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Nova Scotia libraries boycott Random House ebooks

Nova Scotia’s South Shore Public Libraries has stopped acquiring ebooks from Random House to protest the publisher’s recent price increase on digital titles.

In a press release, chief librarian Troy Myers said the increase will limit the number of ebooks the regional library system will be able to add to its digital catalogue.

On March 1, Random House raised the prices it charges wholesalers such as OverDrive, Ingram, and 3M, which lease ebooks for library lending. According to Library Journal’s Digital Shift blog, the new model looks like this:

  • Titles available in print as new hardcovers: $65–$85
  • Titles available for several months, or generally timed to paperback release: $25–$50
  • New children’s titles available in print as hardcovers: $35–$85
  • Older children’s titles and children’s paperbacks: $25–$45

Random House says the hike reflects the fact that unlike print books, an ebook may theoretically circulate endlessly, without requiring the purchase of replacement copies. (Similar arguments were made by Penguin when it stopped selling digital content to OverDrive, and by HarperCollins when it implemented an ebook lending cap.) Random House has also stated the change aligns its ebook wholesale pricing with that of its downloadable audiobooks for library lending.

In a statement to Digital Journal, Random House elaborated on its decision:

“We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles [i.e. simultaneous release to both the library and retail markets],” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesperson….

Applebaum said that the publishing house, which is the only one of the Big Six to make its ebooks available without restriction for library lending, is setting the library ebook price with “far less definitive, encompassing circulation data” than the sell-through information used to determine retail pricing.

“We are requesting data that libraries can share about their patrons’ borrowing patterns that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall ebook ecosystem,” Applebaum said.

To put the changes in context, SSPL points to Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, published by Random House last November, and leased to the library for $30. The same title now goes for $85 via OverDrive. It retails for $19.99 through the publisher’s website.

Speaking with CBC News, SSPL managers say they plan on approaching librarians across the country about expanding the boycott.

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