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Confirmed: Ebooks are more expensive that print books


OK, it’s official – ebooks are more expensive than print books.  Yes, we’ve suspected this much, but research conducted at Auburn University in Montgomery confirms it.  Well, it confirms that their ebooks are pricier, and they don’t seem to be any different than us.  The article in pre-print from College & Research Libraries shows that even after taking costs of processing, physical books are just cheaper.  The biggest factor is the ebook maintenance fees – this prevents libraries from truly owning ebooks and from becoming part of the legacy collection.  The authors calculated that processing of physical books cost about $13 per book, but maintenance costs for ebooks was nearly $20.  And that was for netLibrary books, which charges a one-time fee (55% of price).  Most platforms require annual fees, which continually adds to the cost; the question is, though, is this fee more, the same or less than costs of physical storage, particularly for those auxiliary storage locations.

There were, of course, variations in the price differentials by subject (LC classes), with the J & K classes (political science & law) showing the greatest differences (over $50), and M and T-Z (music and engineering, technology & information sciences) with the least ($1-2).  Looking solely at university press titles (the bread & butter of academic libraries), titles in the G class (geography & anthropology) had the greatest differential ($55) followed closely by J & K, and BJ-BT (ethics & religion) and HA-HX (social sciences) actually showing a negative differential (that is, ebooks were actually cheaper).

The upshot is, the actual price differential between print and electronic books is very real.  While it may cost a certain amount to process and maintain print materials, at this time, fees for maintaining ebooks are even higher.  There is really no innovative solution to this problem – we just need to work within the market to pressure the providers to reduce their prices and fees by limiting our purchases and funneling them to those with lower fees.  Even if libraries could maintain the ebooks on their own servers and systems, this in and of itself would cost money.  Of course, it may be a moot point.

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This entry was posted on November 2, 2013 by in Collections, LIS Research, Publishing and tagged .
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