E-Content Publisher and Pricing Issues

Last updated: August 27, 2020

Introduction to the Issue: 

Equitable access to e-content in libraries is being threatened by unfair pricing structures and distribution practices from the "Big 5" publishers.

Macmillan Publishing recently announced that libraries will be subject to an embargo on new titles for eight weeks after publication. This has proven to be a tipping point on library e-content pricing issues that have been festering for years. E-books cost libraries up to six times more than they cost consumers, and library e-book licenses often expire after a set period of time or number of checkouts. These restrictions, coupled with increasing demand for e-books and audiobooks, undermine a core value of librarianship: equitable access to information.

We encourage you to use the resources available on this website to become more informed and to take action.

Did You Know?: 
DYK Details
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Each e-book your library purchases from one of the Big 5 publishers is only available to one user at a time.

The one-book, one-user model is why you have to wait to check out and read an e-book.

The Big 5 publishers account for almost 80% of best sellers published. All have policies that restrict the sale and use of e-books in libraries. The Big 5 publishers are Penguin Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan.

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Libraries pay up to six times more than the retail price for e-books.

These high prices severely limit libraries' ability to adequately meet user demand.

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Many library e-books expire and disappear from the library's collection.

Most e-books from the Big 5 publishers expire after 1-2 years or 26-52 checkouts and are no longer available in the library's collection unless the library purchases it again. If you're ever wondering why your library is missing an e-book in the middle of a series, this is probably why.

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Libraries are not allowed to buy certain e-books.

Some publishers wait until a certain amount of time has passed before they will sell new releases to libraries. Embargoes prevent equitable access to users.

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Libraries want to provide you access to these e-books. Libraries want to support and promote authors’ work. Libraries want fair access to goods and services.

But these publisher policies are making it impossible.

What RAILS Is Doing: 

RAILS is monitoring this situation closely so that we can both lead change and provide libraries with the tools they need to take action.

  • RAILS is involved at the national level with the American Library Association (ALA) and Association of Specialized Government and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASGCLA) Consortial E-Books Interest Group.
    • Executive Director Deirdre Brennan helped draft the "Resolution on eBook Pricing for Libraries" passed by the ALA Council in June 2019. The resolution calls for ALA to create a joint working group to address library concerns with publishers and content providers. It also calls for the development of a public awareness campaign to provide accurate information to publishers on the value of libraries purchasing books.​
  • We work with our vendors, including Baker & Taylor and Biblioboard, to disrupt the impact of traditional purchasing models by finding new ways of providing e-content.
  • We provide forums for discussion, including in-person meetings as well as the new Electronic Content email list.
  • We provide information to libraries as well as templates for taking action.
  • View RAILS' analysis of The Impact of COVID-19 Related Closures on Library E-Content Usage
  • View RAILS' E-Content Options for Schools video and presentation slides (RAILS Online Roundtable presented 8-27-20)

What Can You Do?: 

Libraries can:

  • Visit ALA's "Get Involved" page for press release templates, sample social media posts, examples from other libraries, and more.
  • Join the Electronic Content email list, created October 2019, to discuss the everyday challenges and details of e-content management.
  • Share this web page with library staff so they can become informed.
  • Add links to BiblioBoard Library on your library website or catalog. There is no cost for Illinois libraries! Consider adding the deeply discounted e-book platform offered through RAILS such as eRead Illinois (on RAILS Deals & Discounts page). Providing numerous platforms for e-book content provides a more competitive environment for vendors and more reading opportunities for your patrons.
  • Register for our next quarterly (January, April, July, October) Electronic Content meeting to share ideas, concerns and solutions about this issue and more.
  • Send any materials you have developed on this topic to RAILS, including press releases, flyers or articles. We'll include them on this site so that other libraries can use them.

Anyone can:

Library Examples: 
Other Resources: