(8 Jun 2022) The cost of digital content has of course been much in the library news for a decade, and longer. Ten years ago bestselling titles might often not be available in digital form to libraries, with some larger publishers not opening their catalogs. Titles that were available could, however, often be licensed perpetually at near print retail cost or sometimes less. Librarians were unhappy—justifiably so—at being closed out of the market. In a way, however, those truly were the good old days. Imagine paying $13 to $18 for a perpetual license ebook from a large publisher today! No, prices rose, often across the board, in 2013 or so. Then things got worse. With the 2018 shift away from a perpetual to a metered model, we have not only higher prices but shorter access periods. Librarians have asked for negotiations and been given the brushoff. We’ve tried, and are trying, state legislation to enact change, so far without success, though that effort is far from over and will continue. Content cost is the driving factor in what might be termed open rebellion. We can live with metered, even though perpetual access and even ownership has advantages that we must continue to advocate for. Price is all, especially the price compared to the Return on Investment (“Bang for Book”) we get from print. A high price for something we can offer long-term often provides a better ROI than a lesser cost short-term license. But what exactly are the typical costs we pay from larger publishers when compared to print? It’s time to take in-depth look. Librarians need to know how publishers compare with each other, although of course we will often be forced to license from some at usurious rates due to public demand for their titles. We also need detailed and accurate information to present to legislators when we work with them to get better terms, having little other choice than government action due to publisher intransigence. And thus ReadersFirst unveils the Publisher Price Watch.
Created by Carmi Parker and the team at Whatcom County Library System, with feedback from the ReadersFirst Working Group and others, Publisher Price Watch (PPW) shows what we pay on average to license digital from larger publishers compared to print based on may examples. This is just the first iteration. Over time, we will add more publishers and update data on the existing ones. Watch the space for more. If you are a librarian or employee working for a non-profit and want to be involved, there is place on the page for you to express your interest.
The announcement is here.