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Boston Library Consortium Calls Out Publishers on Price Gouging

image © Sharon Somero

On May 27, 2014, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a letter to the editor entitled, “Ebook Pricing Hikes Amount to Price-Gouging.” As a result of announced price increases that appear to be “an experiment in predatory pricing,” the Boston Library Consortium has pledged to address these increases by rewarding those publishers whose prices remain reasonable.

The letter explains that academic libraries now find themselves facing sharp increases in prices for e-books and that the Boston Library Consortium recently learned that some publishers “planned immediate, significant, and unexplained increases in price,” some of which amounted to a several-hundred percent increase. The letter calls the increases “unjustified,…ethically unacceptable, and…economically insupportable.”

The Boston Library Consortium therefore announced it:

[w]ill lower the price ceiling below which individual titles are eligible to be included in our ebook program, we will reduce the availability of back-list titles at high price points, and we will increase the portion of our consortial budget that is allocated to those publishers whose pricing remains reasonable. In this way, we mean to reward what we regard as fair dealing, as we attempt to limit the budget impact of what appears plainly to be price-gouging.

We have no choice but to take action. The acquisitions budgets of academic libraries do not increase at four times the rate of inflation each year, nor are universities scaling back the teaching and research programs their libraries are called on to support. As a library consortium focused both on purchasing partnerships and pragmatic advocacy for research libraries, the Boston Library Consortium believes it must call out these escalating ebook prices as being inimical to access and contrary to fairness. We’ve seen it before, and we should not stand for it again.

We encourage campus leaders to support their libraries in this and other efforts to control costs, and we ask faculty to keep affordability in mind when considering where to publish. Finally, we thank those publishers, primarily university presses, who make ongoing efforts to offer high quality ebooks at affordable prices.

This article originally appeared on the ARL Policy Notes blog on May 30, 2014.