One hopes they will explain to Sen. Montgomery why that is. In any case, here's my testimony:
Statement of Art Brodsky
Member, Montgomery County Library Board
Before the Senate Finance Committee on SB 776
March 12, 2014,
Chairman Middleton, members of the Committee, I'm Art Brodsky from Olney, Maryland, a member of the Montgomery County Library Board, an advisory body for our library system which has about 700,000 active card holders.
I would like to begin by thanking Senator Karen Montgomery for her leadership on this important issue, to her cosponsors for their support, and to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.
This piece of legislation has one goal: to allow public libraries in the state of Maryland to save money. If enacted, it would ease some of the pressure on libraries in each of your districts, in every jurisdiction, which have seen their budgets increasingly stressed in the past few years. This stress is artificial and unnecessary, due entirely to the pricing policies of book publishers.
We can discuss the reasoning behind those prices in a minute, but first I would like to direct your attention to two charts I have attached to this testimony. The first is the report from the Douglas County Libraries for March 3, 2014. This is a library system in Colorado that for the past couple of years has surveyed prices for printed books and for e-books.
The charts compare prices for printed books and for e-books as offered to consumers generally and to public libraries. On it you will see some remarkable disparities in price. For example, James Patterson’s new book, Private LA, published by Hachette, has a wide variation. For printed books, the prices are within a couple of dollars for consumers and for libraries. Now look at the e-book prices. A consumer pays as low as $11.99, while your libraries must pay $84.00 – to lease, not to buy, one copy of the book.
Go down the list and you will see that’s standard operating procedure. Your libraries pay $90 for Goldfinch, also from Hachette, and $85 for John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, from Random House. These are far and away above consumer prices for e-books and much higher than the printed books cost either consumers or libraries. You will some prices on the list are somewhat lower – at outrageous levels instead of ridiculous levels, but still more than consumers pay for either e-books or printed books.
There is simply no reason for these disparities. The books publishers oppose this bill because they believe e-books are software, not books, and should be treated accordingly. They believe that e-books do not deteriorate as do printed books, and so justify their high price.
However, publishers miss three crucial points. First, not all books deteriorate. Many books in the library are in very good shape and are readable years after publication.
Second, technology deteriorates. E-book formats used today may be obsolete in a few years. Just as content from recording devices from the 1940s can't be recovered now because there are no longer wire recorders, the standards and readers of the future will be much different from what we have today. You can pick up a book published in the 1940s and read it as easily as one published yesterday.
Third, tastes change. Even assuming that e-books last forever, readers' tastes don't. In 2011, The Help was at the top of the Times' fiction best-seller list for 15 weeks. Readers had a long wait for copies in their libraries. Today, the library has 75 copies of the printed book, and 44 are available for checkout. It has one copy of the e-book, and that one is also available.
The publishers will also tell you that they and the American Library Association don’t want this bill passed because the groups are engaging in “talks” to resolve the situation.
Let’s look at another chart, from March, 2013, also compiled by Douglas County. You will find good news and bad news. The asterisks on the chart show publishers that didn’t as of that time make their e-books available to libraries. So the good news between a year ago and now is that libraries have access to more books. The bad news is that those e-books that are now available are at inflated prices, costing your libraries more money as they work to satisfy the demands of their customers.
Both the publishers and the American Library Association publicly oppose this bill to protect the integrity of their “talks.” I will tell you, however, that if you talk privately with your local library officials, they will tell you they are duty bound to agree publicly with their national association, but don’t agree with it. And if those “talks” don’t result in any relief, they will be back here next year.
I understand that this legislation and the companion bill be resolved as a summer study. If that is to be so, I urge this committee to make sure the study explicitly considers the impact on libraries that e-book prices have in terms of the libraries’ overall purchases for materials and of their purchases of e-books.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Here's the March 2013 report for comparison.