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Canadian libraries struggle with multinational publishers to provide ebooks

Last Updated Jan 14, 2019 at 2:18 pm PDT

(Sean Holden, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Canadian libraries say they're struggling to meet reader demand for ebooks and audiobooks

Digital rights dispute between libraries and publishers affecting availability of content

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Despite skyrocketing demand for ebooks and audiobooks, Canadian libraries say they’re struggling to meet reader demand because multinational publishers refuse to make their content available to them.

The Vancouver Public Library (VPL) says in the ongoing digital rights management dispute, multinational publishers including Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, as well as Amazon’s Audible are selling single copies for steep prices or are outright preventing Canadian libraries from buying many of the best-selling e-titles. Strangely enough, this includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s memoir.

“For the titles that we can get electronically, the price can be 300 per cent higher, or more, than buying the physical book,” said Kay Cahill, VPL director of collections and technology. “We see longer wait lists for popular titles, and we simply just can’t buy the number of copies that we would need to keep the wait lists down. And overall, if our budgets are being stretched by these high prices and restrictive licensing models, we just can’t build the same depth of content in digital that we can in print.”

RELATED: Cost of ebooks, audiobooks ‘not a sustainable model,’ library council says

Part of the reason may be because publishers fear libraries lending out digital copies will cut into profits, Cahill says, but the reality may actually be the opposite. Those who use libraries are more likely to buy books and actually prefer buying over borrowing, according to a 2014 Pew Research study in the United States. Among 78 per cent of Americans 16 years and older who read a book in the previous year, 54 per cent of print readers and 61 per cent of ebook readers said they prefer to purchase their own copies rather than borrow them.

In addition, people below the age of 64 — who are more likely to access digital content — were also more likely to have visited a library in the past year.

“So in fact, making books available through the public library, including digital content, creates that stronger reading ecosystem for everybody,” Cahill said.

She wants publishers to come to the table to create a model that allows libraries to provide content and ensures the publishers are getting the returns they want. Cahill is encouraging anyone who wants to see more digital content in libraries to contact the big publishing companies through the Canadian Urban Libraries Council’s new webpage dedicated to the issue.