A Publisher's Guide to CEL and desLibris

Library ebook purchasing is different from retail ebook purchasing in several ways:

  • Libraries generally purchase books in bulk, so they favour purchasing from wholesalers
  • Libraries need metadata support to integrate books with their collections
  • Libraries need a “platform” from which to “serve” their books to end users

Serving these requirements is the business of library “aggregators.” Canadian Electronic Library (CEL) is an aggregator. Other library ebook aggregators are MyiLibrary, Overdrive, Sage, Books 24x7, Safari. CEL specializes in Canadian content; we offer books exclusively from Canadian publishers. We offer two distribution channels to publishers: CEL, which is distributed on the ebrary/ProQuest platform, and desLibris, a new channel being introduced in  2013, which is distributed on a proprietary platform.

Through CEL's ebrary partnership, any title submitted to CEL is automatically included in the ebrary catalogue under the same terms. This feature gives CEL titles additional exposure in international markets.

We offer these license models and royalty payments:

License Model




50% of pool; payments based on usage


Perpetual Access

70% of Library ebook price



70% of pool; payments based on usage


Special Collection

70% of collection price set by publisher

License models and pricing

There is currently debate in publishing circles around the pros and cons of licensing ebooks to libraries. Many major publishers have either withdrawn entirely from library sales, or have introduced special pricing. For a comprehensive review of the many options being discussed today see http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.ca/2013/08/a-rational-framework-for-library-ebook.html.


Under our contract, pricing for perpetual access licensing is determined the publisher, who sets the Library price (“Publisher Library eBook Price” in para 4b) for all titles. We charge libraries that price for a single-user Perpetual Access license, and 150% of that price for a multiple-user Perpetual Access license, paying 70% of that amount to the publisher in royalties.

Pricing for subscription licensing is not determined by the publisher but by CEL; we set subscription collection prices based on our best judgment to maximize returns, and allocate 50% of net revenues from subscriptions to the titles made available for subscription licensing based on a usage/inclusion formula which is described in Exhibit D of the Agreement.

Which license model to choose?


This model, which might be called the Netflix model, allows for flexibility, since rights permissions can be changed without notice. It works well for lesser-known titles which need exposure which in turn will lead to retail sales. Because libraries do not need to choose titles, all titles earn revenue. And of course subscription revenues are recurrent.

Perpetual Access

This model pays more per title sold, but because there is a selection requirement before a sale is made, fewer titles earn royalty payments under this plan. 

Special Collection

This model, unique to desLibris, allows a publisher to offer a collection of titles and to set market-based subscription pricing for the collection. Although it will be attractive to specialized publishers, a disadvantage of this model is that it is made available only to existing desLibris subscribers, so the market will be a subset of the "Member libraries" group. A title included in a Special Collection may not be included in the Basic Collection. 

Over the lifetime of CEL, which was founded in 2006, subscription royalty payments to most publishers on most titles have outpaced perpetual access license payments (except consortium sales, which are exceptional events.)

In general, the most effective course of action is to allow both subscription and perpetual access models for most titles. 

Which distributor to choose?

As a rule, once the decision has been made to license books to libraries, the best strategy is to sign with as many reputable distributors as possible. Each has strengths, and as long as royalty terms are generally acceptable, there is no need to be selective.

An important point in aggregator contracts 

Because libraries often purchase through consortia (buying groups which represent many libraries) a publisher must protect itself against the possibility of a distributor selling one license (essentially one copy of a book) to a large number of institutions. You should make sure that the contract has a “no consortium sale without permission” clause. This clause is in para 2.2 of Exhibit C of the CEL/desLibris Agreement.

desLibris Innovations

Special Collection

desLibris offers a specialized publisher the opportunity to use the platform for distributing a group of titles in a branded collection for which the price is set by the publisher. The license model for this option is subscription, and the royalty rate is 70%.


Publishers may designate titles to be excluded from access by market. This feature enables a scholarly press, for example, to restrict availability of frontlist in core markets like university libraries, but to expose them in public and other libraries.

Short-term Loan

This model, still under development, will allow publishers to release titles through desLibris on a user-pay basis. Because libraries have difficulty handling variable-payment models, it will require testing and refinement before release.

All the above options are based on the subscription principle, which requires an annual payment from libraries to maintain access, and allows publishers to change license terms.

Setting License Rights

Through its Publisher Dashboard, every CEL/desLibris publisher has access to a Title Rights module where license terms can be set on either a title-by-title basis, or as defaults for the entire catalogue.  

Why does desLibris not offer Perpetual Access models?

This is a strategic decision on our part, based partly on the cost of supporting such a model. We partner with ebrary in order to offer Canadian publishers this option, but we don’t believe that the model is necessarily the best choice for most Canadian books for the reasons given here: universal loan.

Territorial Rights settings

CEL/desLibris and ebrary observe all territorial rights permissions and restrictions as conveyed to us by publisher metadata. We require only that Canadian rights be available on all titles. 

How to submit books to CEL/desLibris

This subject is covered in a second posting here.