Local libraries are feeling the sting of an alleged case of e-book price gouging just a few months after launching the OverDrive e-book lending system in January.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Apple and several book publishers last week, alleging that the popular electronics corporation conspired with the publishers to raise prices on e-books “by taking control of e-book pricing from retailers,” according to a statement.
“Technological advances have enabled the production, storage, distribution and consumption of books in electronic format, lowering significantly the marginal costs to publishers of offering books for sale,” the statement said.
The department’s complaint seeks to prevent further increases in prices.
Library Director Rita Douthitt said Random House, which publishes the popular Janet Evanovich book series, is now charging $85 for an e-copy of the author’s latest installment, which previously cost about $20. She said the high prices are part of many publishers’ attempts to discriminate against libraries.
While Random House raised its prices by 300 percent overnight in March, Penguin Group terminated its contract with OverDrive in February, effectively stemming the flow of its books to many libraries, including local branches.
Harper Collins does provide e-books through OverDrive, but it has a policy which requires libraries to purchase the book again after it has been checked out 26 times.
Douthitt said the high prices of e-books will prevent the local libraries from purchasing multiple copies of many bestsellers. E-books work much like their physical counterparts; only one person may check out a copy at a time, so the libraries prefer to purchase several e-copies of popular titles.
“They’re making these out of reach for public libraries,” Douthitt said. “It does have an impact on us. We would love to provide more copies of the e-books, but at $85 a pop, we can’t afford that. We will probably buy one copy of a bestseller in an e-format, but that’s all we’re going to be able to afford. You can get three hard copies for that price.”
Douthitt said the new OverDrive e-book lending system has been a popular addition to the library’s services. There are now about 700 titles in the system and the library checked out 600 e-books during March. Because of the popularity of the system, Douthitt said the library will likely still purchase one copy of popular titles, even at the higher prices.
So far, most of the e-books the library has purchased have been about $20, a reasonable price, Douthitt said.
“Some of the authors and some of the publishers think why should they sell one copy to a library when they can sell 15 copies to 15 individuals?” Douthitt said.
She explained that she sits down with other staff members about once or twice a month to discuss which new regular books and e-books to purchase for the Jasper and Dubois County Contractual public libraries, but the high prices will make their considerations tougher.