26 January 2013

More Ebooks: Yea or Nay?

This week the official announcement came out that Macmillan will join the library ebook lending field, with a pilot program as follows (from Library Journal):
Macmillan will distribute the books under the agency model and work with multiple distributors, including OverDrive, Axis 360, and the 3M Cloud Library. Michael Lovett, Public Relations & Social Media Specialist at OverDrive, told LJ the titles will be $25 each. (For comparison purposes, consumer Kindle and Nook versions of some of the bestselling titles in the program go for $7.99-$11.99.) Once purchased by a library, each will be available for two years or 52 circulations, whichever comes first. 
In addition, the pilot is limited to 1,200 backlist titles from the Macmillan imprint Minotaur, which publishes mystery and crime fiction.

So, the overall picture is that the books will be cheaper than Random House, more expensive than consumer retail (not that anyone should be shocked here), but with a circulation cap like HarperCollins and Penguin, although a longer time period (HC caps at 26 circs per copy, Penguin at one year).

What exactly does this mean for libraries? 

More Title Availability
In terms of the mystery backlist, I believe this will be good for libraries and patrons alike. From my personal experience, our patrons who are avid mystery readers use the backlist extensively to catch up with series and reread old favorites. I do hope that the Minotaur titles that are in series will be complete sets. There's nothing worse than having patrons looking for a series and only finding number 1, 2, 4, and 6. The logic behind releasing ebook licenses in that manner is unclear. 

More Money Spent
Of course, this is not so good. When you have to shift $25 per copy to an ebook version of a title that would perhaps have been sitting on your shelf for a few years, that is one less hardcover for the library collection, on average. It may not be a 1:1 trade for all libraries, especially those that work with system-wide digital collections, yet it still chips away at the already strained materials budgets so many libraries have. 

More for the Future
Availability versus cost is always a fulcrum for libraries and ebooks. We want to provide for our patrons. They want ebooks, and I want them to have them through my library, so they know that even as formats change, they can still find the titles they want here. Yet I do want to see more discussion between libraries and publishers on agreement. Let's agree that both sides have relevant positions and arguments and ideas to bring to the table. Let's agree to disagree, but not step all over each other to find a balance. Publishers want to make sure that ebook lending will not hurt their bottom line, and libraries want to make sure of the same thing. 

So, more ebooks are on their way, but is it enough? Can each step forward from a publisher be met with support from libraries, without sweeping the need for more access under the rug? 

Yea or nay?