For immediate release | August 8, 2012

American Library Association releases 'Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries'

Washington, DC — Based on conversations with publishers and deliberations on the e-book market, the American Library Association (ALA) today released “Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries (PDF),” a report that describes general features and attributes of the current e-book environment and outlines constraints and restrictions of current business models. The report, which was created by the ALA Digital Content & Libraries Working Group (DCWG), suggests opportunities for publishers to showcase content through public libraries.

“E-book publishing is expanding and evolving rapidly, and the terms under which e-books are made available to libraries show wide variation and frequent change,” said DCWG Co-Chair Robert Wolven. “In this volatile period, no single business model will offer the best terms for all libraries or be adopted by all publishers or distributors. This report describes model terms libraries should look for in their dealings with e-book publishers and distributors, as well as conditions libraries should avoid.”

The DCWG recommends three basic attributes that should be found in any business model for e-books:

  • inclusion of all titles: All e-book titles available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries;
  • enduring rights: Libraries should have the option to effectively own the e-books they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely;
  • integration: Libraries need access to metadata and management tools provided by publishers to enhance the discovery of e-books.

“ALA appreciates that realizing all of these attributes immediately may not be feasible, and a library may elect to do without one or more in return for more favorable terms in other areas, at least temporarily, but these features are ultimately essential to the library’s public role,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan.

Nationwide, many libraries are facing constraints from publishers on how e-books can be used, including: perpetuating the print model of one user per e-book license purchased; limiting the number of loans; variable pricing; delayed sale; and restrictions on consortial or interlibrary loans. Alternately, opportunities for publishers might include enhanced discovery, readers’ advisory, or even a major new sales channel for library patrons.

“The choices that libraries make today can profoundly impact future directions, so it is critical libraries are informed of their options and negotiate aggressively for the most favorable and flexible terms possible,” said Erika Linke, co-chair of the DCWG’s business models subgroup. “Thus, while the DCWG’s primary focus in the past months was to try to influence publishers, we wanted to share some of what we learned with the library community at large.”

The DCWG has developed a number of other resources about e-books, such as its first “Tip Sheet (PDF),” which is on digital rights management, and an E-Content Supplement to American Libraries magazine. Check the American Libraries E-Content blog for new developments from the DCWG.

“The DCWG will continue its advocacy on e-book business models for public libraries as it increases its focus on other aspects of e-books such as the school library market and accessibility issues,” said Carrie Russell, lead ALA staffer for the business models subgroup.


Jazzy Wright

Press Officer

Washington Office (WASH)

800-545-2433 8208