As the amount of content being delivered digitally increases, libraries are facing new challenges to their goal of enabling broad information access to their communities. The American Library Association’s (ALA) new report E-content: the digital dialogue features a number of articles and opinion pieces outlining the current challenging e-book landscape in American public libraries.
The ALA report explores a number of issues, including library-publisher relations and the wide variety of licensing models that are muddying the waters. The publishing model has changed dramatically, and the lessons of the music industry are reverberating. Publishers are struggling to find new ways to retain their financial viability while new competitors and business models are encroaching. Major distributors such as Apple and Amazon are competing with both publishers and libraries by becoming e-book publishers and lenders.
The current uncertainty is reflected in the sheer number of licensing and purchasing models – from Harper Collins’ infamous 26 e-book loan limit to Random House’s offering of perpetual access to e-book purchases – but at a higher unit price. Other big trade publishers are simply not selling e-books to public libraries at all.
Other models being tested include the ‘metering’ or pay per download model that enables publishers to get revenue for backlist titles, but is more challenging for libraries that have to be able to predict usage in order to set budgets. The simultaneous access model allows libraries to buy broad access to e-books when they are popular and scale back after the initial demand is met. Rent to buy, subscription plans and annual packages (called ‘bookshelf’ models) and ‘embargo’ models are also available.
The challenge is finding models that are deemed equitable for and by all stakeholders in the process – publishers, patrons, distributors, authors and their agents as well as libraries. These parties have some common goals but also some conflicts. The ALA believes that the debate is fundamental because it addresses why libraries exist and what their role will be in an increasingly ‘e’ world.
The report is free to download from the ALA website.