For North Country libraries, e-books are expensive but worthwhile

Photo: Paul Stainthorp, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Paul Stainthorp, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What does the massive popularity of e-books and e-readers mean for public libraries? Well, it’s complicated, but for North Country libraries, getting on the e-book train is apparently well worth the expense.

In an Odgensburg Journal article last week, North Country Library System director Stephen Bolton said that although e-books are substantially pricier than physical books, it’s worth it for the library.

“Promoting literature, reading and access to information is the central mission for libraries,” Bolton told the paper. “People are rediscovering what library services are available to them thanks to e-books and now e-magazines.”

Price-wise, the difference is substantial. E-books range from about $40 to $100 for the North Country libraries (hardly a Kindle “daily deal” price!), while a physical copy could be about $20. So the price is higher, but so is circulation: Bolton said while every year circulation of physical copies has gone up 2 or 3 percent, the circulation of the e-books has gone up 20 percent every year since it was established in 2011.

“This is just our third year since we established a collection. It’s still rather small, but people have responded immediately when we get new titles,” Bolton said. “If we had more money to get more books or copies of books, I know our circulation would go up.”

But Bolton said that libraries are still spending more on physical copies of books, movies, audiobooks and music. The 65 libraries in the North Country Library System still spent roughly $713,132 on physical materials in 2014.

He also said (importantly) that he doesn’t believe the introduction of e-books marks the end of libraries or physical copies of books. He believes that the transition symbolizes how local libraries are trying to adapt to meet the needs of the community.

So what do you prefer to see in your library? A smaller but growing e-book collection or an old-fashioned book from the library shelf? Or does the distinction even matter at all?




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10 Comments on “For North Country libraries, e-books are expensive but worthwhile”

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  1. shovel says:

    I love borrowing ebooks. The best part is that you do not need to remember to return them – they simply time out after 2 or 3 weeks.

  2. Denise George says:

    You fail to mention that unlike print copies that the library purchases and can choose to sell at a used book sale or elsewhere ebooks cannot be sold this way. So, unused ebooks just sit there forever.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    There is absolutely no good reason other than greed for ebooks to cost libraries more than print books.
    When libraries are forced to pay more for the ebook version of the same book in print, they are simply being ripped off by the publisher and author.
    If you go online, the ebook always costs less than the printed version.
    Considering these facts, I would never ever borrow an ebook from a library. I will not contribute to absolute greed.
    I’m guessing that if the greedy publishers could find a way to charge extra for every time print book is borrowed from a library, they would do it. It sounds like the same damn model the record companies use to charge for songs played on the radio. Whenever they can get away with it, they even charge for playing records at school or town affair. Greed, greed, greed.

  4. Pete makes a good point. For us individuals, e-books generally cost LESS than physical books. How do they justify charging more to institutions?

    (I know the real answer is greed but they usually come up with a fake justification to cover that)

  5. The Original Larry says:

    Electronic media brings more information to more people with much less effort. It is particularly beneficial to people who live in isolated areas or who find travel problematic. It’s not only worthwhile, it’s essential.

    Why do some people always expect businesses to give away their product and why do they see making a profit as somehow wrong? What they see as greed is merely supply and demand at work. After all, we’re not talking about public utilities or public health here. In any case, that wasn’t the question but I guess some people can’t resist singing the same old song no matter what the topic.

  6. Pete Klein says:

    Larry, just to clue you in.
    I make almost the same amount of money selling an ebook at $4.99 as I do when selling the same book in print at $13.99.
    In fact, I make more money selling ebooks than print books because I sell more ebooks.
    The fact of the matter is that there is very little cost to ebooks. The cost is so low (zero) that you could give them away without losing any money. You wouldn’t make any money but you wouldn’t lose any money.
    If you give away print books as I do to local libraries, there is a loss because there is a fixed cost for printed books. But I figure the books I give to local libraries are donations. And no, I don’t bother to write off these small donations on my taxes because I don’t make enough money for it to mean anything and I personally believe a donation used to lower your taxes isn’t really a donation.

  7. The Original Larry says:

    I don’t dispute your knowledge of publishing economics but I do think we ought to stay on topic. The anti-capitalism rants don’t add much.

  8. OL: As the resident expert on capitalism, please answer this. What is the economic justification for charging a much higher price to institutions than to individuals for the exact same product?

  9. The Original Larry says:

    I’ll leave the subject of expertise for another time. I don’t think any justification is necessary; we’re talking about private enterprise that does not operate in the public interest. Such businesses can charge whatever the market will bear for their goods and services. Supply, demand and competition regulates prices.

  10. Pete Klein says:

    Larry, you are absolutely correct. It is we fools who overpay. If I were in charge of a library, I wouldn’t offer ebooks at the current prices.
    By the way, I couldn’t help but think of the old Twilight episode tittled “To Serve Man” when you spoke the truth about private enterprise not operating in the public interest. I guess everyone has forgotten about the “buyer beware” advice.

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