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strong>Digital Books And Librarians – Pushback on Licensing

Digital Books And Librarians – Pushback on Licensing And Costs

A survey of public libraries in New Zealand has found most have embraced digital book options, but some pushback is apparent.

The survey was carried out by Business Media Services Ltd on behalf of its imprint BMS Books Ltd. As a boutique publisher specialising in regional authors with challenging themes, we set out wanting to know more about the role of digital books in libraries. Having called and talked to 62 librarians over a couple of weeks, we found some interesting aspects emerged during our discussions.

We had three main questions: One, had the libraries moved into digital books (never assume)? What formats did you use? How were eBooks priced? A number of discussion points sometimes flowed out of straightforward questions.

Some of the librarians have been heavily involved in the introduction of digital books at a national and regional level. Others were managing the process on a face-to-face and day-to-day level with the public. Only one of the libraries did not have digital book services, but this was due to damage sustained by a natural event. It is fair to say digital books are a minimal component of books in smaller libraries, however.

Librarians said books supplies are drawn mainly from the largely Wellington-based EPIC consortium, the Japanese-owned OverDrive and Auckland-based Australasian distributor Wheelers’ ePlatform. Other sources include All Books NZ Ltd in Christchurch and other distributors, such as the James Bennett of Australia and Axis 360 Degrees.

Each of the suppliers has its adherents, who may not necessarily be “locked-in” by contractual arrangements but are heavily influenced in their book selection choices by distributor options.

Although the librarians in our survey described the suppliers in positive terms, a number raised concerns about access, selection and relevance. Sometimes it was just a question of numbers, as one librarian said how they had 15,000 books on offer and only 250 digital books.

Areas where we found some pushback include the following:

Pricing - Pricing seems to be a problem. We received a number of complaints that pricing for digital books from suppliers was “variable, even expensive compared to hard copy books.

Licensing - The introduction of a system of licensing access to digital material – books and audio – is troubling some librarians. Librarians are concerned about the continuing expense involved with limited licensing periods.

Who decides - Decision-making is an area of concern among librarians - regarding both digital and hard copy books.

An experienced librarian noted: “Digital books are too expensive and have lots of limitations. Publishers have to remember that research has shown libraries are like shop fronts for their books.”


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