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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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Slave Lake Library reopens after fire

In May, wildfires ravaged the town of Slave Lake in northern Alberta. The community of 7,000 residents returned from an evacuation notice to find the town’s library, municipal government buildings, and radio station destroyed, plus many homes and businesses gutted.

As demolition, cleanup, and reconstruction efforts continue, the town had good reason to celebrate last Saturday as the Rotary Club of Slave Lake Public Library welcomed the community to the grand opening of its temporary location. The reopening of the library, which had been moved to a brand new facility adjoining town hall in 2009, comes largely thanks to a donations campaign mounted by the Slave Lake Regional Library Board and the Peace Library System in the days after the forest fires. Appeals for nearly new books and cash gifts have led to the library acquiring more than 14,000 materials, including books, audio books, DVDs, and computers. The temporary location will be in place for 18 months to two years while the original site is rebuilt.

In a press release, library board members and staff thank publishers, libraries, and individuals across Canada for their generosity, and acknowledge the impact their contributions have had on the town.

“A library helps link together members in a community,” says librarian Anne Moore. “This is a very busy library and many visitors see the temporary location as a beacon of hope.”

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Penguin pulls out of OverDrive, stops ebook sales to libraries

Penguin Group has announced it will no longer provide ebooks to OverDrive, effective immediately. With the termination of the relationship between the publisher and the U.S. digital content distributor, public libraries are effectively cut off from acquiring and lending out Penguin ebooks and e-audiobooks.

The Digital Shift reports:

Penguin is negotiating a “continuance agreement” with OverDrive, which will allow libraries that have Penguin ebooks in their catalog to continue to have access to those titles.

But since the company does not have a contract with 3M, the still fledgling but growing competitor to OverDrive, the practical effect of the decision will be to shut down public library access to additional Penguin ebook titles (not physical titles) for the immediate future.

The news is not entirely unexpected. In November of last year, Penguin Group stopped selling frontlist ebook titles to OverDrive and other digital distribution platforms, and stopped offering new e-audiobooks to library distributors last month.

Penguin is not the only major publisher to demonstrate an unwillingness to provide digital content to libraries. Even as circulation numbers for ebooks grow at libraries, multinational publishers have tightened the reins on providing ebooks and e-audiobooks to these institutions. In March, HarperCollins capped library lending of its e-titles at 26 loans. Random House held off providing digital content to libraries until spring of last year (the availability of Canadian backlisted titles has been notoriously limited). Simon & Schuster and MacMillan have so far refused to provide e-titles to libraries. Now, HarperCollins remains the only large multinational publisher to provide digital titles to OverDrive.

In each of these cases, publishers have cited concerns over piracy and the potential for a loss of consumer sales. Canadian publishers such as House of Anansi Press, Douglas & McIntyre, and Orca Books do presently deal with the distributor.

This latest development with Penguin strengthens the argument for a Canadian-made solution to e-content distribution, championed by groups such as the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, the Association of Canadian Publishers, and the Canadian Publishers Council (of which Penguin Canada, Simon & Schuster Canada, HarperCollins Canada, and Random House of Canada are members).

[This post was updated Feb. 10.]

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What Toronto budget cuts could mean for libraries

As Toronto’s city council enters final debates on the 2012 budget, here’s a look at what could be ahead for the Toronto Public Library.

TPL has been asked to meet a 10 per cent reduction target (cutting about $7 million from its annual budget) despite having the busiest year on record in 2011, with more than 19 million visitors borrowing over 33 million items.

A few motions on the table at city council argue for reversing budget reductions. One motion asks TPL to meet its 10 per cent target without cutting back on hours, instead saving money by buying fewer movies and magazines. Chief librarian Jane Pyper estimates that cutting 19,444 hours at 59 branches could save TPL $5.4 million, but this would likely affect all branches.

Another motion proposes that the $7 million in library cuts be scaled back to $4 million, using new revenue from property tax assessment growth to make up the remainder.

Toronto’s literary community has unleashed protests against proposed cuts, too. More than 100 well-known literary figures signed an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and city council, and the Toronto Public Library Workers Union placed an ad in the Toronto Star this week.

Meanwhile, TPL continues to search for ways to bring in more money. The National Post reported on one new membership program designed to attract the bookish under-40 set to exclusive library events for a roughly $300 annual fee.

Just this morning, the TPL Foundation announced a $1.5 million donation from Toronto philanthropists Marilyn and Charles Baillie to support the Toronto Reference Library’s revitalization, an ongoing program with a $34 million price tag. The Baillies’ donation will go towards the Special Collections Centre, a new reading room set to open in 2013 that will display items related to Canadiana, performance, and documentary art.

Library cuts are on the agenda for debate this afternoon. Check out the liveblog at Torontoist for the latest updates, and keep following Quillblog for more information.

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