PVLR Forum: What Drives Acquisitions in 2014?

The Publisher-Vendor-Library Relations (PVLR) Forum featured three speakers: Julie Swann from Northern Arizona University, Alex Holzman from Temple University Press, and Michael Zeoli from YBP Library Services.

Julie Swann discussed the rationales, benefits, and challenges of purchasing ebooks for an academic library. Like many libraries, Northern Arizona University has seen budget reductions. They also had to reallocate funds to support new health sciences programs. The library had low usage statistics for their print monographs and has eliminated the traditional faculty-driven collection development for this format. The biggest shift in NAU’s acquisitions model has been the implementation of ebook DDA (Demand Driven Acquisitions). Since 2011, NAU has had more than 40,000 ebook records in their catalog, with even more available through consortia. Statistics show that the average cost of an ebook is $14/use compared to $50/use for a print book. Other advantages to ebooks include minimal processing costs, no need for storage, simplified weeding, and MARC records included with purchase. Purchasing ebooks has not been without problems, however. In some situations, university purchasing policies conflicted with vendor procedures. Sometimes ebook invoices did not include necessary information, like the book title or the vendor name. But vendors have cooperated to fix these issues.

Alex Holzman addressed the question, “What is the effect of POD (Print on Demand) on university press publishers?” For the last four years, sales have been flat or down for all publishers. E-book purchases had been increasing but now have plateaued. Smaller library budgets mean fewer cloth book sales, which are the most profitable. University presses face some unique issues, such as reduced funding from their home universities. When libraries began to use POD, the service was heavily marketed and budgets were spent quickly. Now records are added to library catalogs with no fanfare, and faculty are unaware of new titles. Another issue is fewer paperback sales to students. To save money, students share books, use library ebooks, or buy from online vendors, whose deep discounts mean less profit for publishers. University presses have tried to offset these losses. They have reduced print costs using print on demand technology. Publishers produce fewer titles and decrease their marketing budgets and staffs. But is there a way for libraries and presses to work together to afford scholarship? Alex’s idea is to digitize large numbers of books and make them available by subscription, which he referred to as “Knowledge Unlatched on steroids.” The more libraries that subscribe, the lower costs would be. He also touched on a factor that impacts all library budgets: the rising cost of science publishing. Any solutions, however, are merely band-aids. The model of scholarly publishing must change to be sustainable.

Michael Zeoli from YBP Library Services presented “Monograph collecting in crisis: A publisher’s view.” Michael observed that ebook sales declined in 2013 for all publishers. His company has a meeting with all publishers to explain how YBP works, to define some of the new terms like DDA and STL (Short-Term Loans), and to provide the publishers with an “ebook report card” of their sales figures. Michael provided examples of an ebook record that a librarian selector would see. He also demonstrated the “report card” for several publishers, showing the sales figures by format (print or electronic, one time purchase or DDA) as well as statistics from different ebook aggregators. All publishers, regardless of size, show a big decrease in print sales, a decline in single title ebook sales, and substantial growth in DDA sales. He concluded by calling for more cooperation between publishers and libraries to ensure the availability and affordability of these works.

A lively question and answer session followed the presentations. There were several questions for Alex about the ebook subscription idea. Marketing strategies for ebooks and the issue of author royalties were also discussed.

—Shannon Tennant, Elon University