As of January 1, all Penguin Random House ebooks are now licensed to libraries under the terms previously offered by Random House. The license is perpetual with no limits on the number of circulations or time period. This is as close to ownership as offered by any of the Big Five publishers.
As in the past, the license is for one circulation at a time per copy. Previously, Penguin had imposed a one-year limit on library licenses, requiring the library to pay again for the title.
Prior to the merger of Penguin and Random House in July 2013, the two publishers had entirely different terms for library licensing of their ebooks. Random House offered perpetual access at a high price while Penguin offered one year of access for about the consumer price of the ebook.
Random House had established a limit of $85 per ebook title, and many of their newest best sellers were priced at the limit. Their new pricing sets a limit of $65 per copy. This is clearly an improvement for libraries. Penguin titles will now have the same $65 limit, even though previously many were offered for library lending at the consumer price with the one-year time limit. If most new Penguin titles reach this $65 limit, this change could hit libraries hard.
For libraries looking to build long-term collections, these changes should be beneficial. For libraries that use ebooks to meet current popular demand, the increase in cost for Penguin titles will hurt. On the other hand, there is clear benefit in making the selection decision once and not having to review that decision annually.
Hachette Book Group offers its ebooks on terms and pricing similar to the terms now in effect from Penguin Random House, so two of the Big Five now have similar terms.
Though we were in shock when HarperCollins instituted its 26-loan limit in 2011, that rental model is now recognized as an attractive alternative to high-priced perpetual access.
At this point, the ideal arrangement would be the ability to license any title for perpetual access and to license the same title for a set number of circulations or a set time period, combining the library’s need to build its collection and to meet current popular demand.
The focus of the Digital Content Working Group these past five years has been on the Big Five publishers, but we know that many of the midsized and smaller publishers offer much more favorable terms to libraries. The latest Big Five Publishers and Library Lending chart shows where we stand today. Going forward this chart needs to be expanded to include more of the publishers libraries rely on to meet local needs.
Updated with correction on January 28, 2016.