Publishers being Scrooges when it comes to e-books

November 28, 2012 

The holidays are coming, and many people will unwrap Kindles and other e-readers. Good luck getting an e-book from your public library to download to your new gift. Meet the ghost of Christmas past and present: publishers – the modern-day Scrooge.

Major publishers are not selling e-books to libraries, including Pierce County Library System, and that’s giving residents throughout Pierce County a raw deal. The public is demanding e-books from libraries and publishers are locking them out.

Publishers have drawn an arbitrary line, and they are either not selling e-books to libraries or selling them at costs 100 to 300 percent higher than list prices or with heavy usage restrictions. Currently, only two of the six major publishers, HarperCollins Publishers and Random House Inc., are selling to libraries.

Sure, Pierce County Library offers e-books. We simply are not allowed to offer what is available on the open market, especially best-sellers. As a result, we are cutting our e-book budget by nearly 50 percent.

For the books we can buy, because they are so overpriced, we make purchases sparingly to meet our commitment of being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars. “Fifty Shades of Grey” costs Pierce County Library $47.85 and sells on Amazon.com for $9.99.

Libraries and bookstores share clientele. A recent study found that more than half of all library customers report buying books by an author they were introduced to in a library. Along with my colleagues, I am confused and frustrated by publishers’ unwillingness to allow us to participate in the e-book marketplace. Publishers are giving no clear reason about why they are blackballing libraries and the public.

It’s quite rare that in a free market a customer – in this case libraries and the American public – is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is no good. Publishers are turning away 122,000 libraries and approximately 169 million public library customers.

Libraries represent core values in this country – the freedom to read and learn and universal access to books. Libraries help bridge the digital divide to make technology available to all people. Pierce County Library is working with the American Library Association and Urban Libraries Council which are trying to break the blockade from publishers and this blatantly unfair business practice. They have met and talked with many of the publishers, yet we are still locked out.

We hope the blockade crumbles as people get e-readers for the holidays. We hope that publishers give a wonderful present of e-books to the hundreds of thousands of people in our service area and millions across the country.

Pierce County Library is asking that before residents send letters to Santa Claus this year, they email or send a postcard to publishers and urge them to sell to libraries. People can get a sample email from the library’s website at piercecountylibrary.org or postcards at any Pierce County Library.

I sincerely hope publishers stop being Scrooges and untie the strings on e-books. Please don’t take us to a scary ghost of Christmas future.

Neel Parikh is the executive director of Pierce County Library System.

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