Last summer, I blogged about the very bad arrangement between publishers and public libraries regarding ebooks, and suggested that library users could help their libraries by not borrowing ebooks.
I've discovered some additional information that works in favour of libraries. This also answers the question asked in comments here.
The $85-for-26-downloads pricing structure applies to bestsellers and other hot titles. And this is still a very bad deal. But for less-popular titles, especially genre fiction (romance, mysteries, and sci-fi by lesser-known authors), ebook prices are very low. In many cases, the cost of a digital version be only a few dollars - a small fraction of the cost of a print edition. Thus libraries can stretch their collection dollar by licensing ebooks, ordering 25 ebooks for the cost of one print edition.
Funny, though, that I didn't discover this while reading about the issue online. I had an opportunity to speak with the head of fiction selection at our library system, and she explained the ebook pricing structure more thoroughly.
The movement towards ebooks is still a problem for many customers, of course. Our library likes to say, "You don't need a special device. If you have a computer and can send an email, you can read an ebook." Technically true, but disingenuous. How many people want to read a book at their desk? Most people want a more relaxed setting for pleasure reading. And they may want to carry a book with them. For comfort and portability, you do need a device. And for many people, that need creates several obstacles between them and their reading - not something the library should be doing.
But at least we now know that if your library catalogue says "ebook only," the library is probably saving money, not spending unnecessarily. And you can borrow the title without concern for your library's budget.