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Some loosening in the blockade on library e-books

4:32 pm March 28th, 2013

By Neil Parikh
This winter, Pierce County Library System asked residents to take its frustration about e-book offerings directly to the six major publishers. At the time, the book publishers were either not selling e-books to libraries, or doing so at costs 100 to 300 percent higher than list prices or with heavy restrictions.
To inform the public about why the Library System offered limited numbers of e-books and few titles, especially of best-seller books, the Library System asked the public to write letters to publishers. To date, the Library System accounted for people sending 10,400 postcards and 655 verified e-mail messages. Mass and social media helped to spread the word about the e-book blockade. 
We fashioned the campaign around Scrooge, when we launched it in the holiday season. We called the publishers Scrooges for keeping e-books from the public. We got what we were after – a better-informed and engaged public. We knew we hit a home run when we learned the campaign was being re-Tweeted in Sweden.
The big news out of the e-book campaign showed some thawing in the blockade. Since the launch of the campaign, Penguin announced it plans to sell to libraries in spring 2013, with limited checkouts per e-book and a six-month delay on buying some new books. Also, Macmillan Publishing announced it will offer libraries backlist (not new) e-books, for use of up to two years or 52 checkouts, whichever comes first, at the price of $25 for each e-book.
Currently, libraries, including Pierce County Library, check out each e-book one at a time to customers, the same way it checks out printed books. After three weeks, the e-book disappears on the customers’ Kindle, e-reader or other e-book reading device. Pierce County Library’s e-books can’t be overdue, so customers are never charged a late fee. People can check out e-books at any time and from anywhere with Internet access. 
I understand e-book formats are complicated and still considered a new format. I am happy we are making some progress. However, we still need a fair market price and business plan to bring libraries and the public more equitably into the e-book market.
Libraries and bookstores – online and in stores – have always worked complementarily, sharing clientele. People who borrow books from libraries also buy books from bookstores. A recent report found that more than half of all library customers report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library.

Neel Parikh is executive director of Pierce County Library System.

Neil Parikh is executive director of Pierce County Library System.

Neil Parikh is executive director of Pierce County Library System.

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