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eBooks: Inside the Industry

Everything you ever wanted to know about eBooks but were afraid to ask.

Inside the Costs

The open secret of eBook / eAudio sales is the buyer does not own the item. Rather, each item is licensed for use because digital and print are legally different. There are several licensing models that publishers offer when selling to libraries:

Licensing Models

  • Perpetual Use, also known as One Copy/One User (OC/OU), is the direct-to-consumer model. This is the most like print in that libraries make a one-time purchase. This model is no longer available to libraries from the biggest publishers.
  • Metered Access (MA) is a model where the license must be repurchased after a certain amount of time or number of checkouts; otherwise the copy expires and is removed from the library's collection. This is now the prevailing model for library sales from "the Big 5" publishers. Metered access is based on three types of limitations: (1) time, (2) number of checkouts, or (3) whichever comes first -- 24 months/52 checkouts.
  • Cost Per Circulation (CPC) is a fee incurred with each individual checkout. The price varies per title and by format, but for titles carried by public libraries the per checkout cost is generally between $1.49 - $4.49 for eBooks and $2.49 - $5.99 for eAudiobooks.
  • Simultaneous Use (SU), also know as Concurrent use or Always Available, is an annual pricing model where the eBook / eAudio can be checked out an unlimited number of times a year, there is never a holds queue.

Not all titles are available in all models. Generally, a title is either Perpetual Use OR Metered Access. Publishers will selectively make titles available in the Cost Per Circulation and Simultaneous Use models. The library can choose the best option as offered by the publishers.

The Big 5 and eBook licensing terms

  • Hachette: Metered Access, 24 month licensing model
  • HarperCollins: Metered Access, 26 checkout licensing model
  • Macmillan: Perpetual license for one copy; Metered access, 24 month licensing model after 8 week embargo for any additional copies
  • Penguin Random House: Metered Access, 24 month licensing model
  • Simon & Schuster: Metered Access, 24 month licensing model

A handy chart of Big 5 imprints.

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