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MoCo Wants Cheaper E-Books For Its Library System

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 7/18/2013, 1:20pm  ET

Bethesda LibraryMontgomery County wants state and federal lawmakers to take on publishers that sell e-books for higher prices to libraries than to individual consumers.

The County Council is expected to approve a resolution next week that would request a federal-level investigation of the issue. On Thursday, County Executive Isiah Leggett expressed his support and said Montgomery County Libraries often pay three times more than individual consumers for e-books.

Montgomery County Public Libraries say the demand for e-books in their collections have increased by an average of 87.5 percent over the last four years.

“We need to act now to end this discriminatory practice and bring fairness back to the cost of licensing e-books for public consumption at our public libraries,” Leggett said in a county press release. “We have a very strong lobby for public libraries in Montgomery County, and I urge our advocates to call attention to this issue.”

The resolution will ask the Maryland General Assembly, U.S. Congress, Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to examine the issue. The American Library Association started a public campaign last September to get the “Big Six” publishers (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Group, HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster) to lower its e-book prices to libraries and make e-books more available.

Publishers are worried about losing money by selling the e-books to libraries, where they can be freely shared.

“Any and all attention that can be drawn to the issue of inequitable e-book pricing is most welcome. If not addressed by our elected representatives at all levels, this practice will adversely affect one of the oldest public services that government provides — free access to life-long learning for people of all ages and backgrounds,” Montgomery County Public Libraries Director Parker Hamilton said.

The county said its libraries often pay $75 or more for an e-book that costs an individual consumer $25. Because of the large increase in demand for e-books, Leggett recommended $200,000 in the county’s FY14 budget specifically for the purchase of e-books. The County Council tacked on another $100,000 for a total of $300,000.

“We as a government have a responsibility to ensure that the customers who use our libraries have ready access to materials in the formats they are most requesting,” Leggett said. “Yet the pricing set by the book publishers for e-book titles is so high and out of line with the cost of other materials that it can become a financial burden for jurisdictions to keep up with the requests from public.”

Earlier this year, one library system reported on exactly the type of cost and availability differential it faces when purchasing e-books.

Libraries typically pay a few cents less per copy than consumers for print editions of books. But in February, only four of the top 15 fiction titles were available in e-book form to libraries.

An e-book version of “The Racketeer,” the newest from author John Grisham, cost $12.99 for consumers and $85 for libraries. Two other popular Random House titles cost $84.

Author Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior,” from publisher HarperCollins cost $12.99 for consumers and $25.95 for libraries.