Rising costs and new policies from publishers are translating to longer waits for digital versions of bestsellers at the Central Arkansas Library System and many others, library officials say.
Libraries want to make a wide variety of materials, including e-books and audiobooks, accessible to patrons, Executive Director Nate Coulter said at a meeting of the library system's finance committee last week. Those materials are also growing in popularity, making up 26% of the library system's total circulation.
But it's becoming pricier.
Libraries pay three to five times more for e-books and audiobooks than consumers do, and when a library purchases a digital copy of an e-book or audiobook, it's up to the publisher to decide how long the library is allowed to own it before it must renew a license on the item.
Recent moves by publishers, which intensified in 2018, also have increased difficulties for libraries. According to information from the Urban Libraries Council, various publishers and divisions began implementing embargoes on new e-book titles for libraries and ceasing perpetual licensing models in favor of two-year ones.
On Nov. 1, Macmillan Publishers -- which publishes widely read authors including Nora Roberts, J.D. Robb and Tom Clancy -- implemented a two-month embargo on all new e-book titles for libraries.
"Really, this is an imposition on the public access to digital e-books. It's just a hostility," Coulter said.
For instance, the library system spent $3,200 on 30 e-book and 20 audiobook copies of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which made the top of The New York Times fiction bestsellers list for much of 2019. Still, there are about 200 people on the wait list for the e-book and about 100 in line for the audiobook, according to a video on the library system's website.
A recent statement from the Urban Libraries Council on the importance of equitable public access to e-books and audiobooks was signed by more than 90 local-level officials across the United States and Canada, including Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
"When we invest in our youth through public education and learning resources, we are investing in a thriving, prosperous future for every corner of our city. In the digital age, it is vital that our residents receive equitable access to e-books at their local libraries," Scott said in a statement.
In October, North Little Rock's library system joined 34 library systems across Arkansas in boycotting Macmillan's titles. The William F. Laman Public Library is part of the Arkansas Digital Library Consortium, which is administered by the Arkansas State Library.
Book publishers say libraries hurt e-book sales. Macmillan CEO John Sargent told National Public Radio that the publishing house is open to discussions with libraries to find the best answer for all in the "publishing ecosystem."
E-books' use has continued to grow at the Central Arkansas Library System. Nathan James, deputy executive director of technology and collection innovation, said e-book use in the library system rose 15% in 2018. In October, the library's print circulation fell 10% while digital circulation rose by 30%, he said.
The library system plans to spend $560,000 on downloadable materials in 2020, from its collections budget of nearly $2 million.
James said the library system's leadership will focus on providing digital copies of bestsellers, rather than "deep material," and will refrain from purchasing book titles until the end of the two-month period imposed by Macmillan in order to improve patrons' experiences by avoiding wait times, though it may be a bit longer before 2020's most anticipated e-books make their debut in the system's collection.
The library system is the state's largest, with facilities in the Pulaski County cities of Little Rock, Jacksonville, Sherwood and Maumelle, as well as in Perry County. In 2018, more than 2.6 million digital and print items were borrowed throughout the system.
Metro on 12/02/2019
Print Headline: Rising e-book costs a strain on libraries; central Arkansas system plans to spend $560K in '20