Beware the sticker shock of March

Never underestimate the power of the shamrock.

Determined to forgo the usual March themes for book displays–Irish-Americans, springtime–I first imagined a celebration of National Caffeine Month (maybe next year) but settled on horror fiction.  Beneath a graphic that co-worker Kate judged “really creepy” lurks an assortment of chillers starring Dracula and his kind, zombies, and other popular but horrifying stuff.  This array is titled Beware the Ides of March AND…

It’s eye-catching, all right, but so far those books don’t seem to be moving as briskly as book tower items generally do.  Is the topic too off-putting?  Or are patrons resisting the shamrock-free selections because they’ve vowed to get their taxes completed this week? 

At least the nod to Julius Caesar works–too well. 

“Beware the Ides…” is an entertaining allusion for those of us who aren’t Caesar.  We relish the novelty of alarm; the Ides is only one day per month, and anyway it doesn’t apply to us.  This week, however, another JC quotation came to mind.  The library community is pondering the latest news from e-book publishers, and that does concern us.

Remember Marc Antony’s inspired appeal to the crowd:  “Lend me your ears”?  It’s deemed a great example of metonymy: substituting a word representative of an attribute for what is actually meant.  What Antony really wants to borrow, of course, is the crowd’s attention.

Famous lenders ourselves, library people who circulate books are honestly more excited about sharing the knowledge in them (and in our e-books, databases, audiovisuals, and events).  Our customers may think we’re about loaning books, but we’re fundamentally about access.

And because we provide (ebooks are leased through Overdrive, the major supplier/lender of ebooks to public libraries, for as long as a contract is active with them) that access with tax dollars, libraries nationwide have been anxiously monitoring moves by major publishers seeking favorable distribution formulas for their ebooks:

Last year, HarperCollins placed a 26-checkout limit on ebooks leased to libraries. Libraries pay HarperCollins’ price for the product but may no longer access it after the 26th use.

Last month, Penguin Group closed its partnership with Overdrive, which is our library’s ebook platform. We were allowed to keep the Penguin titles we’d already leased (Kindle users now need to follow a new workaround procedure for those). We cannot, however, acquire any new Penguin ebooks for our patrons to borrow; those must be purchased individually by private users. Penguin still allows libraries to purchase and share its printed books. Other “Big Six” publishers who do not make new ebook titles available to libraries include Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan.

Last week, Random House announced price increases for ebooks leased to libraries. Some charges rose as much as 300%.   A library leasing Eisenhower in War and Peace before the price jump would have paid $40; after the hike, it’s $120. Blessings by Anna Quindlen now costs $45.00, triple the $15 “before” price tag. George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons now lists at $105.00 in ebook format.

This surely won’t be the first or only time anyone says this, but I can’t resist:  Et tu, Random House?

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