You’ll have to wait even longer to borrow some new e-books from the library
If you’re a fan of checking out e-books from your local library — and you very much should be — you may have to wait longer for new releases from one major publisher that’s angered the library industry.
Publishing giant Macmillan will only allow libraries to purchase a single e-book copy of new releases and impose an eight-week embargo on buying additional copies starting Nov. 1, 2019, Publishers Weekly reports.
The move follows a similar, controversial four-month embargo that Macmillan placed in July 2018 on new e-book releases from its sci-fi/fantasy imprint Tor.
While known as a major publisher of educational books, Macmillan is also home to imprints like Henry Holt and Company and Farrar, Straus, Giroux, both of which have released a bevy of best-sellers and award-winners, including recent Pulitzer winners like Locking Up Our Own and Prairie Fires.
But Macmillan is also responsible for huge Trump-related books like Michael Wolf’s Fire and Fury and James Comey’s memoir, books many readers would love to digest without having to shell out money.
In a July 25, 2019 memo to authors, illustrators, and agents, Macmillan CEO John Sargent made clear that the move is all about cash. Pointing out the trend that e-book borrowing from libraries is skyrocketing, Sargent lamented that, “the average revenue we get from those library reads (after the wholesaler share) is well under two dollars and dropping, a small fraction of the revenue we share with you on a retail read.”
Sargent later adds, “Historically we have been able to balance the great importance of libraries with the value of your work. The current e-lending system does not do that. We believe our new terms are a step toward reestablishing that balance.”
In other words, by implementing this eight-week embargo, Sargent hopes more readers get impatient with waiting for Macmillan releases and pony up the cash for their own copies.
Libraries will be able to buy the first e-book copy at half price, normally $30, and more copies at full price.
The American Library Association is understandably pissed about this move. In a statement, ALA President Wanda Brown called the new policy “unacceptable” and said, “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library e-book lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all.”
Brown also pointed out that when a library has limited copies of new releases, like it will under Macmillan’s new rules, patrons often blame the library instead of the publishing company, meaning the library is “perceived as being unresponsive to community needs.”
We’ve reached out to Macmillan for reaction to Brown’s comments.
The embargo isn’t the latest big change to hit library e-book access over the last year. Big publishers like Penguin have been switching from a “perpetual access model,” in which libraries pay higher prices to have permanent access to e-books, to models that charge libraries lower prices for one- or two-year access to copies. This hypothetically makes it cheaper for libraries to load up on popular new releases that they can later drop, but also forces libraries to continually repay publishers to keep access to e-books.
Despite these model changes, Macmillan stands alone among top publishers (including Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette Book Group) in implementing an embargo on e-books (the embargo does not apply to physical books).
Macmillan’s embargoes have incited frustration among library workers and supporters who have taken their anger to social media under the #ebooksforall hashtag.
It’s sad to see @MacmillanUSA’s new policy regarding limiting library access to eBooks. Limiting eBooks to libraries means limiting readers! This at a time when the book industry should be expanding access. John Sargent, cancel the embargo. #eBooksForAll pic.twitter.com/VU74PsOa7U
— Mariam Addarrat (@Ummustafa78) July 26, 2019
Libraries in Canada have also launched the digital rallying cry #econtentforlibraries to raise awareness of the cost of e-books and e-audiobooks for libraries there, a hashtag that’s moved beyond the border and is now included in the fight against Macmillan.
And so the digital evolution continues apace for publishers and libraries just as it has everywhere else: bringing new possibilities and access while simultaneously making a mess of things. Because, at the end of the day, someone has to make money.