The Big Six – where we stand at the moment

I’m headed to BEA next week (I’m on the conference advisory board for the BEA Bloggers part of the conference), and will have a good three days of listening to publishers talk about ebooks (and hopefully libraries).

So I thought it would be a good idea to see where we stand right now with ebooks, the Big Six, and some of our current ebook vendors.

Here’s a list of the major ebook vendors, and what they offer in relation to the Big Six publishers:

3M, Baker & Taylor Axis 360:

  • Hachette
  • Simon & Schuster (but only if you’re a large NYC-area library – they’re still in pilot project mode)
  • Macmillan
  • Penguin
  • HarperCollins
  • Random House
  • … and No Kindle formats.


  • Hachette
  • Macmillan
  • HarperCollins
  • Random House
  • doesn’t have Penguin or Simon & Schuster
  • … OverDrive has Kindle versions of some titles (and that’s probably why they don’t have Penguin).

What does each publisher offer?

  • Hachette: Full catalog, released simultaneously with print, ebooks will cost 300% more than the print book. Unlimited number of checkouts, one copy per user model.
  • Simon & Schuster: started a 1-year pilot project on April 30 with New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library. Full catalog, a one year purchase/lease, unlimited checkouts, one copy per user model.
  • Macmillan: 1,200 backlist ebooks from its Minotaur Books imprint. Two year, 52-lends lease model. Ebooks cost $25. I’d say they’re still in pilot project mode too.
  • Random House: Our ebook friends, for a price – entire catalogue available for “perpetual access” at a higher price to libraries (upwards of 300% over the print book cost).
  • Penguin: all titles available, one-year licenses. Except if you’re OverDrive.
  • HarperCollins: 26 checkouts per title lease model.

So – at this point, we have all Big Six publishers willing and able to sell [at least some] ebooks to [at least some] libraries. With wildly varying models and price points:

  • Checkout models include: unlimited use, 26 checkouts per book, or 52 checkouts per book.
  • Time limits include: No year limits, one year limits, and two year limits per book
  • Title availability includes: All titles available, some titles available, hardly any title available.
  • Pricing: an even $25, a variety of more normal pricing. And two publishers who markup ebooks by 300%. If this was gasoline, we’d call it price gouging.

Pic by pazca

  • Cheryl

    For OverDrive customers, Hachette titles are only available if you have an Advantage account. If you have a large non-Advantage consortium account then Hachette titles aren’t available to you, which is unfortunate.

    Macmillan’s policy of only offering backlist titles makes it seem like they’re not in the game at all. It’s nice to have some backlist titles in the collection for patrons who don’t want to wait in line for the new stuff, but when a publisher ONLY offers backlist and not new then that’s a problem. With a limited collection budget, if given the choice between a licensed Macmillan backlist title that’s going to expire after two years or an expensive new Random House title that doesn’t expire, I’m going to go with the Random House title.

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  • Renee

    Thank you for this summary. I’ve been struggling to put together a clear picture of how our library users benefit or not from all of this. We are a small public library (service pop. less than 40,000) and are part of a shared OverDrive collection through our local regional public library system. Though it is a federated system (and though our patrons consistently check out more titles than any other library in the system, but that’s another ax to grind), our regional public library system denied our effort to take part in OverDrive’s Advantage program. As I understand it, this means the people we serve still have zero access to either Hachette OR Macmillan eBooks, as well as no Penguin.

    Hachette: “Standalone library systems and members of consortia that have an OverDrive Advantage account are eligible to add HBG titles to their collections.” Source:

    Macmillan: “Library shall not authorize or enable use of a purchased Macmillan eBooks by patrons of another member library in a library consortium (including consortia to which Library is a member) … ” Source:

  • Renee

    And no Simon & Schuster. In other words, on behalf of the people we serve we can only provide access to 2 of the Big 6: HarperCollins titles (for 26 checkouts) & Random House (at inflated pricing).

    Please someone tell me if my “math” is wrong …