Challenges we face with ebooks

Photo of someone reading an ebook on an Kindle

Why do we have to wait so long for ebooks?

At Anythink, our mission is to “open doors for curious minds.” Getting people what they want, when they want it is an important part of making Anythink a destination for our community. Since we launched ebooks and downloadable audiobooks at Anythink 10 years ago, they have become two of our most popular offerings. Our online collection is our second-largest “branch,” with customers downloading and streaming almost 50,000 digital titles every month.

So, 10 years after ebooks first became available in public libraries, why is it still so hard sometimes to find the title you want? And why are wait times so long for the most popular ebooks?

We want to get you that popular title you want, when you want it. We want to provide our customers better service, shorter wait times and more ebooks. But libraries everywhere are facing huge challenges when it comes to ebooks and the publishing industry.

Here are some of the issues we are facing:

  • Pricing: Some publishers charge libraries up to five times more for an ebook than you would pay for the same ebook from a retailer like Amazon. For example, as of Sept. 13, 2019, you could buy an ebook copy of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens for $14.99 on Amazon. For Anythink to purchase the same ebook, it would cost $55. This makes it hard for libraries like Anythink to purchase enough copies of popular titles to meet customer demand. It’s a huge strain on library budgets and frustrating for organizations trying to serve the community.
  • One-copy, one-user: The most popular ebooks are available on a one-copy, one-user model. This means that only one person at a time can use each copy of a library ebook and everyone else has to wait on a holds list. One publisher, Macmillan, will only sell a single copy of new ebooks to libraries for the first two months after publication. Wait times for these titles are very long.
  • Pay-per-use: Other titles are available on a pay-per-use model with no holds or wait lists, but the library pays a couple of dollars for every “checkout.” With limited funds available for ebooks, Anythink has to set limits on the number of pay-per-use ebooks each customer can check out per month. 
  • Limited-term licenses: When you buy an ebook from Amazon, for example, it’s yours forever. When Anythink buys an ebook, we only get it for a limited amount of time before we have to repurchase it. Many publishers only sell ebooks and downloadable audiobooks to libraries for one year, two years, or a certain number of checkouts. This can get expensive – Anythink will probably spend more than $50,000 in 2020 buying ebooks we already purchased a year or two ago.
  • Non-ownership: When Anythink does buy an ebook, this does not mean that we own the content. It’s basically leased to the library under terms set by the publisher. This also means that we can’t move these ebooks to a different server, change the terms of checkout, or make them available on certain devices – as much as we’d like to.
  • Accessibility: Some publishers think it’s too easy to check out ebooks from the library, so they make the process difficult on purpose. There’s no simple one-click solution like there is with companies like Amazon. It’s why we have different platforms that each require different software and different apps.

We’re working with publishers, vendors and the library community to help find solutions. But what can you do?

  • Contact leaders – Find contact information for your elected officials, and tell them you’re concerned about this issue.
  • Read ebooks – No matter where the book comes from or the format, one thing is for sure – we love reading! Whether you checkout ebooks from Anythink or buy them from your favorite bookseller, reading ebooks is a great way to show that libraries and their customers can be great partners with publishers.
  • Contact publishers – Below is a list of publishers and their contact information. If you feel as strongly as we do about this, let them know that their inequitable practices hurt our communities and constituents who depend on their public libraries for unrestricted access to information.

Related reading

Publisher contact information



Macmillan Publishers
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010



1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020



Hachette Book Group
466 Lexington Ave., #131
New York, NY 10017



Penguin Random House
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019



HarperCollins Publishers
195 Broadway
New York, NY 10007