Why New Restrictions on Access to Library eBooks Are Controversial | Smart News

Representatives of the American Library Association deliver a petition to Macmillan publishers to protest new limitations on eBooks.
American Library Association

Over the next few months, library patrons are likely to experience extended wait times for new eBooks. Readers can thank Macmillan Publishers — a “Big Five” publishing house with brands such as Picador, Henry Holt and Farrar, Straus and Giroux — for the delay: as of November 1, the company only allows library systems to be released. purchase an electronic copy of a book within the first eight weeks after publication.

The publisher’s new policy has sparked widespread outrage among librarians and book lovers. Macmillan, however, argues that the moratorium is necessary to ensure the survival of the publishing industry instead of the growing popularity of digital lending.

CEO John Sargent announced the change in a July memo sent to Macmillan authors, illustrators and agents. According to the memo, loaned library copies make up 45% (and more) of the company’s total e-book readings in the United States.

“It seems that given the choice between purchasing a [e-book] for $ 12.99 or a frictionless free loan, “wrote Sargent,” The American [e-book] the reader begins to lean strongly towards free.

Sargent tells NPR’s Lynn Neary that the publishing industry works the same way as the movie industry. Films generate the biggest box office returns on their opening weekend, while most book sales occur in the first few weeks after release.

In the past, library loans had less of an impact on publisher sales due to the “frictions” or complications associated with borrowing books: patrons had to go to the library in person, repay loans at the library. time and pay pesky late fees.

E-books have greatly simplified the borrowing process. As Sargent explained in an October 29 letter to relevant librarians, “In today’s digital world, there is no such friction in the marketplace. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and libraries expand their reach statewide and nationwide, it’s becoming easier to borrow rather than buy.

The Macmillan executive added, “This poses a problem across the entire publishing ecosystem (authors, illustrators, agents, publishers, libraries, retailers and readers). We are trying to find a solution.

On October 30, a group of “library advocates” associated with the American Library Association (ALA) stopped by Macmillan’s offices to deliver a petition urging the publisher not to move forward with the embargo. Organizers have collected some 160,000 signatures, but as they note on the online petition portal, Sargent “hasn’t listened.”

According to ALA’s testimony before the US House Judiciary Committee last month, e-book publishers engage in a multitude of “anti-competitive conduct” practices. Amazon Publishing, for example, refuses to sell digital titles to libraries, which means readers must buy directly from Amazon. And when publishers sell copies of eBooks to libraries, the prices are often inflated. (Anthony Doerr’s All the light that we can’t see, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, costs consumers $ 12.99, but a library that purchases a two-year license for a single electronic copy pays $ 51.99.)

In an essay written for the Chronicle of San Francisco, City Librarian Michael Lambert says the embargo has an impact on libraries’ core mission of “ensuring access to information and content for all”. He adds that the policy puts people with visual impairments at a disadvantage as these readers rely on easily formatted e-books to keep up with the latest headlines. Large print hard copies of new books often take months to come out. People with dyslexia and other learning disabilities also rely on e-books for easier reading.

Macmillan’s policy is about to have a disproportionate impact on large library systems. A small, rural library may be able to get by with just one copy of an eBook, but cities or counties with hundreds of thousands of customers will have to put potential borrowers on long waiting lists.

Former ALA President Sari Feldman told NPR’s Neary she didn’t think the policy would increase retail or digital sales for Macmillan, as many people who borrow eBooks have limited income. and will simply choose to read more accessible options. Since libraries purchase a significant number of eBooks, the publisher could also lose digital sales in the key weeks immediately after publication.

In the future, Feldman says, the ALA may take legislative action against the restrictions.

In his open letter, Sargent said the move is designed to help authors, booksellers and others in the publishing world.

“We are not trying to harm libraries; we are trying to balance the needs of the system in a new and complex world, ”he wrote. “We think windowing for eight weeks is the best way to do it. I am the first to admit that we can be wrong. But we must try to solve this problem.

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