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The Digital Publishing Challenge

The lack of a standard publishing model makes transitions tough.

A major obstacle for libraries in transitioning to digital content includes lacking a standard publishing model, primarily for popular fiction, says Ann Fondren, coordinator of library services for Spotsylvania County (Va.) Public Schools.

As noted in the December 2012 National Public Radio broadcast, “Libraries and E-Learning: The ‘Wild West’ Of Digital Licensing?” some publishers, such as Simon and Schuster, refuse to license their e-books to libraries, and HarperCollins and Random House will license books, but each has its own revenue model, which can be confusing to librarians who must understand disparate purchasing models.

HarperCollins allows 26 circulations of an e-book before requiring the library to purchase another copy, worth $25 to $35, while Random House charges up to $100 for a year’s license on a new title.

This is expensive, and discourages librarians from buying more books, says Fondren. On the other hand, libraries can own printed books and often circulate copies 100 times or more. Fondren uses the example of “The Hunger Games,” of which she bought 100 paper copies and three digital copies. In the end, she says, buying paper copies of books for now can be more economical than subscribing to digital versions.

AASL president Ballard says the confusion surrounding digital purchasing models is a serious issue that needs resolution as it strikes at the heart of a library’s mandate to provide students with as much exposure to content as possible.