The Abomination of Ebooks: They Price People Out of Reading


This is not one of those rants about missing the texture, touch, colors, whatever of paper contrasted with the sterility of reading on a tablet. No, the real abomination of ebooks is often overlooked: Some are so ingrained in the product itself that they are hiding in plain sight, while others are well concealed beneath layers of commerce and government.

The real problem with ebooks is that they’re more “e” than book, so an entirely different set of rules govern what someone — from an individual to a library — can and can’t do with them compared to physical books, especially when it comes to pricing.

The collusion of large ebook distributors in pricing has been a public issue for a while, but we need to talk more about how they are priced differently to consumers and to libraries. That’s how ebooks contribute to the ever-growing divide between the literary haves and have-nots.

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There are a lot of uplifting stories about kids in crime-ridden neighborhoods who used library books as a way to realize a better future. They never mention their books getting stolen. Any kind of electronics though...

Surely it is more important to note that those in poverty probably aren't splurging on an e-reader or tablet and therefore have no use for our ebook collection, yes? (And the library budget can only afford so many e-readers to lend. . . .)

We have videos and video games and other expensive things stolen all the time, but plenty of books mysteriously go missing, too. Every library does. It's a cost of doing business, and we've got a budget to replace the electronics just like we've got a budget to replace the books. What we don't do is tell the members "We're not going to carry this because you're from a crime-ridden (read: poor) community and you (or your neighbors) would just steal it." Sure, the more expensive items have higher security because there's probably a few bad apples in the bunch, but it works, so there's no reason to deprive the other members of anything.

"(And the library budget can only afford so many e-readers to lend. . . .)"

Sure, and the library budget can only afford so many books to lend as well. And books get stolen from libraries, but they aren't often stolen from patrons. Last time my car was broken into there were books lying right there on the seat. Not a single one was taken. My CDs weren't stolen either, but my 3 year old cell phone sure was gone.

So we have a couple of issues here. First, the the ereaders are more likely to be stolen. Second, the device is much more expensive, so it is a real problem for the patron if it is stolen. I might waive a $12 replacement charge for a novel, but $70 for an ereader? In my system that would lock your account and get you sent to the collection agency if it weren't paid promptly.

Videos and games are, to my mind, a slightly different animal. Videos in particular are cheap - often cheaper than books - but desirable. There is more interest in movies than books. Games are a better comparison, since you need to have a system at home and be willing to risk having the materials stolen.

But again, this is different, to me, than the ebook situation. "You can't have access to our game collection unless you invest in a gaming device" feels very different than "you can't have access to our books unless you invest in a book device."

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