Report: Why Public Libraries Can’t Buy Some of Canada’s Top Audiobooks

“Audiobooks have been popular for years and years at the library; now with digital they’re our highest area of growth — they grew 40 per cent last year, so over 650,000 downloads … and we’re projecting a million this year,” said Susan Caron, director of collections and membership services with the Toronto Public Library, referring to a U.S. distributor of audiobooks.

Even as demand grows, the library says it can’t buy some popular titles. And it’s worried that people who rely on the library to access books — those with a limited income or disabilities — are being shut out of reading some of the best Canadian titles out there.

When the library buys a book, it doesn’t pay the $25 cover price that consumers might pay if they bought a trade paperback edition. Audiobooks, for example, can cost from $75 up to $200, depending on the book. Most of the time, the library lends that book to one user at a time while keeping the hold list to six people. To do that they buy more books.

Here’s an example using books from last week’s bestseller list. The library, according to Maria Cipriano, senior collections specialist, figured Stephen King’s The Outsider would be popular, so they ordered 20 copies at $129.57 each. That’s $2,591.10.

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