Petition launched by libraries to reduce restrictions and prices on ebooks

The Strathcona County Library is joining the fight against the costs and restrictions being levied on ebooks and digital audio books. A petition has been launched to try to bring the plight of libraries to the attention of the companies causing problems. Supplied

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The Strathcona County Library is joining the fight against the costs and restrictions being levied on ebooks and digital audiobooks.

“For the last 10 years that ebooks have been prominent, we’ve been trying to work with publishers if they have concerns about their profitability when it comes to ebooks and over that time there been both more and less restrictive practices,” explained Sharon Siga, CEO of Strathcona County Library. “Public libraries pay a higher price for a single copy of an ebook or an audiobook than consumers do and there is a restriction on how long that item is available to the library. After 26 borrowings it disappears and the library has to purchase it again or if we’ve had it for two years it disappears.”

Macmillan Publishing has announced some new rules for the ebooks it offers and libraries across the continent are not happy.

“One further restriction is being introduced by one of the big five publishers on Nov. 1, which means any public library is only allowed to purchase one copy when a new ebook is released and then have to wait eight weeks to be able to purchase any subsequent copies,” she said. “This is the most restrictive new development and that is what the petition is focusing on.”

The new restriction would heavily limit library access to popular content that readers want and add barriers for those who can’t afford to purchase every ebook they want to read.

“There are five multi-national publishers that control 80 per cent of the publishing in North America and our concern is that if one goes ahead with a restrictive access policy then others will follow suit,” Siga noted.

A North American petition launched on Oct. 15 by the American Library Association, supported by Canadian associations, is trying to bring the plight of libraries to the attention of the companies causing problems. The local library is encouraging people to take part after the Edmonton Public Library began leading the charge in the Metro region.

“We have also been contesting some of the data that is being reported on the impact on the publishers of the library purchases and the subsequent lending of the ebooks and we haven’t seen any data to date that supports their contention that selling to libraries is impacts their bottom line,” Siga said. “Our position is that it is part of the publishing and bookselling ecosystem. The data out there shows that people who borrow books are more likely to buy books than those who do not use the library.”

Siga said they have been working with publishers on ebooks for 10 years but at this point, they decided it was time to reach out to the public to see if there was a concern about ebook accessibility for libraries.

“For us, the concern is that for some people the ebook and audio format is ideal for them because they do not have the means to come to the library to access materials from home,” she said. “One of our core missions is to provide access to people in our community and we really feel this goes in the wrong direction.”

The data shows that people discover books at the library and many decide to purchase the books they enjoy.

Amazon’s audible subscription service is also a problem for libraries because the audiobooks and ebooks are not available outside of that service and are not available to libraries.

Siga added libraries are also hoping to work with the federal government to find a solution that would benefit libraries and Canadian authors so that libraries can continue to buy and lend digital content. Currently, libraries are often paying three to five times higher for ebooks than the consumer price.

You can find the petition at https://p2a.co/fgcQkzV or by visiting the Strathcona County Library where staff will help you fill out the petition online.

tdosser@postmedia.com

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