Your ebook rent just went up 300%

One of my colleagues was quoted in “Librarians Feel Sticker Shock as Price for Random House Ebooks Rises as Much as 300 Percent,” an article at The Digital Shift (from the Library Journal). Here’s what Scarlett said:

“They’ve tripled their prices on every title. A book that a week ago we purchased for $28.00 now costs $84.00,” said Scarlett Fisher-Herreman, the technical services & collection development supervisor, at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas, whose director, Gina Millsap, is seeking the presidency of the American Library Association. “I looked back at Random House titles we’ve purchased since December and looked up a number of titles, both new and titles they’ve had for years on Overdrive. Everything has tripled in price: kids, YA, adult, fiction, and nonfiction,” she said.

Fisher-Herreman, who had been bracing for an increase in the 50 percent range, said she found the tripling of price frustrating and surprising. For example, The 10 Easter Egg Hunters, a children’s title by Janet Schulman, was affordable at $8.99, but it now costs $26.97.

“We simply can’t afford to pay three times the price for the same titles. I will be working with my collection development team to determine how we move forward now that we know the severity of the price increase,” Fisher-Herreman said.”

Some things to think about with Random House’s recent price change:

  • Your rent just went up 300%. If you get these books through Overdrive, you pay an access fee – not a purchase price. So it’s the rent that just went up astronomically – you pay 300% more, but don’t actually own anything. That’s fair, huh?
  • Random House wants to find out how much they can gouge you before it hurts. Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesperson, is quoted as saying “We are going to be reviewing our terms of sales, but not our commitment to the library market … whatever we do, it’s going to be with our library partners in full awareness and understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it …” My translation = “We are going to increase the cost to see if you’ll actually pay 300%. If you do, that’d be awesome!”
  • Random House is playing an expensive guessing game with your taxpayer’s money. Here’s a quote from the Random House statement sent to LJ: “Random House, Inc. is constantly experimenting, evaluating, and adjusting different retail price points for our e-books. With our price adjustments announced March 1 we are now doing the same for our library e-pricing, albeit with far less definitive, encompassing circulation data than the sell-through information we use to determine our retail pricing for e-titles. We are requesting data that libraries can share about their patrons’ borrowing patterns that over time will better enable us to establish mutually workable pricing levels that will best serve the overall e-book ecosystem.” My translation: “We don’t know how to price ebooks to libraries. So instead of actually asking for input, we thought we’d just jack up the price outrageously high, and see what happens.”
  • Random House can’t tell the difference between different digital book formats. Another quote from Random House’s LJ statement: “As we first said last month, our new e-book pricing framework is to bring our titles in price-point symmetry with our Books on Tape audio book downloads for library lending. These long have carried a considerably higher purchase price point than our digital audio books purchased for individual consumption.” Why in the world would you price an ebook, which you read, with an audiobook, which you listen to? Apples and oranges, guys. Apples and oranges.

What’s that leave us with? A major publisher that’s charging you (and your patrons) 300% more for ebooks, because they admittedly don’t know how much they should be charging. And they are more than willing to experiment with your money and budgets to see what works … while they figure out the difference between a book they pay actors to read and an ebook.

I will guarantee more odd ebook price and format changes in the next five years – hold onto your hats!

Question – How is your library planning to deal with this? I’d  love to know!

More resources:

Gas Price Humor image from Bigstock
  • Rebecca

    OK first a little context for my library: we just started using Overdrive this fall, and as of today have 933 unique titles (not a huge collection). Of these 132 are Random House. Of the top 50 circulated titles 24 are Random house. And of those 24 we have purchased multiple copies of 5. Also 32 titles published by Random house have circulated fewer than 32 times, 13 have not circulated at all. 
    I always tended to only purchase really well reviewed titles, request titles, or those on best seller lists by Random House to begin with because they have always been a little higher. I do the purchasing for 80% of the fiction collection. And because of my budget will be changing my purchasing stratagy so that I will only be purchasing Random House titles that are on the top 10 bestsellers or are requested by patrons, and will not be purchasing multiple copies (right now I do after 3 holds). I try to purchase at 5-10 titles a week to keep the list fresh, and don’t want to spend all my money on one book. If I had been using this strategy from the begining my purchasing figures from Random House would look more like 13 titles. It’s rather unfortunate because I’ve noticed that a lot of my patrons discover new authors because of Overdrive. Since we have such a small collection they tend to be willing to try out new others. 

  • Nate the great

    The prices did not go up 300%.

    The prices tripled or went up 200%.

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  • Michael Golrick

    There is a reason why “These long have carried a considerably higher purchase price point than
    our digital audio books purchased for individual consumption.”

    In addition to paying for the rights to record the books, RH (or someone) is paying for the book to be read along with editing, etc. There is an added value, which libraries have not ever had a problem with paying. After all, the actors/readers have a right to be paid. The technicians doing the recording have a right to be paid. (Hey, the editors got their cut before the book was published.)

    David, you are right, and maybe not forceful enough about the comparison!

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  • Jen

    How is my library going to handle this? I am not sure, I haven’t been advised yet. Personally, I may be less apt to purchase e-books from Random House, but since I can’t purchase from Penguin or Harper Collins either….gonna have to get creative. It is ridiculous. Our Overdrive usage is going up and up, but purchasing ability is cut way back. I always ask for requests, then inevitably have to say “Oh sorry, that’s not available.” My budget sure isn’t going to go up 300%.

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  • Thomas Sabo Rings

    Thanks alot for sharing this with us, was a really interesting post.