Libraries Want Public to Protest Publisher's E-Book Embargo

by Travis Loller

Associated Press

Thursday September 12, 2019

The American Library Association asked the public for help Wednesday to press Macmillan Publishers to rethink a planned embargo on electronic copies of new releases to public libraries.

The publishing house recently announced that beginning on Nov. 1 it will allow library systems to purchase only a single electronic copy of its new releases during the first eight weeks after publication. Some of those systems serve millions of patrons.

In a letter announcing the policy, Macmillan Chief Executive John Sargent said e-book library lending is growing rapidly and hurting sales.

"It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free," Sargent wrote.

Macmillan is one of the largest book publishers operating in the U.S. Sargent did not respond to an email from The Associated Press requesting an interview.

Library Association Executive Director Mary Ghikas announced the campaign to pressure Macmillan during the Digital Book World conference in Nashville. The organization is asking readers to sign a petition at . They are also promoting the campaign at local libraries.

The association worked with the biggest U.S. publishers over the last decade to broker e-book agreements that both parties could accept, said Alan Inouye, senior director of public policy and government relations. Libraries pay a premium for e-books and, while agreements vary between publishers, most of those digital copies come with an expiration date. After two years or a certain number of checkouts, libraries often have to repurchase the e-books if they want to keep them in circulation, he said.

Ghikas said libraries have had lingering concerns about the agreements, but the embargo "represents the greatest threat."

"Libraries serve the local needs of their communities," Ghikas said. "Macmillan's embargo will make that impossible."

Speaking at the announcement, Nashville Public Library Director Kent Oliver offered some examples.

Libraries have to pay $55 for a digital copy of Margaret Atwood's much anticipated new book "The Testaments," while the retail price is $14.99, he said. The Nashville library tries to buy enough copies of popular new releases that patrons have to wait no more than 3.5 months to read them. For Delia Owens' "Where the Crawdads Sing," which came out last year, that meant purchasing 358 digital copies. There are still around 2,000 people on the waiting list.

Nashville's library system spent nearly $700,000 on e-books alone last fiscal year, Oliver said, but they are willing to pay because "providing unfettered, undiscriminating access to reading is the core of our work. It's actually in a library's DNA."

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