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Available – But not Accessible? Investigating Publisher e-lending Licensing Practices

Giblin, Rebecca and Kennedy, Jenny and Weatherall, Kimberlee Gai and Gilbert, Daniel Ian and Thomas, Julian and Petitjean, Francois, Available – But not Accessible? Investigating Publisher e-lending Licensing Practices (October 4, 2018). Forthcoming, Information Research (expected June 2019); Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 19/20. Available at SSRN:

“Introduction: We report our mixed-methods investigation of publishers’ licensing practices, which affect the books public libraries can offer for e-lending. Method: We created unique datasets recording pricing, availability and licence terms for sampled titles offered by e-book aggregators to public libraries across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and United Kingdom. A third dataset records dates of availability for recent bestsellers. We conducted follow-up interviews with representatives of 5 e-book aggregators. Analysis: We quantitatively analysed availability, licence terms and price across all aggregators in Australia, snapshotting the competitive playing field in a single jurisdiction. We also compared availability and terms for the same titles from one aggregator across five jurisdictions, and measured how long it took for a sample of recent bestsellers to become available for e-lending. We used data from the aggregator interviews to explain the quantitative findings. Results: Contrary to aggregator expectations, we found considerable intra-jurisdictional price and licence differences. We also found numerous differences across jurisdictions. Conclusions: While availability was better than anticipated, licensing practices make it infeasible for libraries to purchase certain kinds of e-book (particularly older titles). Confidentiality requirements make it difficult for libraries to shop (and aggregators to compete) on price and terms.”

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