January 23, 2022

New Article: “The New Supply Chain and Its Implications for Books in Libraries”

New from EDUCAUSE Review.
Vol. 47, No. 5 (September/October 2012)


The New Supply Chain and Its Implications for Books in Libraries


Joseph J. Esposito
Independent Management Consultant

Kizer Walker
Director of Collection Development
Cornell University Library

Terry Ehling
Associate Director, Project Muse, at the Johns Hopkins University Press


EDUCAUSE Review Online

From the Article:

By some estimates, as many as 40 percent of the books in academic libraries are unlikely to circulate at all. In fact, the number of non-circulating books varies widely with the type of library. Public libraries often see their books circulate so often that the books fall apart. But academic libraries, especially the largest of them, collect highly specialized material, books that may sell under 1,000 copies total, and they may collect books published in hundreds of languages. It is not surprising that such titles may not circulate often. A rigorous 2010 study of print monograph circulation at the Cornell University Library found that only around 45 percent of all its print books published since 1990 had circulated at least once during the twenty-year period. Circulation was significantly higher for English-language books, at 61 percent in Cornell’s main library for the humanities and social sciences.


PDA poses questions about the availability of books over the long term. The traditional focus of libraries on just-in-case purchasing was based on the realities of the book marketplace when books were exclusively available in print. A publisher would print a certain number of copies and sell them until the warehouse was empty. Unless the sales came about fairly rapidly, after that one printing the books were likely to go out of print. For a librarian, a book not acquired soon after publication represented a gap that was difficult to fill retroactively, when patron demand might assert itself. Thus libraries typically purchased books at the time of publication in order to be sure that they would have the book when a patron needed it. Sometimes librarians made the right choice, and sometimes they didn’t.


PDA is a disruptive practice. If it were implemented widely, especially if it were to become the primary way that academic libraries purchase books, it would lead to the restructuring of the academic book-publishing industry. At least over the short term, libraries would save money and publishers would lose money. How much would be lost by publishers depends on many things, but the principal question is how important libraries are to a publisher’s sales mix. For example, a major trade publisher such as Random House would barely notice if sales to academic libraries dropped to zero (public libraries are another matter). But some academic publishers such as university presses, with a sizable proportion of their sales going to libraries, could be severely impacted by a widespread shift to PDA. In some instances, PDA would lead to lower sales forecasts overall, which in turn would mean that certain books would not get published in the first place.

Read the Complete Article

A PDF Version of the Article is Also Available

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.