My family and I went to see the NZ film ‘Hunt for the wilderpeople‘ last night. We all enjoyed it immensely and as I drove home I felt a warm glow inside,not just from the feel good movie, but also from knowing that we have all of Barry Crump’s novels in our school Library and the novel Wild pork and watercress is the book the movie is based on.
My inner digital librarian never switches off and so I did immediately start to wonder about the availability of Wild pork and watercress in ebook form, thinking it would appeal to some of our reluctant reading boys in Middle School, especially as many of them will have seen the movie in the holidays. I’ve had success with Crump’s print novels for this cohort previously.
Investigating the availability and pricing of this ebook prompted me to write another post on the pricing and lending model of ebooks in school libraries in general, this time highlighting the offering from PenguinRandomHouse (Australia/NZ/UK). It’s a little different than the other 24-month lending models we have become used to (Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Faber & Faber etc).
December 2015 saw the announcement that titles from the UK/Australia/NZ imprints of Penguin/RandomHouse would finally be available to purchase in digital format. This is something I had been waiting for as a huge range of content in our physical collection are titles from these publishers and children want to read the books in both formats – print and digital. Whenever I have shown children how to access our ebook collection the most common question regarding content has always been “Do you have Diary of a wimpy kid in ebook?” so I was very excited for the opportunity to add this series and other ‘most-wanted’ content to our digital offering.
Some content from these publishers had previously been available on a ‘one copy/one user model’ for some time and we had purchased many of these (at really decent prices – often under NZ$10), but the range of titles hadn’t been added to since 2011, meaning that we couldn’t provide recent titles from popular authors like Jacqueline Wilson and several series were incomplete. Many digital titles that Penguin and RandomHouse were offering through iBooks and the Kindle and Kobo stores were absent from the offering to local libraries leading to lots of frustration.
We purchase our ebooks through OverDrive but the full range of PRH digital titles was also made available to Libraries buying through other digital platforms e.g. Wheeler’s ePlatform and Bolinda BorrowBox. Having this huge selection of titles available really made me feel like a kid in a candy store but with only pennies to spend! Budget wise the timing was less than ideal – by December of any school year we generally only have a little bit of our digital budget left and that is used to buy popular new releases over the holiday period.
My school generously gave the Library extra money to buy a big selection of the Penguin and RandomHouse titles and this needed to be spent by the year-end. I was faced with a dilemma… eBooks were going to be available on a two-year lease model (i.e. not owned but effectively leased for 2 years) so anything we bought in December 2015 would need to be renewed again in December 2017 (or after 36 checkouts if they proved extremely popular). Did I really want a few hundred titles expiring at exactly he same time at another year end? We’ve always believed that even if any lease/ownership model is less than perfect, then if student demand for the titles is high enough we’ll renew popular titles as they expire (and not renew those with zero or low checkout levels). If titles expire in December it is possible to have them remain in the collection but not renew them immediately – the titles will still show in our website, but with 0 copies available. If a student places a hold on an expired copy, we can purchase it on a demand driven basis, but leave the bulk of expired titles to be re-evaluated in the new year with a new budget.
Now that the initial euphoria has passed and our students have been able to read favourite authors like Rick Riordan, Roald Dahl, Cathy Cassidy, Jacqueline Wilson and Marie Lu, in both print and digital formats, I’m looking quite critically at exactly what is being offered to us and just how expensive that offering is. Some titles haven’t been as popular in ebook as they are in print – this doesn’t usually matter when you have purchased them and will own them in perpetuity, but somehow that two-year lease expiry date brings the number of checkouts vs price we’ve paid into stark relief.
In my opinion, there are three issues with the PRH Commonwealth offering.
- There is a 90-day embargo between the book publication date and it being available for purchase by Libraries (and pre-orders are not available so we can’t see what is coming up in the future);
- The ownership period is for 24 months or 36 checkouts (whichever is reached first);
- In my opinion, the pricing is high compared to other publisher offerings, especially considering that the ownership period is short (even for titles that were published some time ago and are very much backlist titles).
Any one of those three terms might be acceptable on its own – but I’m surprised that PRH believe that Libraries are going to think it is OK to be charged more than the hardcover price for a book, when it’s already been available for 90 days AND then we can only have it in our collection for 24 months? More importantly – in a school situation very few ebook titles are constantly checked out – we aren’t serving the same size population as a public library and we don’t get the maximum use of the titles within 24 months that might justify the pricing.
Here are some examples of titles on offer and their Library pricing – remember that a retail customer purchasing from Amazon or iBooks will own the ebook in perpetuity – but the Library as purchaser will only be able to lend it for two years or 36 checkouts:
Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. Released 6 October 2015, available for purchase by Libraries 6 January 2016.
Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$12.99
Price in iBooks store: NZ$12.99
Price to Libraries: NZ$38.00-$51.00
Paperback RRP: NZ$26.00
Hardback RRP: $48.50
Verdict: We haven’t been inundated with holds on this title which has meant the decision about adding extra copies at this high price hasn’t come up. If I had been able to buy the ebook at the same time I was promoting the physical book I am sure more students would have read the book and having titles available in as many formats as possible to meet reader preferences tends to build excitement and demand around a title.
The 5th wave by Rick Yancey (2013). Movie adaptation released 2015.
Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$4.74
Price in iBooks store: NZ$4.99
Price to Libraries: NZ$20-27.00
Paperback RRP: NZ$24.00
Hardback RRP: $40.50
Verdict: I’ve had numerous holds on this in both paper and ebook so we’ve purchased two extra ebook copies. The backlist titles from Penguin or RandomHouse UK seem to reduce in price over time as they age whereas the NZ and Australian list titles appear to remain high.
The Martian by Andy Weir. Published 2014; movie adaptation released October 2015.
Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$9.01
Price in iBooks store: NZ$11.99
Price to Libraries: NZ$21.00-28.00
Paperback Film tie-in version RRP: NZ$18.99
Hardback RRP: NA
Verdict: We had a high level of holds on this in both paper and ebook so I’ve bought an extra ebook copy – because it’s an older release the price is more acceptable than that of the newer releases (but still higher than I’d like when purchasing just to fulfill current demand).
Little stars by Jacqueline Wilson. Released 8 October 2015, available for purchase by Libraries 8 January 2016.
Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$14.24
Price in iBooks store: NZ$15.99
Price to Libraries: NZ$35.00-$46.00
Paperback RRP: NZ$19.99
Hardback RRP: $48.50
Verdict: It is wonderful being able to buy all Jacqueline Wilson titles. We had all of the backlist titles up to Hetty Feather and students were very keen to have this in both digital and print. So far, I’ve only needed one copy in ebook – Jacqueline Wilson titles seem to be consistently popular. Once again, if the ebook had been available at the same time the book was released when there was more demand then we would have had more readers. I’d have to have a lot of holds placed before buying another copy at $35 for a 24-month term.
I am not Esther by Fleur Beale. Published 1998.
Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$7.59
Price in iBooks store: NZ$4.59
Price to Libraries: NZ$22.00-25.50
Paperback RRP: NZ$19.99
Hardback RRP: NA
Verdict: Any school that uses this is a class/novel set may have wished to replace aging worn paper copies (that are only used for a few weeks a year) with a digital copy – however with this price for a book published nearly 20 years ago and the two year lease model – it’s most likely not an option for most schools. The pricing of RandomHouse NZ and RandomHouse Australia and Penguin Australia backlist titles are noticeably higher than those from RHCP (UK) which seem to reduce over time. Ironically it is the NZ titles which many NZ schools might wish to purchase for use as class sets. Who is going to purchase a class/year level set that may only be used for a few weeks, twice in two years?
Old school (Diary of a wimpy kid; 10) released 3 November 2015, available for Libraries to purchase 3 February 2016.
Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$9.99
Price in iBooks store: NZ$9.99
Price to Libraries: NZ$22.00-28.00
Paperback RRP: NZ$19.99
Hardback RRP: 23.00
Verdict: One of our students’ favourite book series and one where we have multiple print copies on our shelves. Normally with a high level of ebook ‘holds’ we would also buy multiple ebook copies – but not at $22 for two years for a series of 10 books. I’d happily add extra copies at this price if they were available via the one copy/one user model because this is one series where demand is always high. I’ve limited the latest ebook to two ebook copies (my gauge for adding an extra ebook copy is the number of holds reaching 5). We have one copy of each of the other ebook titles as the level of holds hasn’t reached higher than 3 on most of them. Compare this to the popular Treehouse series from Andy Griffiths and Published by Pan Macmillan – we have multiple paper copies AND multiple ebook copies. The Treehouse ebook is priced at under NZ$10 for two years – this means it’s easy to justify extra copies to fulfill holds and current demand. The Pan Macmillan titles are also available on the day the physical book is released – not in 3 months time.
The benefits of using eBooks in schools and school libraries balance precariously against the price/ownership models on offer:
- If the ownership model is too short – then the option of using digital copies, for the few weeks a year when a title is used as a class set, is not viable. We want to offer readers a choice of formats and will generally buy books in both digital and print – unfortunately, a 24 month lease period tends to make one hesitate before purchasing multiple copies.
- If the price is too high – then extra copies can’t be added to meet demand, meaning that students eager to read a title, can’t unless they are prepared to wait for either the multiple print or single digital copies (and by the time their hold comes around then they may have lost interest). If the price is low with a two-year model then the purchase of extra copies is justified – fulfill demand now and have all those extra copies ‘disappear’ at the end of the lease period.
- When there is a 90-day embargo on the date of purchase – that means the book isn’t available when student interest is at it’s highest – and it’s less likely that you will want to add extra copies when interest has waned. Ironically, if the 90-day embargo was not in place, then when interest is high around the publication of a much-loved author or much-wanted sequel, then libraries would probably buy more copies.
- While I appreciate that most publishers are using these sorts of purchasing restrictions to discourage libraries from buying electronic copies that never need replacing – they need to be mindful of the fact that very few eBooks are going to be constantly checked out – Librarians have to work much harder to make digital content discoverable and desirable – especially as the titles age and it’s more likely that a copy will never reach the 36 checkout threshold.
The ‘problems’ outlined above, highlight how a more flexible approach is needed for the sale of eBooks to school libraries by ALL publishers – these issues aren’t specific to PRH as many publishers, especially those using any form of metered or time-based lease, have a less than perfect model on offer too.
Why can’t publishers offer their titles in a variety of ownership models that a school can choose to suit their particular size and circumstance?
Here’s an example of how it might work in my ideal world…
One copy/one user: Higher price for a copy that a library will have in their digital collection forever – a lower price for ‘less text’ early readers through to higher priced full adult novels and non-fiction). I accept that there is room for a small premium on the print price given that the digital copy will never wear out or need physically replacing.
Short-term lease copies to use as part of class assigned reading or for a reading group or literature circle: Small amount per copy for 4 weeks/8 weeks/12 weeks.
Shorter term leases for titles that are newly released and currently popular (we might need extra copies to fulfill holds NOW, but we won’t need 10 copies in three years time): Significantly lower prices for 12-24-36 month terms.
A checkout metered model with no time constraints: HarperCollins (26 checkout limit) allows preorders of new releases that become available in our collection as soon as they are released. The price is higher on release (but not usually ever over $25), dropping to a lower price within a reasonable period of time. Popular titles that quickly reach 26 checkouts expire but we don’t mind replacing them – they have been read! Compare this to the expiring 24-month term books with only a handful of checkouts – we feel cheated and I feel that I have let my school down as we haven’t got the use out of the copies for the price paid. If the HarperCollins metered titles are only checked out a handful of times or even never checked out at all…we still have them in our collection and we aren’t being asked to repurchase them.
So back to the beginning…am I able to purchase Wild pork and watercress for my school library digital collection?
Image source: Wheelers.co.nz
Wild pork and watercress by Barry Crump originally published 1986, ebook release 29 February 2016, [possibly] available for purchase by libraries 29 May 2016.
Price in Amazon.com.au : Not currently available for purchase
Price in iBooks store: NZ$11.99
Price to Libraries: NZ$50-60
Paperback RRP: NZ$38.00 (new edition published 4 March 2016)
Hardback RRP: Not available
I’ve sent a query to OverDrive about the availability of this title because it’s currently not showing in Marketplace. If it is available I suspect we’ll be subject to the 90-day embargo – meaning I won’t be able to purchase this until May 29 2016. (There is the possibility that this title may not be available in OverDrive at all – unfortunately, the PRH (NZ/Aust/UK) titles do not show up as pre-orders).
But not being able to purchase this book today, it means that I’m not going to be able to capitalise on the current high interest in this title with any readers motivated by their enjoyment of the film.
All pricing information taken Sunday 24 April 2016 – prices may change after this blog post has been published. The range of prices to Libraries reflects the pricing structure of the various aggregators. Prices tend to be lower when the Lending platform charges a significant annual hosting fee and a higher ebook price from lending platforms when there is no hosting fee or a very low hosting fee.
In the context of this article, I am not commenting on the titles published by the USA offices of PenguinRandomHouse and their associated imprints – those titles are available through OverDrive on a one-copy/one-user basis with a different pricing model.
Article edited Monday 25th April 2016 9:30 pm.