Effects of S&S Changes Becoming Evident

In late June, Simon & Schuster became the fourth of the Big 5 to change digital content licenses to libraries since July of 2018. Their e-books, previously available on one-year licenses, as of August 1 are now available on two-year licenses. Their digital audiobooks, previously available on perpetual license, are now also on two-year licenses. In addition, some titles—we assumed from the backlist—would be available on a “per checkout basis” at $.99 to $2.99.

Some of these changes are good for libraries. One year licenses stink: while the popularity of most titles wanes well within 52 weeks, most libraries plan to keep at least one copy of title more than a year, not to mention the irritation of having to re-order every 12 months. $2.99 per use for titles could be a budget buster, should those titles prove popular, but S&S is to be thanked for offering multiple license options—long a RF request based on a survey of librarians. We can also be thankful that S&S is not restricting/embargoing access to titles, unlike Macmillan.

Not all the news is good. As we have often noted before, perpetual licenses also have drawbacks: leasing many copies we won’t end up keeping is not the best use of funds. The perpetual license does offer some hope, however muted, for preservation of content. As long as S&S is being flexible about offering licenses, how about offering the option for both perpetual and metered? S&S could take a page from Macmillan and offer each library one perpetual license (but no embargoes and NOT one copy per consortium, please!) plus however may metered licenses in both e-book and audiobook. Of course, time-bound licenses are terrible. As Steve Potash has pointed out, 79% of all such licenses expire because of time and not circulation. Harper Collins, initially attacked for their 26 lends per license, is clearly the best deal we have now. HC, please offer the option for one perpetual license, keep your 26 circ model as is, and be the industry leader!

But the real reason for this column is to look at some evidence for S&S is doing . . .and the answer is, not as well as we might like, at least in terms of price.

RF Working Group Member Susan Caron, of Toronto Public, reports that S&S is giving a whole new meaning to the word “double.”

Robert K. Tanenbaum’s Capture: paid $32,12 for 12 months in 2018, on offer for $119.99 for 24 months in 2019.

Dominique Ansel’s The Secret Recipes: paid $41.29 (12 months) in 2018, on offer for $151.99 in 2019.

The Pie and Pastry Bible: Paid $16.05 (12 months) in 2018, on offer for $151.99 in 2019.

The lease period has doubled, but the prices have double-doubled. Susan has cited at least 14 examples.

I haven’t had time to check on many U.S. titles yet, but can suggest that at least one has more than doubled for my library: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership: In Turbulent Times was $20.99 for 12 months in September 2018, but $59.99 for 24 months now.

This (admittedly limited) sample suggests that S&S is hiding some pretty big price increases behind its change in license models. Not cool! Is your library seeing the same trend? Comment below.