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Macmillan vs. Harris County Library (and every other public library).

You may have already heard about how libraries really dislike the new pricing model of MacMillan’s publishing company.

Imagine my surprise and delight to see this gigantic poster at the front circulation desk in my branch to the Harris County library. It is literally the first thing that every patron sees when they walk in.

Here’s information about the petition.

Let me offer my take as an ebook enthusiast, author and ebook publisher.

First, public libraries miss a lot of quality ebook titles sold by indie presses. Instead they plan acquisitions according to what they read in the major book reviews, Library Journal and Publishers’ Weekly. Most indies would love their ebook titles to be available in library systems — and sell it at reasonable prices besides. (Smashwords provides a way for indie titles to get listed on Overdrive).

Here’s the catch: even though indie titles on Smashwords and other places are cheaper, quality is variable. But there are still gems there — that is why I have been writing a regular book column about budget indie ebooks!

Institutional prices for ebooks are hard to find, but in one ALA report, I saw estimates that a bestselling novel ebook sold for $12, but sold for $50 dollars for a two year’s license. That’s right, after 2 years, the library would have to purchase another license. I’m all for price experimentation, but for my Personville Press titles, all my titles sell for $5 or less with unlimited usage.

Second, I know that even major publishers are doing flash sales on ebook titles. The “regular price” on ebooks for Big 5 Publishers may be 11 or 12 dollars, but if you check bookgorilla or earlybirdbooks or bookbub, everything will be between 2-4 dollars. Let me guess: institutions aren’t allowed to buy ebooks at these discounted rates. So not only is the institution paying “full price” for an ebook title, it probably is paying even significantly more (and often for a limited duration).

Third as a reader and book buyer, I frequently will check out a title first if I can to see if it’s something I like. (I rarely get time to read the whole thing through Overdrive — even if I recheck it out). I don’t really seek out bestsellers, but some literary titles are in heavy demand – like Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (from Penguin). I was lucky enough to get an ebook right after she won the Nobel Prize, but I didn’t have time to read it. Now there’s an 8 week waiting list. I suspect that MacMillan’s waiting lists will be that much longer.

Active book buyers like myself pore over the ebook newsletters every day in search of deals. I often buy titles by unknowns if the price is right or the book description is intriguing. Certainly I check out ebooks which I never buy, but also I buy lots of ebooks (and I mean, LOTS!) which I originally checked out from Overdrive. I am fairly oblivious to what is new and popular — cost is a more important factor for me.

The effect of Macmillan’s pricing structure is that libraries will prefer print versions — which by the way earn authors the smallest profits. I learned from the ALA testimony

Postscript: The ALA fact/faq page gives more information which I am pasting below:

Purchasing Terms of Ebooks

Hachette – Two-year licensing model
HarperCollins -Metered licensing model (26 check-outs)
Macmillan — A perpetual license for one copy of a new title. Additional metered licenses available after an eight-week embargo (two years)
Penguin Random House. Two-year licensing model
Simon & Schuster.Two-year licensing model

I learn from the press release that ebook titles published by Amazon imprints are not for sale to institutions. I expect that to be resolved; Amazon is now publishing an increasing number of original titles; I’m guessing that they don’t allow Amazon titles to go on Overdrive because 1)Amazon has invented its own proprietary lending system and 2)ebooks published by Amazon are much cheaper than those from the Big Five.

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