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By Natalie Samson
February 16, 2012
6:38 PM

Filed under News

As ebook lending skyrockets, libraries and publishers look for a Canadian-made licensing solution

In the past year, ebook lending has skyrocketed at public libraries. In 2011, ebook circulation was up 103 per cent over 2010 at the Toronto Public Library, which has more than 28,000 titles in its collection. The Canadian Urban Libraries Council reported a collective budget of $11 million for digital resources in 2010.

And yet, in the past few years, public libraries have had to deal with circulation caps on ebooks imposed by HarperCollins; the slow withdrawal of e-content from the likes of Penguin and Hachette; the ongoing refusal by Simon & Schuster and Macmillan to sell ebooks to libraries; and, soon, an increase in prices for Random House ebooks sold to libraries. 

But the situation is not all doom and gloom. At present, approximately 90 Canadian publishers – including D&M Publishers, House of Anansi Press, Harlequin, Thomas Allen Publishers, and Orca Book Publishers sell ebooks to libraries through OverDrive, the ebook and e-audiobook vendor of choice at public libraries across North America.

Christina de Castell, acting director of technology and collection management at the Vancouver Public Library, says the availability of content from Canadian publishers “is improving,” though it’s not yet comparable to print.

For publishers, the primary issue has been finding pricing and licensing models that work for them. “Our driving concern is getting compensated for our content and making sure our authors are being compensated fairly for how much that content is being used,” says Orca publisher Andrew Wooldridge.

In the past year, library groups such as CULC have met several times with the Association of Canadian Publishers and the Canadian Publishers’ Council, expressing the urgency of finding “easier ways for our patrons to discover and borrow books, and [have] access to more content,” says de Castell.

Libraries are also using these meetings to share their expertise on licensing models used by other digital-content providers. “Journals, newspapers, and magazines have been online in libraries for more than 10 years, so we’ve had a fair amount of experience dealing with buying electronic content,” says de Castell. “Scholarly publishers and academic publishers … have been selling electronic content in ebook format for many years. They’re very experienced and comfortable with [a licensing] model, but it is very new for many of the trade publishers.”

Finding effective purchasing models has become a top priority for both camps. Currently, OverDrive works on a model similar to print in which copies of ebooks are circulated to one user at a time for three weeks, without the option of renewing. Users can place holds on ebooks, with the number of holds often dictating the number of ebooks purchased of a particular title. It’s not a popular model with libraries, which are now struggling with huge holds lists and a lack of varied trade e-content.

In addition to content and purchasing models, Canadian public libraries are looking to publishers for a “Canadian solution” to ebook warehousing and distribution as a viable alternative to OverDrive, de Castell says.

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