The Toronto Star has a piece on Canadian Public Libraries for Fair Book Pricing, the coalition of 29 Canadian public library systems that has been pressing major publishers for better licensing terms on their e-books. We’ve covered this group before, but it’s nice to see it getting more coverage.
The article notes that one of the biggest problems Canadian libraries have is that e-book prices are usually set in US dollars, which means they end up paying even more because the Canadian dollar is weak against the US one. Another problem is that the one-size-fits-all pricing model makes it tough for smaller, less-funded libraries to provide the same level of e-book service as larger libraries with bigger budgets. Toronto librarian Vickery Bowles believes that publishers charge more money because it’s easier to borrow an e-book than a print book.
Penguin/Random House has already reduced prices, and the group has a meeting scheduled with Simon & Schuster this month. Meanwhile, HarperCollins representatives say that its prices are already in line with what the group wants, though its books expire after 26 consecutive lends. The group has also reached out to government agencies, but without any apparent results.
It’s unclear which government department could create policy surrounding the public purchasing of eBooks. Ottawa councillor and chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Tim Tierney says regulation could come from the Copyright Act. It “dictates who can use something without being sued, in a nutshell,” Tierney said, adding that the act was amended in 2012 so that schools don’t have to pay to play films and music in their classrooms.
“We’re not asking for free, but we’re asking for fair,” he says.
Much as I like the convenience of being able to check out library e-books myself, I can sympathize with publishers’ concerns. It seems that library e-books are too readily available and too easy to pirate to be quite so inexpensive to libraries as for purchase to consumers. But hopefully they will able to reach some kind of compromise that works for everybody.