Since the beginning of e-book lending, publishers have created different strategies to market digital products to libraries.

Libraries currently pay three to five times the retail price that an individual pays for e-books. Typically, libraries can only lease the book and must purchase the title again at the end of two years if they want to keep it in the collection. In another model, the digital content simply expires after 28 check-outs and must be purchased again. Almost all digital books and audiobooks are loaned on a one copy-one user model, just as if you checked out a physical book.

The most recent wrinkle in digital book sales came in July when Macmillan Publishers announced an eight-week embargo on new publications. Beginning on Nov. 1, libraries will only be allowed to purchase a single copy of Macmillan’s new titles during the eight weeks after the book’s release date. That’s right. Only one copy of new e-books from Macmillan regardless of whether the library is an urban multi-branch organization serving thousands of people or a single outlet in a small community. After the eight-week embargo, libraries can purchase “expiring” e-book copies, which must be repurchased after two years or 52 check-outs, whichever comes first.

For library users, print books and e-books seem like a similar product. After all, reading an e-book brings the same benefit as reading the print book. However, there are real differences. E-books allow users to enlarge the type to improve the reading experience, they are lightweight and portable — a boon to those who travel — and they are delivered to your electronic device with no need to make a trip to the library.

From the publisher’s point of view, library e-book lending potentially thwarts sales as it provides readers access to e-books for free. However, libraries feel that they play a positive role for publishers by marketing e-book and e-audiobook formats to their patrons and introducing millions of people to these products.

According to the American Library Association, “Current practices by content publisher and distributors in digital markets limit libraries’ ability to deliver core services.” ALA President Wanda Brown states. “Everyone who reads, writes, performs or sells creative works is harmed when libraries are unable to purchase and deliver content for all in our communities.”

According to former ALA President Sari Feldman, writing in Publisher Weekly, “Access to digital content in libraries is more than a financial issue; it is an equity issue.”

Libraries are the one institution that offers equal access to all — and as such, they play an important role in our democracy. As more and more content moves to a digital platform, libraries continue to provide access to information to all members of the population.

Braswell Memorial Library is a member of the e-iNC consortium, composed of about 40 libraries in North Carolina that pool their resources to make e-books available to our patrons. Membership enables us to spread the cost of platform fees, or money paid to Overdrive to manage the borrowing and downloading of e-content, over a wider base and increase the amount we can spend on content for our patrons. The consortium makes it possible for Braswell and other member libraries to provide e-books for our patrons.