The Visible Hand of the Market?

September 10, 2012

In the past months, the prices of ebooks for libraries—and in particular, some large price increases—have received considerable attention. But these discussions typically occur in the abstract. I decided that a focus on actual prices would greatly illuminate the challenges that libraries face.

Thus, Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries compiled a new monthly price comparison report (PDF file). In addition to the American Libraries E-Content blog, this report also will be available at

Why are we doing this?

First, it helps us be good stewards of public funds. We want to know how well our deals compare to the market, and to ensure that we do the best we can with public dollars.

Second, we get a lot of questions from our patrons about why we don’t have more of these bestselling titles in digital format. From now on, we’ll hand them this report, and point out the obvious: Publishers won’t sell some ebooks at all, and others are so much more expensive than print that it doesn’t make good business sense to invest in them.

Third, we believe that presenting these numbers to the library and publishing worlds exposes a problem that is, or should be, a matter of public concern. To that end, please feel free to copy and distribute this report as freely as you wish.

It is our contention that pricing of materials purchased by the public is a matter of public record, and that it benefits all of us to share it. In fact, one of the policies adopted by the DCL board reads (in part) as follows:

Douglas County Libraries does not sign nondisclosure clauses in its contractual agreements. The following language can be adapted if a vendor requests a nondisclosure agreement:

Application of the Act. The Consultant acknowledges and agrees that all documents in the Authorityʹs possession, including documents submitted by the Consultant, are subject to the provisions of the Colorado Open Records Act (Sections 24‐72‐101, et seq., Colorado Revised Statutes) (the Act), and the Consultant acknowledges that the Authority shall abide by the Act, including honoring all proper public records requests made thereunder. The Consultant shall be responsible for all costs incurred in connection with any determinations required to be made by a court, pursuant to the Act. The Consultant is advised to contact legal counsel concerning such acts in application of the Act to the Consultant.

(The PDF file containing the full text of DCL’s board policy can be found at

Usually, this price-comparison report will focus on the titles available from the New York Times bestseller lists. On occasion, we might mix it up just to compare the prices of less popular titles.


As noted in the report, DCL Associate Director of Finance Karen Gargan can be reached at Or feel free to direct any inquiries to me,

JAMIE LARUE is director of Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries and a member of ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group.