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Major Canadian Public Libraries Support ReadersFirst eLending Position Paper

October 6, 2020

Members of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC) endorsed the eLending Position Paper developed by ReadersFirst, an organization representing almost 300 libraries, including 36 in Canada.

eLending Position Paper


Neither libraries nor publishers are satisfied with the license terms currently applied to books in eFormats. We are not in agreement on what availability models and prices are fair, in part because we are still breaking new ground with these formats, their capabilities, and how to measure success. This position paper, by Readers First Working Group member Carmi Parker, proposes a single licensing model that aligns with print but optionally enables the unique capabilities of eLending: perpetual licenses and concurrent use.

The proposed model moves us toward:

  • improved flexibility, which will help libraries better support the healthy culture of reading valued by both libraries and publishers
  • increased efficiency for libraries for whom each model creates incremental work
  • no significant cost increase for libraries or revenue decrease for publishers

In addition to introducing the model, the paper describes the evolution of license terms since 2011, analyzes the impact of the model changes on collections, and suggests how adjustments might benefit both publishers and libraries. Finally, it submits recommendations for moving forward.

Model summary

If we agree that print lending neither advantages nor disadvantages libraries and publishers unduly, then we can approach a model for eBooks that uses print as a guide.

We propose that a “base” model for a copy of an eBook functions as follows:

  • The cost of a single copy will be the same as the cost of the eBook at retail, about $15.
  • The number of times that a copy can circulate will be limited to the approximate number of times a hardback copy would circulate before wearing out, about 30 – 35*.
  • Libraries will have to pay more, over and above these base terms, in order to take advantage of the new capabilities enabled by eFormats:
    • Perpetual licenses: an eBook copy theoretically can exist forever, unlike print books which wear out after a certain number of circulations. A fair cost for a perpetual license will align with the average number of times a library would have repurchased a single copy. I surveyed nine libraries and consortia of various sizes for their average number of checkouts per title and found the average to be 143, indicating that a perpetual license should cost about 4 times the amount of a license allowing 30-35 consecutive checkouts.
    • Concurrent use: unlike print, a single copy can theoretically serve unlimited numbers of readers at the same time. Because library wait time is one friction point that can drive retail sales, it is reasonable to expect libraries to make up for lost retail sales difference if enabling concurrent use. As such, it may be too expensive for most libraries. However, publishers and libraries can work together on experiments that leverage concurrent use scenarios in ways that both increase readership and sales. These are discussed further below.
  • Ideally, all titles will include all three options: a metered access license, a perpetual license, and packages of concurrent use checkouts as long as all options are priced such that neither publishers nor libraries are disadvantaged.

Note: this position paper focuses primarily on eBooks, not eAudiobooks. Recommendations for fair pricing and licensing on eAudiobooks are pending.

*Libraries do not specifically track the number of times items circulate before being withdrawn due to condition, so these numbers are estimates based on the average circulation at the time of withdrawal for any reason (including the need to make room on the shelves) and the circulation count at which we pull still-circulating items to review for condition.

(Via Canadian Urban Libraries Council; ReadersFirst)

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