALA President Maureen Sullivan today expressed hope that an ongoing dialog may lead to more favorable pricing for libraries in the future.
“We welcome Hachette Book Group’s assertion that they will continue to review their library pricing going forward,” Sullivan said in a statement to the press. “ALA and its members believe that there must be business models with lower price points for which publishers can still make a reasonable profit.”
“With open minds and open communications channels, I believe libraries, publishers and authors will continue to find solutions to bring more content and greater balance to the reading ecosystem.”