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eBooks and Libraries: Royalty Accounting, Publishers, and You

To all library patrons who also own an eReader: have you ever wondered if there was a way to combine those two things – a way to borrow eBooks from your local or city library?

I recently wanted to find the answer to this same question. On looking into the subject, I found out exactly how confusing the world of lending eBooks can be. Besides the libraries, publishers, various third parties, the authors, and even royalty accounting (MetaComet is a royalty management provider after all!) are all involved in the overall process of lending.

When I first went looking for an eBook to rent it was slightly frustrating. First of all, where do you even look for eBooks to rent? Library websites don’t have a button at the top of the page saying “eBook rentals”! You have to look for it on all library sites, which means that you have to want to rent an eSimplify Royalty Accounting with Royalty TrackerBook in the first place. After checking my local library to no avail, I decided to check the next best library that I had access to, the Boston Public Library (BPL)

Once you are online and you have figured out how to search the catalogue for eBooks (when you use the basic search function, there is drop down menu that allows you to search only eBooks), things go remarkably smoothly. Most libraries will give you two options for borrowing an eBook: Kindle and Adobe EPUB. I rented my eBook for the Kindle, but it was also very easy to rent it for Adobe EPUB. If you are renting for the Kindle, all you have to do is click “rent for Kindle” and the site will send you to Amazon.com to borrow it. Amazon monitors all purchases and rentals for the Kindle books, regardless of where you get the eBook.

Renting for the Nook or Sony Reader works basically the same way: you click on the Adobe EPUB link, and download the eBook to your computer. The same way that you need a Kindle program to borrow a Kindle book, though, you need an Adobe EPUB-reading program to borrow an Adobe book. If you don’t already have one, you need to download Adobe Digital Editions onto your computer in order to download and read the books that you borrow. This program will also allow you to upload the book onto your Nook or Sony Reader.

You may be asking, “Why do I need to go to so many other sites? Why can’t I just download the book straight from the library’s site?” The answer is that the eBook isn’t sent to your device by the publishing company or by the library. Publishing companies outsource to other companies that produce and loan out their books. Basically, you are renting the eBook from a third party source. These third parties manage the whole process for the libraries and publishers. The most popular being used today are Overdrive, Baker and Taylor, 3M, and Ingram.

Many people expect that of course libraries would lend eBooks to their patrons! After all, they can lend several eBooks at a time, they don’t have to worry about the book getting lost, and the book will never wear out or need replacing!

However, according to the American Library Association (ALA), several publishing houses are putting limits on the number of times a certain eBook can be lent out. Leading this trend is Harper Collins Publishers, which has imposed a limit of twenty-six rentals for an eBook before the library has to buy a new copy. That may seem like a small number of loans per book, but when you do the math it’s about the average lifespan of a print book.

Most rentals (both print and eBook) last for fourteen days. Twenty-six rentals at fourteen days apiece works out to a year’s worth of rentals, or the estimated life of a print book in a library. This way the publishing company (and, by extension, authors) won’t miss out on the royalties when the library has to buy a new copy.

The fact that the library only has twenty-six rentals per eBook makes it necessary to limit the number of rentals out at one time. Otherwise, twenty-six people could borrow the book at the same time, requiring the library to re-buy the book sooner than it expected. To combat that possibility, the number of rentals at one time for the books has been limited to three. (On certain books, usually new bestsellers, the limit is one at a time.)

Not all publishing companies operate on the same system as Harper Collins, though. The general rule for publishing companies is that there either is or isn’t a restriction, assuming that they even sell eBooks to libraries. At least four of the big publishing houses, such as Penguin, refuse to even sell eBooks to libraries, while companies like Random House still sell unlimited licenses to libraries, just at a higher cost than usual.

In some cases, depending on the publisher, the cost of the eBook goes up 300 percent. So if an eBook normally costs $9.99 for the consumer, the library would have to pay $29.97; if the eBook normally costs $24 then the library will be paying $72. Combine that with the limit on the lifespan of the eBooks, and you can see how it would put libraries in a tight spot.

In the end, I received and read my eBook without a problem. Fourteen days later the file disappeared from my device and I could no longer access it. (The title of the book and its cover image remain on the device until you delete it yourself, though you can’t access the content anymore.) In spite of the limitations on the consumer’s side, the headache for the libraries buying and lending out the eBooks, and the battle over royalty accounting, the process was still incredibly efficient, easy, and worth it for me – which is always a bonus when you want to finish the shopping and get to the reading.

 





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