E-books have become quite popular. This has made many libraries conclude that it would be a good idea for them to acquire e-books. In theory it doesn’t seem like this should be a problem. Libraries buy a book and loan it out all for the reasonable price of one book. Unfortunately it isn’t as simple with e-books.
E-books are considered by most people to be a digital form of a book, so most expect that it would come with many of the same perks of having a real book. But they don’t. E-books can’t be lent to friends or be read on a wide variety of e-readers because of all that pesky digital rights management (DRM) stuff. DRM is basically a computer code that restricts how the book can be used. E-book readers have limited rights with what they can do with an e-book although it is still paid for just like a actual book.
As Wired recently pointed out, one of the biggest misconceptions with e-books is that they are owned. The publisher allows consumers to lease them. Consumers essentially pay to lease a book indefinitely, which is why people cannot do as they please with an e-book. This concept of leasing rather than owning is what makes it difficult for libraries to obtain e-books. Publishers do not want to loan a book to a library, so they can in turn loan it to others many times.
There is another issue with libraries obtaining e-books: the price. For consumers, e-books can be much cheaper than the actual book. This isn’t always the case, but there are times where the e-book price is drastically cheaper than the book. As it turns out, publishers aren’t willing to give these good pricing deals to libraries. They expect libraries to pay an extremely high price for e-books.
The American Library Association is trying to discuss options with publisher to make e-books more accessible for libraries but doesn’t seem to be making headway. Some publishers have flat out refused to allow libraries to have access to their e-books while others have increased to prices of them. One publisher limits the amount of times a library can loan an e-book before they have to lease it again.
All of this explains why some libraries still do not have any e-books and why most libraries don’t have a good selection of e-books. Hopefully things will change in the future, but right now the outcome is looking grim for libraries. It is understandable that publishers want to make money, but it also seems unfair to charge exorbitant prices for e-books to libraries when the same isn’t done for real books.