Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Cost of Ebooks vs Print Books for Libraries

Some people think ebooks are free for libraries.  Some people think libraries pay the same for ebooks as individual buyers do.  However, ebooks are not free and libraries pay more for ebooks than individuals.  They pay a lot more.  A list of policies the main five publishers have with libraries can be found at this link from the American Library Association from Fall 2014:     
Ebooks are leased from publishers; they are not purchased.  The lease expires after a specified number of borrowings or a specified length of time.  Two years ago, best-selling ebooks rented for $85 for 25 borrowings.  That works out to $3.40 cost-per-checkout (CPC).  At the Fairfax Library Advocates' second meeting we were told by three Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) branch managers that hardcovers usually survive 100 borrowings before they wear out.  With the 40% discount libraries get from publishers, a $20 hardcover costs the library $12.  Cost-per-check out using 100 borrowings in a book's lifetime is 12 cents.  In 2013 it cost the library 28 times more to put a best-selling ebook in the hands of a patron than a print book.

Since 2013, publishers have changed their pricing policies for libraries.  They all charge different amounts now.  However, most still have expirations on ebook leases.  Once those leases expire, if the library wants to be able to lend an ebook, the library has to purchase another lease.   Based on the information from the guidelines referenced above, the estimate on current ebook costs-per-checkout is that they are four to ten times the cost of print books.  If we had more precise information on what FCPL is actually paying for ebooks, we would have a clearer picture of the difference in the cost of ebooks vs print books.

There is a finite amount of money for the purchase of library materials.  Recently the materials budget has been less than 10% of the whole FCPL budget, or $2.5 million.  When money is diverted from the materials budget to rent ebooks, there is less money to buy print books.  When we rent ebooks one has to wonder what print books are not being purchased for the library.  What are we doing without?

Ebook prices are a moving target and pricing guidelines may have changed since the document was compiled last fall for ALA, but as of last fall it's clear that ebooks cost libraries much, much more than print books.  

Kathy Kaplan
Fairfax Library Advocates

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Adding Richness to the Community

The following letter was sent to the Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees June 9, 2015:

I wanted to share some photos I took at the bag sale Sunday.  The second day of our book sale at Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library is only open to the public three hours and hundreds of people come to buy books for $7 a bag. The Friends of the Library put on the book sale every other month.  During the weeks before, a group of volunteers sorted, priced and stored books in advance of the book sale. 

I wanted you to see a little of what it looks like.  I hoped to convey some sense of the labor that is involved that last day when all the books have to be reboxed into cheaper boxes because we keep the expensive sorting boxes.  Manning a book sale takes bone-crushing effort.  It's the Friends' labor that brings value to books which are not wanted and are discarded by FCPL.  The wholesale value of those books is almost negligible.  Because of the work we put in creating the book sale, we get $3 each for many of those books. 

There are no pictures of the weeks in between book sales.  No pictures of what it takes to move 10,000 to 12,000 books into the sale room from the Friends' work room and get them organized by category.  This is just a snapshot of the last few hours of a two-month-long effort by our volunteers.

After the sale is over, all the left-over books have to be moved in fully-loaded carts by volunteers down two long hallways to the loading dock, and there they are loaded on a truck rented by a book wholesaler who takes them away. 

All the FCPL Youth Services Programs and all of the Summer Reading Program are paid for by Friends' contributions from book sales.  Without this money that is generated by our book sales there would be no children's programs at the libraries or a summer reading program. 

What do I do at the book sale?  I sit in the chair where the two hallways intersect and direct traffic.  When we have to move 600 boxes out to the loading dock in one hour, things can get pretty wild with empty carts and loaded carts meeting at the blind corner (where I sit).  You will see a volunteer sitting in my chair in one of the photos. 

A year ago last spring at a Library Board meeting, Peggy Koplitz asked what Friends contribute to FCPL.  We contribute labor, labor to create these wonderful events that add so much richness to our community.  Here are some photos taken Sunday afternoon:

Kathy Kaplan
Board Member, Tysons-Pimmit Friends of the Library
Chair, Library Committee, Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations
Fairfax Library Advocates