‘Digital Book Costs For Libraries Debated In Government Committee’ | CT News Junkie

March 22, 2024

From CT News Junkie:


The Government Administration and Elections Committee debated a bill Friday that would prevent public libraries from engaging in certain contracts in the hope of bringing down digital and audio book costs for all libraries.


The bill, HB 5312, which was eventually voted out of committee, would prohibit libraries from entering into contracts or licensing agreements with any publisher that would prevent the library from carrying out “customary operational or lending functions.” This includes loaning through the interlibrary loan system, restricting the number of times materials can be lent, preventing libraries from making non-public preservation copies, and other regular activities of libraries.


“This bill would confront a problem that we’ve seen brought to us by our public libraries where they have not only been being charged outrageous prices for audiobooks, but also have had highly onerous terms imposed upon them that prevent them from engaging in normal lending operations,” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford and chair of the committee. “This bill would help them by banning them from agreeing to certain of those terms so that they can utilize their full negotiating power to get better terms on ebooks and audiobooks.”


Library representatives have complained about the cost of providing digital and audiobook choices to visitors, which are increasingly popular among visitors. Currently, publishers can control many aspects of the lending and distribution of audiobooks and digital books, which libraries say drive up their costs.


“The pricing of eBooks needs to be reined in so that public libraries can provide the materials that the community needs,” wrote Michael Fontana, a member of the Board of Directors of the Stonington Free Library. “The fact that eBook publishers will only lease eBooks to libraries means that we have to continually repurchase titles in order to keep them in our collection, and therefore available to patrons. For example, to keep the Harry Potter audiobook series in our digital collection, we have to pay $525 every two years. By contrast, the Harry Potter series in print costs about $50 and will be accessible in our collection indefinitely.”


Not all members of the committee were convinced that the bill is the best way to help lower library’s costs.


“I really think that this particular bill, it handicaps the libraries. You’re telling them who they can and cannot purchase from,” said Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, a Southington Republican and ranking member of the committee. “What bothers me here is that we’re basically telling the publisher, it’s not really price control, but putting restrictions on them in terms of what they can do in the state of Connecticut as far as business.”


Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, had a more philosophical concern with the bill.


“The libraries are being denied freedom in the bill, even if they’re asking for it,” Sampson said. “They’re not being granted any additional rights, and my issue with this bill is that if we were simply finding a way to unionize, for lack of a better term, the various library entities in the state so they could collectively bargain with these publishers, then I would have no issue with this. But that’s not what’s happening. We are interfering with private contracts for participants that don’t want any involvement with this.”


The final vote to advance the bill was 14-5, with one Republican, Rep. Christine Carpino of Cromwell, voting with the Democrats.