S.L. library pays more for e-books than for print

Published: Friday, Nov. 18 2011 12:04 p.m. MST

In this Feb. 9, 2009 file photo, the Kindle 2 electronic reader is shown at an Amazon.com news conference in New York. Apple's new touch-screen "tablet" computer, expected to be unveiled Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, could give publishers the alternative to Amazon.com they have been craving and give consumers a new way to think about reading books without paper.

Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

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With e-readers, like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, becoming more popular, the Salt Lake Public Library is supplementing its print collections with 5,253 e-books.

With more than 16,000 checkouts since December 2010, the digital bookshelf seems like a hit, but the problem is the cost.

E-books are purchased through OverDrive Inc., an e-content provider to more than 11,000 libraries. The Salt Lake Library pays $12,000 a year for the OverDrive online checkout service, then pays a fee per title to rent out books to patrons.

Digital copies of new titles purchased from Overdrive tend to be on average about $8 more than a print edition and can jump as high as $75.99 for popular titles.

The company decided to use OverDrive because it had more titles than any other service in the market, said Julianne Hancock, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake Public Library.

“What becomes predominant in the marketplace is the service that is able to license the most amount of materials,” said Hancock, who has rented a few e-books from Overdrive. “That’s why OverDrive became so ubiquitous."

Obtaining books isn't as simple as buying them on Amazon. They need a checkout system, which OverDrive provides.

The OverDrive service works on almost any eReader, including Amazon's Kindle. E-books for the Kindle are checked out through OverDrive and delivered by Amazon's website.

The library has to buy multiple copies because each is checked out online one-by-one. For example, if the library wants to purchase five titles of John Grisham’s “The Litigators,” then it would have to pay $184.95 at $36.99 per book.

Print copies of the same book cost $28.95.

Experts in e-content acquisition say if this model doesn’t change, libraries will be in trouble.

Michael Porter, a former librarian, said that the high prices for e-content are interfering with the mission of library systems. He now works with Library Renewal, a nonprofit group working to create an infrastructure for e-content acquisition that bridges the gap between publishers and libraries.

“Prices will need to drop to continue the quality of service that we do now,” Porter said. “Libraries won’t be able to offer e-content in a competitive way.”

Porter sees support for libraries dwindling over time if a change isn’t made.

Cleveland-based OverDrive purchases distribution agreements from publishers for a negotiated price.

The company doesn’t disclose how much it pays per agreement and makes money by collecting a percentage from the publisher for every purchased title, said David Burleigh, director of marketing for OverDrive.

OverDrive also doesn’t disclose the amount it receives for each sale, but it varies by publisher, Burleigh said.

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

TWITTER: @joeyferguson

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