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Why are E-books so Expensive for Libraries?

Updated: Apr 30

Did you know that offering e-books and e-audiobooks is a costly challenge for libraries? Unlike physical books, which libraries purchase and retain indefinitely, e-titles must be licensed from publishers for a limited time (typically 2 years) or number of checkouts (26). In addition, library licenses for e-books are considerably more expensive than purchasing hard copies: A physical book might cost a library $28 to $36, but an e-book license for the same title could be $55 or $60. Similarly, a CD audiobook for Lessons in Chemistry runs $45 and the e-audiobook license costs $95. Libraries must balance purchasing new e-titles, purchasing multiple copies of popular e-titles to reduce wait times, and repurchasing expired licenses.

Redwood City Public Library (RCPL) patrons primarily borrow e-titles through platforms like Libby (Overdrive) and Hoopla, with some other sources available through the Library website. The Peninsula Library System buys the Libby collection and shares the cost across its members, including RCPL. Hoopla charges RCPL a fee per checkout, ranging from

$.19 to $3.99.

In 2022-2023, RCPL patrons made more than 124,000 digital checkouts. The Library spent nearly $93,000 on digital content and is projected to spend $100,000 this year.

What can we do? Eight states (not including California) have active legislation, opposed by publishers, to improve access for libraries and allow libraries to purchase e-books like physical books. EveryLibrary encourages supporting such initiatives and donating to entities like RCLF to aid in expanding digital collections. Community engagement and advocacy remain crucial to ensure equitable access to digital literature.

To suggest new e-books or e-audiobooks, contact the Library here.

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