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!

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