In this day and age, why’s it so hard?

(photo by Maximilian Schönherr)

At Anythink, our mission is to “open doors for curious minds,” and we have taken great strides to create amazing experiences for our customers. Getting people what they want, when they want it is an important part of making Anythink a destination for our community. And what do people want? Ebooks! In 2012, we had a 76 percent increase in ebook and audiobook checkouts over the previous year. Our online collection is our fourth-largest "branch." People are reading on tablets, phones, computers – on everything they can, anywhere they can. 

So, why’s it so hard sometimes to find the title you want? And why is the process so darn cumbersome?

We want to get you that popular title you want, when you want it. We want to provide our customers better service – which means making the process as easy as possible. But libraries everywhere are facing huge challenges when it comes to ebooks and the publishing industry.

Here’s the current model:

  • Pricing: Some publishers charge libraries up to five times more for an ebook than the print edition. For example, Justin Cronin’s bestseller The Twelve costs $15.51 for the print edition, $9.99 for the ebook on Amazon and $84 for a library ebook.[1] This makes it hard for libraries with limited funds to purchase these bestsellers. It’s a huge strain on library budgets and frustrating for organizations trying to meet community needs.
  • Availability*: There are some publishers who won’t even sell ebooks to libraries. This is changing little by little, but it makes even getting access to some of the biggest bestsellers very difficult. This is not an issue among all publishers. It’s the “big 6” who will not sell to libraries under the same conditions they sell to the public. These publishers control 90 percent of the bestsellers.
  • Non-ownership: When the library does buy an ebook, this does not mean that they own the content. It’s basically “leased” to the library for a certain number of checkouts. 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: Because of these restrictions, it’s not always easy to check out ebooks and audiobooks. There’s no 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. [1]

@simonschuster on Twitter

Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

@HachetteBooks on Twitter

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

@randomhouse on Twitter

Random House, Inc. (Headquarters)
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

@HarperCollins on Twitter

HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022

Did you know…

Did you know that by using the “buy it now” button on OverDrive to purchase your own ebooks, Anythink gets a portion of the money back to help buy more ebooks for our collection? This is another great way to support your local Anythink in providing access to information for our community.

[1] From Urban Libraries Council one-page summary “Libraries, Publishers and Public Access to Ebooks,”

*Since this blog post was originally published, Penguin changed their practices and now offers titles available to library customers through OverDrive. Macmillian recently announced they will also be expanding their library offerings, and they now offer backlisted titles via OverDrive.

Stacie Ledden is Communications Director for Anythink Libraries. A special thank you to Anythink Collection Development Director Logan MacDonald for contributing to this piece.


Thanks Stacie! I too am passionate about this subject. I follow The Big 6: eBooks in Libraries on Facebook (!/thebig6ebooks ) to get up-to-date info on the big bestsellers that are either 1) unavailable to libraries or 2) available, but at a ridiculous markup. Thanks also for all the links that will enable people to give publishers feedback about these practices. We all have to use our voices if we want things to change!

I always wondered why the "one click" was more complicated than I thought it should be. Thanks for keeping us informed. I'll be able to be more sympathetic with the trouble our patons are having. A great thanks to Logan, who keeps working trying to make this easier for all of us.

It looks like the efforts of libraries and their customers are starting to change the library ebook marketplace. Over the past couple of months, both Penguin Group and MacMillan have begun licensing most or all of their ebooks to libraries. We're still faced with higher prices, limited license periods and a cumbersome download process but this is a big step forward for publishers and libraries. The marketplace continues to change quickly and we will continue to keep you in the loop as we find out more. Thank you for reading ebooks! Logan Macdonald Collection Development Director Anythink Libraries

@mrlee -- I think I can help you get things figured out if you want to email me at If you would prefer to call your local Anythink, we'd be happy to help over the phone as well.

What does it mean when an ebook says "unabridged" and won't let me download? Is it the book, my software, my mac, or all of the above? Confused!