Library insider

The cost of an eBook

This blog post revisits one of our most popular Twitter threads of the year. Now you can read the same content in a convenient article format. Yay.

Why can’t we always buy what you need? How much do eBooks cost? How do we work with you? Sit tight – we’re going to answer a lot of questions and share some shocking figures about how much resources cost!

We talk to Faculties and @HullUniUnion a lot. We find their input massively helpful, and we also talk to students and academics as part of our commitment to deliver excellent customer service.

We talk to our users often (especially with big projects like redesigning our Library Search); you may even be one of the people we’ve spoken to. If so, cheers! ANYWAY >>

We have been talking to a lot of people who say they found it annoying when we have paper copies of books instead of eBooks. I can get them on the Kindle, they say; they’re only £10. How come you can’t buy us enough eBooks?

We have to answer this question A LOT and often, we hear that we should get better at communicating the answer. So! We wanted to tell you why we can’t *always* get the volume of eBooks you need. You right now:

We know not everyone cares about the detail of how we buy things… But we like telling you things, we want to be open about how things work, and for those that are interested, here’s the situation… The tl;dr is: Publishers sell differently to us than they do to you.

So, first things first, we buy eBooks whenever we can. This is for obvious reasons – it’s easier to provide access to people who are not on campus if the book is online. We know some people much prefer printed books and we get that. We still buy thousands of print books too.

We can’t buy Kindle books. We can only buy eBooks that are licensed to universities. And not all of them are….

Some titles are only available to *individuals* as an eBook, and not to libraries. This is a choice the publisher has made. Some titles we simply cannot buy as eBooks.

Some titles we can buy as eBooks, and we do, but the price differences are eye-watering. Here are some examples. There’s a book that costs £40.00 on Kindle. eBook price for us (and it’s not an unlimited eBook, it’s max. 3 users at once)


There’s another. It’s £32.52 on Kindle. The price to us, for 1 user? A mere £500. It was £167 when we first bought it, which is pricey enough. Then the publisher realized it was a popular eBook and increased the price for libraries.

There’s a book we need which costs £53.25. Quite a lot, right? To us, for an eBook – which only three of you can read at once: £662.

And there is the title that is £40 on Kindle, but we must pay £1,344 for 12-months of access. After a year the access ceases… unless we pay another £1,344! Or more because the publisher will probably increase the price.

Sometimes we just can’t do it. We simply cannot justify buying the eBook and end up buying multiple paper copies. A recent example: a 1 user eBook was £800. £800!

Money-mouth face
Money bag
Money-mouth face

There are worse examples than this, but these are all Hull-specific examples from recent purchases.

Sometimes we get a credit model. We pay x hundred pounds; the eBook can be used 400 times. Then we pay the same amount again to top it back up when the 400 times are used up. *Sometimes* we’re not allowed to top it back up because the publisher has withdrawn it from eBook sale…

Sometimes we get a credit model. We pay x hundred pounds; the eBook can be used 400 times. Then we pay the same amount again to top it back up when the 400 times are used up. *Sometimes* we’re not allowed to top it back up because the publisher has withdrawn it from eBook sale…

This is so unbelievably frustrating for us, and even more so for you.

Exploding head

When you go to the shelf and the physical book isn’t there, it’s annoying but at least it makes some sort of sense.

Pouting face

When an eBook you read yesterday isn’t there today, it’s just maddening.

Face with symbols over mouth

Anyway, this thread is long enough already, there’s some context for eBooks, paper copies, and all that stuff. If you’ve made it this far, WE APPRECIATE YOU.

What we’re saying is, we do absolutely everything we reasonably can to get you eBook access to everything you need. If you end up having to borrow physical copies, or you have to queue for the eBook, believe us when we say we tried everything to avoid you being in this situation!

We buy thousands of books a year (thousands!) and come across this problem many times a day. We’re trying as hard as we can to get you the resources you need. But we can only get what the publishers offer.

We hope you have found this insight helpful. We want our students to know we do everything we can to find solutions to your problems. Our Collections Admin team works tirelessly to get what you need – wherever possible!

We gave Hull examples but it’s happening everywhere. If you’re interested in this, we’d suggest you check out #ebookSOS (not least for some prices which are even wilder than the ones above) which is curating the wider conversation.

We’d also like to thank @UoYLibrary – this thread was their idea and we’re grateful they let us pick it up. We’ve changed it lots and added Hull-specific examples, but a lot of credit goes to them

Smiling face with smiling eyes

You can also check out the website supporting the campaign, there’s an open letter to sign there, which already has over 4,000 signatories.

Lower left ballpoint pen

Please share the Twitter version of this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.