Monday, February 21, 2011

Different Kinds Of E-books

E-books for the library and e-books that you as an individual can buy are different because of market segmentation by the publishing industry. They believe (probably correctly) that they can make much more money if they sell a product - cheap e-books - to consumers and prevent libraries from getting it.

A library could buy the latest New York Times bestseller at a local bookstore and put it on their shelves, but it can't do the same thing in the Amazon Kindle Store or iTunes. The difference is that there is simply no way to limit how many people can read a paper copy of a book, but there are ways to limit how many people can read a digital copy. Books that you purchase yourself for your computer or e-book reader have a license that restricts how you can share the book, and sometimes there are technological limitations (called Digital Rights Management or DRM) as well.

E-books that are available to libraries have a license that allows us to let multiple people read them. Sometimes only one person is allowed access at a time, but most of the time we get a license to let an infinite number of people read at once. These licenses are often five or ten times more expensive than what you'd pay for the same book for yourself. What's more, you can't just download the book to read on your own computer or e-reader; you have to read it online. This is so you can't make illegal copies and share or sell them.

And on top of that, many books that you would want to read as library e-books simply aren't an option for us to acquire. Either the publisher is convinced that they can make more by requiring people who want to read the e-book to purchase their own copy, or they realize that not enough libraries will purchase the e-book to pay for the costs of creating it.

So if you have been wondering why we often have to say no when you request a particular e-book title be added to our collection, this is why. It's a matter of economics and copyright law evolving at a slower pace than the expectations we've gotten from our day-to-day use of technology.

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